Father’s Day was a flop again this year. It took seven hours to drive down the creepy crawly Great British motorway to celebrate the day with my children who have been play acting at Californian beach bums in North Devon for the last week. Seven gear grinding hours at a cruising speed so imperceptible we could have got here quicker on the back of a Galapagos turtle. And what did I get as my Father’s Day present after all that effort?
Not a Maserati or a hair transplant or a men-only weekend retreat for Boomers full of lectures from media types entitled: ‘Face Facts: Your Best Years are Behind You’; or ‘Managing Inter-Generational Conflict Without Alcohol’ or ‘One Pot Dishes for a Healthier Third Age Colon’.
All I got was a ladybird
No, nothing useful like that. Just a single, spotty ladybird. Not even a bloom of ladybirds (the collective noun for a group lady birds). Would it have harmed them to extend their student loans a few quid or to have broken open their childhood piggy banks to rustle me up a few extra insects?
It is clear they’ve been so busy this last week learning to body board and drink pre-mixed cocktails in the house’s hot tub that they’ve completely forgotten about me and their gifting obligations on the Day of the Patriarch.
I’m feeling a little hurt. In fact, the growing hole in my self-esteem would sink a battleship. But I can’t let my disappointment show. I’ve seen ‘King Lear’ and I know what happens to old men once they let their children get the upper hand. However, I’ve also learnt it’s the job of every father to live on the minimum of praise, like the kangaroo rat which survives in the Australian desert without water all its life.
But last year I got nothing
The fact they’ve remembered to buy me a present at all this year is an improvement on last year, when the only thing I got was the bill at the end of the slap-up lunch I booked for myself to mark the occasion.
I take a long look at the digital certificate from the Woodland Trust, which my daughter has posted in the family WhatsApp group. It’s has a ladybird on it and the words: ‘It’s a bug’s life’. Well, there’s no disputing that.
The family are waiting for me to say something about their gift. I decide to dissemble. I wobble my chin and blink rapidly, as if I’m about to cry.
‘This is a wonderful Father’s Day present,’ I say tremulously. ‘I can’t think of anything I’d have rather got for Father’s Day.’
‘Are you feeling OK?’ asks my son.
‘Your grandfather was an amateur lepidopterist. This present has stirred up memories of him. Forgive me for being so emotional. I’ll be alright in a minute.’
My father was a lepidopterist
I wobble my chin again. The children look at each other suspiciously. Usually, they can smell a kangaroo rat at twenty paces, but my chin twitching and broken voice has them bamboozled.
‘We knew you’d like it,’ says my daughter.
‘It was the ladybird or a drinks voucher,’ says my son.
My knees buckle and tears well up in my eyes. They’ve given me a digital certificate for a virtual ladybird instead of an actual voucher for real life booze. I’m flabbergasted. Have they learnt nothing about me in the last 20 years? What has their education been for?
‘Can I go see the ladybird?’ I ask my daughter.
‘Can I give it a name like a pet?’
‘Will it send me a newsletter telling me how it’s getting on?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘So, it’s a present I can’t see, hear, touch, smell or form any emotional attachment to,’ I say.
‘Correct,’ she says.
‘It’s a virtual present,’ says my son.
‘You mean it doesn’t exist,’ I say.
‘Except for the certificate,’ says my daughter.
At least it the present has a zero-carbon footprint
‘On the upside, Dad, it has zero-carbon footprint. You’re an eco-hero,’ says my son.
‘You said you wanted to support the Woodland Trust,’ says my wife. She hasn’t fallen for the chin trembling and wants to end the discussion before things get serious and I say something dangerous to family unity. In short, the UN Family Peace Keeping Force has arrived.
‘How much was the drinks voucher for?’ I ask.
‘£20,’ says my son.
I sigh. That’s four bottles of beer or almost three glasses of decent French or Italians wine at the local bar.
My wife looks at me, a plea in her eyes. She’s saying: don’t make a mountain of out of this ladybird sized molehill. You could choose to see this as a sign that you are washed up beyond the high tide of their indifference. But don’t. It isn’t.
Father’s Day is a capitalist guilt trip
She’s right. I shouldn’t get wound up. After all, Father’s Day is nothing more than a marketing exercise to sell the recycled garbage left over from Mother’s Day, another of capitalism’s guilt trips. It doesn’t mean anything unless you let it. And I am old enough to know better. Or ought to be.
My wife suggests we have a drink to celebrate Father’s Day on the terrace. The kids start to chant ‘hot tub, hot tub, hot tub’.
‘Good idea,’ I say.
‘No skinny dipping, dad,’ says my son.
‘I’ll go get my trunks,’ I say.
I nip upstairs to our bedroom. There’s a half bottle of champagne in a cooler bag in the corner of the room. It’s still cool enough to drink. I take it into the bathroom and lock the door.
‘Will you be long?’ asks my wife from the stairway.
‘No, darling,’ I shout.
‘And we’re over the ladybird, right?’
‘Water off a duck’s back.’
‘See you in the hot tub,’ she says.
At my age everything sags
I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror, naked, except for my old Hawaiian swimming shorts. Everything is saggy and loose including the shorts. I wonder if a hot tub is an appropriate place for someone my age and physique anymore?
The muscles in my left foot are twitching incessantly. It’s the result of the 37,000 gear changes I’ve had to make on the seven-hour journey here. I wonder if ‘Smart Motorways’ will make things better?
‘Plantar fasciitis,’ I say to myself, diagnosing my twittering under sole muscles.
I need some Dutch courage to get into the hot tub. The whole half-bottle should do it. The only glass in the bathroom has toothbrushes in it and a smear of toothpaste congealed at its bottom. So, I peel off the foil and pop the cork.
‘Here’s to you, Grumpa,’ I say, raising the bottle to my lips. I wonder if I can drink it all in one go like I could in the good, old days.
This blog previously appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.