Hero? Bumbling buffoon? No, just an ordinary man

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Not all dads are like Homer Simpson and many would like to participate more in the lives of their children. Su Clark finds out how fathers' clubs at schools are giving them the chance

Stephen Harvey, a father of five who lives separately from his children and is Children in Scotland's development and information officer, gives his view of images of fatherhood: "The first time I remember consciously wrestling with the idea of fatherhood was as a student on teaching practice in a village school in Cumbria, one winter's morning.

"The father of two pupils had died suddenly at the weekend and walking up the hill to the sound of the school bell clanging felt like being in a scene from How Green Was My Valley.

"I felt I had to address the issue with the children I was teaching.

Neither of the pupils was from my class, but we still discussed the role of a father and how those children would need support to get over their loss.

"When I tried to conjure up an image of fatherhood it was God the Father who came to mind. And yet, he is such a woolly, remote figure.

"It reminds me of one of my favourite Spike Milligan stories, where he sees one of his children drawing a picture of someone and asks who it is, and the child replies 'God'. Milligan points out that no one knows what God looks like, and the child answers,'No, but they will do by the time I'm finished.'

"Well, nobody seems able to say exactly what fatherhood is.

"When I was a child, I remember reading Bambi, by Felix Salten, a beautifully realised picture of growing up in the wild - far from the Disney version - in which the father is a distant but protective figure, appearing only rarely, but there in times of danger to advise and assist the young buck.

"In the boys' comics of the time, fathers or father figures were generally portrayed as filling heroic roles, taken over by their orphaned only son after their untimely demise at the hands of some villain.

"Harry Potter is the inheritor of this tradition.

"And yet the cartoon fathers of today - in The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad - are presented as bumbling, short-sighted buffoons.

"Fathers are normally not superheroes or buffoons, but ordinary men who are trying to balance the roles of partner, employee or employer, son, brother, friend I as well as father.

"We could all improve on our performance as each of these."

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