I have often wondered since Boy was born if there is such a thing as a typical Dad.
I once wrote that I sometimes consider myself a cross between Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson. These two cartoon characters certainly depict fathers in early middle age but, of course rather differently. Daddy Pig is very laid back but, he should be, Peppa Pig land not being particularly stressful. Homer Simpson though would not be everyone’s first choice as a fatherly role model. On the face of it he drinks far too much beer and chokes his son regularly. He’s boorish and impulsive and has only a tenuous grip on how to hold down a job and parent. And yet he has done things for his children that demonstrate pure love, such as selling his ride on the Duff Blimp so that he could enter Lisa in to a beauty competition to feel better about herself or spearheading the effort to dig Bart out of a well. Sometimes, such as when he becomes a temporary truck driver, Bart joins him on his crazy, impulsive adventures and it has to be said they seem to have more fun than a conventional family ever could on these sorts of road trips. Sometimes just a look from one of his kids can have him debating with his own brain. He worked two jobs, all day and all night to get Lisa a pony.
And yet the mere sight of a donut or beer can divert him from tasks that are vital to the family’s survival. Having discovered that his lack of intelligence was down to a crayon lodged in his brain he gets it removed and instantly dislikes his new higher IQ, getting Moe to reinsert the crayon and bring his IQ back down to 55. And he once shot Marge with a poison dart.
I like Homer because I can relate to the bits of him that are devoted to his wife and children and yet, I realised that he has been characterised in such a way that he is just one step away from a moron. Still, even the moronic traits ring bells with me at times. If I was passing a bar full of my friends on the way home from work could I really resist popping in for a quick beer just because I had promised to be home in time to bath the kids? If I lived next to an annoying, self righteous and holier than thou neighbour how long would I pretend to like them for the sake of keeping up appearances? I know that burning your bridges when you leave a job is a stupid thing to do but which of us blokes haven’t wanted to tell an overbearing or useless boss where to stick it?
If I had my choice then pork chops for dinner every night would be just fine and a beer hat would make an excellent piece of apparel during a football match (so long as it was in private). I might know that ‘gym’ is not pronounced to rhyme with ‘dime’ but I’ve never lasted more than three months of any gym routine ever.
Obviously the child strangling and the forgetting you have a baby and the failure to relate to a clever middle child are not ideal. The first and second of these traits are ruthlessly exaggerated for comic effect but the last is truly tragic. Here I wonder how many men, having suppressed their intelligence for one reason or another, regret doing so instantly they have children.
Suppressed their intelligence? Yes, that’s what I said. Intelligence is not always manly. A stupid bloke can still be one of the lads. Boorish they may be but they will simply attract boorish friends. Think of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. There are odd jibes about him of course but the one thing he is not is ostracised. Instead people buy him drinks in the Nags Head and involve him in their plans. It may be a comedy plot device – much like Homer’s stupidity – but that doesn’t mean it’s not based on real life examples.
Intelligence at school is not celebrated among boys. If you were a clever boy at my school then you were a ‘Boff’ or a ‘swot’ or you were ‘gay’. I don’t know what perceived insults are used today but I bet the targets are the same. The boys that were admired were the ones who were good at football and fighting and smoking and going further with a girl than just a quick peck. Arrest, lung cancer and teenage pregnancy were not considered. It would be easy for a boy who wanted to fit in or even lead, never mind get laid, to suppress his intelligence, to not try, to eventually become thick because you no longer read or thought or challenged. And so, potentially bright boys are consigned to a life of scamming on estates.
We can even do it on a temporary basis. When I get a paper I will tend to get a broadsheet. The Guardian or, if I’m fed up with its political correctness for a bit The Times or The Independent. When I went away to football games we’d go on the train and I would get The Mirror because everyone got a tabloid and I didn’t want to get laughed at (but at the same time refused to buy The Sun). Sometimes it’s just easier with the crayon in.
But getting it re-inserted on a permanent basis when you have kids? Spending so long pretending to be thick that you actually become ignorant? What happens, then, when you get a child who is born with the natural intelligence that you eschewed (a bit like Lisa Simpson)? When they start to ask questions they expect you to be able to answer?
Don’t get me wrong, I am dreading either child doing A level physics because they will be officially cleverer than me if they do and I won’t be able to help them at all but I should be able to teach them to read, add up and tell the time. To explain why it is dark at night and cold in the winter. To answer why it is we land back on the ground when we jump. Later on to advise on creative writing or algebra or practice their French pronunciation. The second you ask Moe to permanently reinsert that crayon in to your brain is the second you let your children down. Homer Simpson can be a role model for basic love of family, (less for consumption of booze and fat and acting on impulsive whims) but it’s his relationship with Lisa that, for me, lets him down as a parent. He is, already, lost.
Daddy Pig’s relationship with his kids is not lost and he does not have a crayon in his brain. Daddy Pig’s boorish side comes out in his insistence that he is ‘a bit of an expert’ at things he is not (particularly map reading and French) – in other words he over estimates his cleverness – but he is often portrayed as intelligent in the series too (a job in architecture doing complicated sums is sometimes alluded to). He can explain how fog forms (though not find his way through it) and why it is about to snow or why you need to go to the opticians. SOMETIMES Daddy Pig will be portrayed lazily watching the TV and admiring his rather large belly but most times he is shown playing with his children, intelligently and collaboratively. Just when you think he’s over exaggerated a talent it turns out he really is Renaissance Pig as he plays the accordion or executes a perfect dive from the high board, or pulls off a ballet move or makes up a story on the spot.
He does, however, share some traits with Homer and it is here that I mean you only have to look at the media for a short while to get an impression of a typical blokey Dad. He shuns exercise (‘I’m naturally fit’) and calls the local fire station emergency number when he can’t find the tomato ketchup during a BBQ. One morning he sits in the garden with his paper under the false assumption that it’s a Saturday (it’s not, it’s Thursday). He sleeps in the car on a camping trip and falls asleep snoring a puppet show put on by the younger members of the family.
I shun exercise. My dad has been known to fall asleep after lunch. I have been known to take over the map reading and get us lost. When I say I see myself as a mixture of Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson I’m not kidding. Sometimes I play collaboratively with them and sometimes I teach them useful things. Sometimes, though, I sit in front of the TV drinking beer or do things completely on impulse.
Why is there a typical theme when Dads of a certain age are portrayed in the media? Because many men of my age share those characteristics. It is around the edges that we are different, that our ideas of what constitutes a good father differ. Where, however tempting it is, we must resist inserting the metaphorical crayon in to our brains.