17 June 2014

Father's Day



Today, Mei's class performed for Father's Day at the school assembly. The kids went around and recited lines — things they loved or respected about their fathers and then held up pictures they had drawn. Mei nailed it, proudly held up this picture of my madness. The kids sang a song about their fathers being superheroes, but at this school, being a good father amounts to simply being present. Mei was happy and embarrassed and proud, this mix of emotions that comes over her when she is in front of a group of people. You can watch her go through these stages, as she files in, sees her parents and then focuses on whatever she needs to do. 

We spent the weekend with Yoko's Japanese friends in Milton Keynes: beautiful children running around a bazaar held in a church. The men with the children, as I've said before, are all older than me, with wives my age, and children the ages of my kids. I'm never sure where to put my hands when I find myself in these situations. Does this all seem ridiculous to you? I wander off, play with the phone, hope no one has noticed that I'm not there. 

I dread the end of June, my birthday and father's day, particularly this year when bills have come in. I heard Adam Carolla once talking about his wife getting him a flat screen TV for his birthday. He laughed off the absurdity of it: the money was coming out of their account anyway and he was the only one working. Of course, that's not a thing that you should say, but I broke the rules this weekend in the worst possible way when Yoko and Naomi brought home Glenlivet 12 year whisky, Naomi saying Happy Father's Day. The car tax was two hundred and five pounds. Naomi's swimming fees were close to fifty pounds. Mei's passport was one hundred and fifty pounds in the end. I like whisky, but this is not the month to drink whisky. 

I said something to this effect, the wrong thing, of course, to say, but I couldn't hold it back, couldn't pretend. I felt bad later, opened the whisky anyway and started drinking it: why add the humiliation of returning a gift to be married to such an asshole who would say something like that in the first place.

Goffman said it: family life, social life is this presentation, this performance on stage, in front of a curtain. We are puppets, but we're supposed to pretend that we aren't. Sometimes, the curtain flips up a bit and you can see behind it. Sometimes the curtain comes down completely, and you find yourself still dancing in front of an audience that doesn't seem to notice that you're a puppet. 

All these other superhero dads must just be better at pretending, saying the right things to their wives instead of being obsessed with these unseen social constraints that push you one way or another, make you repeat lines that you don't want to repeat anymore. Social structures are not fair or logical or truthful — they are functional. They exist because they function. That's it. To expect more of them is silly; it will drive you mad. 
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