An Open Letter to a Dad Who Knows How to Father

We hear of the absent father, the dad who works well into the night and misses his children’s bedtime. We hear about what dads do wrong but less about what they do right. So, for Father’s Day, Annie Ridout has written an open letter to hers…

Dear pa,

I asked you what you wanted for Father’s Day this year and you said: “just a text would be nice, thanks.” Mum was in the background shouting that what you actually want is Bose headphones (RRP. £229.95). You said yes; that would be nice – but that a text would be fine too.

So I thought I’d provide something in written form, as per your request, but a little more elaborate than a 10-word text message. And I’ll leave it to my brother or sister get you the Bose headphones mum you asked for…

An open letter to a dad who knows how to father

My earliest memory is of you coming into my bedroom in the morning, opening up the large, mirrored mahogany wardrobe door and choosing an outfit for me. In this recollection, I’m standing up in my cot – this may be a warped memory, perhaps it was actually a bed. But what is true is that you would wake me up every morning, throughout my childhood.

After marching into my bedroom at 7.30am, turning on the lights and shouting: “wakey wakey lazy bones”, you’d go downstairs to make our sandwiches for lunch. Wafer thin ham on Mighty White bread was a staple, while prawn cocktail was a treat. On Tuesdays and Thursdays you’d slip a bag of crisps into our lunch boxes.

You’d then go off to work at the opticians you owned round the corner, and mum would take over for school drop-offs, pick-ups and tea. But you’d always be back for bath time – lathering shampoo into our hair and making it stand on end, like a Mohawk – while playing songs by The Beatles on your guitar (who said men can’t multitask?).

On Mondays, mum worked for ChildLine and you’d be on parenting duty. I remember quite often feeling ill on Mondays so I’d be kept off school and would eat Wispa chocolate bars while watching you play squash. I’m not sure how I got away with this so often, you’d be jailed for it now.

During my teenage years, I was a bit naughty. You are one of the most patient people I’ve ever met but I remember spending so long trying to get you to agree to something (probably let me go to the pub aged 12) that you leapt out of your seat and chased me up the stairs.

I continued to wind you up (by wearing very mini skirts, and generally pushing boundaries) but you rarely lost your cool. And then one day, I lost my cool. I felt really angry – hormonal, I expect – and I told you about it. You set up a boxing bag in the cellar and suggested I punched it. I did, and I felt less angry afterwards.

This exemplifies you as a father: you’re presented with a problem; you find a way to solve it. If that means driving for 100 miles, you’ll do it. If it means staying up until 3am, you’ll do it. You will work tirelessly to rectify any situation; regardless of whether you are in any way responsible.

One of the most valuable things a parent can give a child is time and attention. And this was never in short supply with you. Yes, you’d often be daydreaming about your next DIY project as I shared some news but when things mattered, you’d be there to listen and help.

Sometimes it wasn’t a situation that I’d asked for help with, but just that you’d been thinking about me and my life and had some suggestions. For instance, when I was about 15 and starting to think about a future career you asked if I’d ever thought about being a film producer. We discussed what this role entailed and although I decided against it, I liked that you’d thrown it out there.

Another time, when I was 18 and went off to India for half a year with a friend, I received emails every week from mum. You sent me ONE the whole time I was away. I’d bought a guitar and was teaching myself to play (probably inspired by you playing to me as I was growing up) so you asked me to write a song about water using three specific jazz chords. I did – and it was the first song I composed on the guitar.

It was while I was on that same trip that you told a friend of mine you were looking forward to getting to know me again once I returned. Having travelled extensively yourself, as a young adult, you knew how profound a trip like that would be on shaping me as a person. Hearing that made me feel lucky – not all parents encourage their kids to be independent and explore the world.

So I roamed, went to university, lived in Hackney for a while, moved to Somerset, got married, moved back to London (back in with you, briefly) and then two years ago, the most significant chapter of my life so far unravelled as I became a mother for the first time, to your first grandchild.

If I’m honest, you didn’t seem hugely phased on arriving at the hospital to meet Joni for the first time (mum, on the other hand, had a look on her face that I will never forget – of love and amazement). However, you soon found your role. In the same way that you rocked me to sleep as a baby, you’d spend hours rocking Joni off to give Rich and me a break. And when she was able to sit up, you started taking her off to the swings; sending photos of her smiling from ear to ear as you pushed her back and forth.

Now that she’s walking, you chase her around the kitchen while she squeals with delight. Then you walk up to the park, hand-in-hand, to feed the ducks, send her flying down the slide, have a whirl on the roundabout and take her to the café (so that you can have a second breakfast. I’m on to you).

Joni is being grandfathered in the engaged, proactive, loving way that I was – and am – fathered and I’m so grateful that she is getting to spend this time with you. I’m also grateful that when choosing a spouse, I – albeit subconsciously – looked for someone with traits similar to yours. And Joni is now being raised by a similarly present, kind, generous dad.

Often it isn’t until something bad happens that we share our true feelings about a person so I wanted to break tradition and share these snippets of our relationship now. I feel incredibly lucky to have been raised by a father who has made it his mission to be as involved as possible. A father’s role mustn’t be underestimated – he has the power to shape and nurture and influence.

And you’ve done those things very well. So thank you.

Love,

Annie x

Are you a father? How important is it to spend time with your kids – and is it the amount of time or the quality of the time? Let us know in the comment section below…