Oxford Mail
June 2000


My father wore an apron, not a suit and tie
Being raised by a househusband taught Amanda Castleman the value of fathers


My father installed a typewriter, desk and lamp in the closet. Sleeping bags padded the remaining floor space, and that's where I napped, lulled by the typewriter's staccato. Those easy childhood days are gone – now I'm the one toiling at a keyboard – but the sense of love and absolute security remains. And with age came awareness, the knowledge of how fortunate I was.

John – for that was always his name, never the bland generic Dad – raised me. He did the school run, the grocery-shopping, plaster-applications, biscuit-dispensing and so on, financed by my mother's paycheques.

The division of labour worked well. She hated children. He loved them. The arrangement brought laughter and derision (this was the 1980s, era of Working Girl and Mr Mom), but I flourished.

John had a genius for child-rearing. He papered the floorboards with art prints, fine scenery for a rug-rat, and regaled me from birth with stories and explanations: Shakespeare, aeronautics, the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. No goo-goo, no dribbling over rusks. Just tough love and lots of it.

Some days the former Marine would greet me on the porch: "What do you do if someone grabs you from behind?" And I would practice swivelling my hips to the side, thrusting a braced elbow into my attacker's sternum. Ten pokes to the rapist's eyes before the afternoon snack.

We played nights of marathon chess, drank wine and ridiculed my pimply teenage boyfriends. He taught me to backpack, write and – most importantly – appreciate the company of men.

That's the beauty of a good father. I sallied forth into the world, knowing that men are witty, tender, dependable – and ace dishwashers. Quite predictably, I wound up with a chap who reminded me of dear old Dad. What higher tribute could a father receive?

How I pity the average pater, whose annual dose of gratitude passes nearly unnoticed. Father's Day – that's tomorrow, in case you've forgotten – highlights the low status of modern paternity.

It's a shabby little holiday, lacking in the Hallmark hype of its counterpart. The gifts and icons – ties, suits, golfing and hunting kit, power tools and cigars – all hark back to the 1950s, when the world-weary breadwinner struggled home, donned carpet slippers and pipe, then consumed meat and two veg in his castle.

Isn't it time we chucked the benevolent dictator image? Britain is struggling to accept gay fathers and paternity leave. A third of children no longer live with their biological fathers. DNA testing, meanwhile, has revealed that one in 10 send a card to the wrong man on Father's Day.

And many fathers are battling for rights to their offspring: "Years ago divorced dads were looking at two hours in the zoo once a month, but legal precedents have made a huge change," says Jim Parton, chairman of Families Need Fathers, an organisation for single fathers which has 3,000 members.

"But we are disappointed that the Government has done nothing to help fathers who aren't married to the mothers of their children. Under current law they have no rights to care for their children or be involved with their upbringing."

The Government's trying to help, really. It launched a guide for men on bonding with their babies and how to behave in the delivery room. But fathers are still largely disregarded – or worse, portrayed as deadbeats and neglectful tycoons.

Of course, the arrival of the much-heralded Blair baby has sparked a dad fad in Britain. Babes-in-arms are all the rage, from Oasis pop star Liam Gallagher to footballer David Beckham (whose lower back bears proof of paternal pride: a tattoo of his son Brooklyn's name). Even the Prime Minister has rallied for one last basinette photo-op.

Let's just hope that when the dust settles, the point is not lost. Fatherhood has moved on, past our outdated conception of cardigans and paycheques, and deserves to be celebrated as such.

John Castleman wore an apron, not a suit, and he is the finest dad I know.

Honour thy father – not just a stereotype.





I sallied forth
into the world,
knowing that men
are witty, tender,
dependable – and
ace dishwashers.


















Fatherhood has moved
on, past our outdated
conception of cardigans
and paycheques, and
deserves to be
celebrated as such.


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