Inevitably, we all have a picture in our minds of what the steretypical father should look like; an image which probably owes more to children's books, adverts for family holidays and our own ideals than it does to reality. My own picture, for example, depicts a chunky, good-looking guy in his thirties, with dark wavy hair, a Colgate grin, a passion for sport and the ability to do almost anything from fixing the car to playing the guitar. He's the Hollywood heart-throb, the Center Parcs dude, the 'regular dad' of a hundred TV commercials.
But why do I have that picture?
It's not an accurate depiction of any fathers that I have ever met and it certainly doesn't describe me (at least, not completely, ahem). Should this be a concern to me? Should I worry because my hair is straight, I can sometimes feel irritable and I can't tell a spark plug from an exhaust manifold? Am I somehow deficient as a parent, an irretrievable failure, a dead loss?
Silence! The jury is out.
The verdict is in. Rejoice! Joy is in the air and Comfort regains her throne. For the answer is no!
There can be no parental stereotype. Fathers are kaleidoscope creatures; many images all contained in a single object. They can't be replicated as an icon. I can't play the guitar and my football skills would never have got me into the Arsenal fifth eleven (or sixth, seventh or twenty-ninth come to that) but there are certain aspects of fatherhood and normality in which I can confidently say that I have the pre-eminence over my Centre Parcs rival. I've never seen him come home bleary-eyed from an early shift at work, never seen him clamber out of a warm bed at 3am because the baby is crying, never seen him up to his elbows in washing-up water, scrabbling behind the bookcase for lost pieces of jigsaw, folding clothes, covered in vomit or dealing with over-tired children who should have been in bed an hour ago.Yet I, smug in the extreme, have done all those things.
When all is said and done, the guy isn't normal. He wouldn't recognise a dirty nappy if his wife served it up for dinner. Why should he? He's a face on a poster, a smile on the screen. He's not real, he's an ideal and, boy! am I glad I'm not him!