The Perfect Gift for a Man: From Two Perspectives

Part 1: The Son

We’re still not sure where Aspergers comes from (genetically) in our family but I guess the money is probably on my dad.

When I was younger, my Dad was so different from me that I’d often wonder if perhaps my parents had picked up the wrong baby.

Now that I’m older, I’m able to see the resemblance (I’m starting to look like my Dad — and he, like his). I’m also acting like him in some ways — some beneficial, some not. My father was a perfectionist and a workaholic. When he wasn’t

working, he was doing things (hobbies) which looked like work. I can already see the resemblance.

My Dad came from a poor background but was a hard worker and put himself through TAFE at night. He worked Monday to Friday, left before I got up for school and generally returned after I was in bed. Some of his late nights were drinking nights, some were studying, some were sports and training and some were meetings — regardless of the excuses, he wasn’t there.

On weekends in summer, he would be out sailing. In winter, he’d be in the garage building his next boat for the coming sailing season. We still found time to squeeze activities into his busy schedule (he managed our soccer team for years) but it wasn’t enough and our relationship in those years barely scratched the surface.

I remember that when I’d learn some new dance routine or song at school, I’d show it to my Mother but would fall silent as soon as my Dad walked into the room. Pokes and prods would not incite me to continue the performance. He’d always frowned at those “poofter” (gay) type activities and to do one in front of him was to invite negative comments.

My Dad was also into sports. He liked to watch them and play them and he always encouraged me to get involved too. The trouble was, I didn’t like sports and I was hopeless at them.

In any case, my low muscle tone and hyperflexibility didn’t lend itself to hard sports like soccer and football. I liked reading, watching movies and Star Wars. My obsession with Star Wars figures was almost a breaking point for him and he often used to rant and rave about those ... “dolls.”

When I left school, I’d originally intended to do an Information Science degree but my father “encouraged” me towards the more masculine degree of Civil Engineering. I failed — and eventually I did go back and do that Information Science degree, though not without a great deal of heartache.

Then, there were the cars. I didn’t care about them. I drove them without water and without oil and with flat tyres. I had no interest in repairing them myself — I’d rather pay someone to do it. I didn’t even like the feel of grease on my hands. I copped years of “nagging” over my lack of interest and ability in this area.

My first job, in a public library, really set the cat amongst the pigeons.

In fact, I was told by my employers that there were two reasons why I got the job. Firstly, because I obviously loved and cared for books but secondly, because my Father had apparently contacted them and told them that he didn’t want his son working in a “poofy” library. While I was working there, my dad told his friends that I was unemployed. Somehow that was easier for him than the truth.

If all this makes it seem that I have problems with my Father, then I’ve given the wrong impression.

I love him — though I could never use that wording to his face. He just had a lot of issues with my failure to fit into the Australian male stereotype.

When I changed jobs into computing my Father was overjoyed. Similarly, he was pretty happy when I announced my engagement, mainly I think because it involved a member of the opposite sex. Having male grandchildren and knowing that I did in fact turn out OK, seems to have calmed the whole situation down.

Over the years, he’s come to accept that I’m not the normal male stereotype and that men today are quite different from the men of his time. My Father wasn’t alone in his views and they seem to be shared by many of his peers.

He’s mellowed over time and I’ve stopped checking over my shoulder whenever I do something less than masculine. Years of nonacceptance can have an impact on your self-confidence.

In recent times, I’ve actually seen my Father express emotions other than the male ones of anger and amusement but they’re still few and far between. He’s not “cured” and every now and then I’ll catch a disapproving glance, when I cry at a funeral or when I let my wife boss me around but he’s certainly more settled and more tolerant.

In his retirement, he frequently says things which shock me and challenge all of my beliefs about him. There’s definitely an emotionally repressed person inside him struggling to get out. It makes me wonder if, when I get to his age, I’ll experience the same feelings of letting go. Perhaps I’m repressing more than I realise. Perhaps we all are.

Part 2: The Father

Fast forward 20 years and suddenly I find myself standing in my Father’s shoes.

I find that I’m facing the same sorts of challenges that he must have faced as a father. Sure, I’m not judging my children as closet gays; I’m determined to accept them as they are regardless of who or what they grow up to be. An admirable sentiment, but I wonder if I can really keep it.

What if they grow up to be criminals?

I started fatherhood with a whole bunch of promises to myself, one of which was to make sure that I was there for my children. I was going to make time and I wasn’t going to be sidetracked by work or leisure issues. I have seen too many of those movies where the father ruins his son’s life by missing that all-important ballgame or concert and I was determined that this was not going to be me.

For the most part, I have succeeded but there have been a few embarrassing misses.

One of the first things I’ve noticed about fatherhood is that the pressure never ever lets up. There is never enough time in the day to do the things you need to do, much less the things you want to do. Everything is a choice. Everything involves cutting out something else, often something you’d personally much rather do.

My daily journey into work had been getting slower and more frustrating for years as the traffic began to build up. The later I go in, the longer the journey. Consequently, I now leave home very early — too early to see my kids before I go.

You would think this could mean that I could get home early but being in the IT industry, you leave when the system is stable and the users are happy, never before.

Unfortunately, this seriously restricts my home hours during the week and it ramps up the tension in the house to almost intolerable levels in that last expectant hour before I arrive home. Most days, I arrive home to a battlefield. Sometimes there is a battle still raging and sometimes it is a Cold War. Sometimes it’s one child versus another but just as often it’s both children versus my wife. The cause of this war can be anything from an unwillingness to do homework or refusal to change into pyjamas to simple frustration over a spaceship that keeps crashing in a game.

There is always something for dad to do when he gets home. Sometimes it’s practical, like bringing in heavy items from the car, sometimes it’s fixing some lego structure, landing that spaceship intact or simply getting the DVD player to work properly. Dads are expected to be magic, we’re expected to be able to fix anything and we’re expected to be able to do it with almost no sleep and after a ten-hour working day.

The worst times though are when I’m expected to dish out “discipline” for events I didn’t witness. My own dad would have responded to those calls with appropriate force because that’s how things were done in those days. I tried that in my early days of fatherhood and learned the truth about the phrase, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Forget the emotional wounding; smacking makes my hand hurt.

These days, my punishments are more like backwards rewards. For example; “The boy who is naughty doesn’t get to ride in the front seat of the car.” Surprisingly, it works.

It takes a lot to be there for your kids. Those father-son moments seem so fleeting when you’re the younger half of the relationship but the view from the other side tells a completely different story. It’s only now, when I’m a dad myself, that I can truly appreciate how much my Father did for me.