Tag Archives: fatherhood


It had been a tiring day.  With four kids under the age of six every day is a tiring day, admittedly, but yesterday had been particularly tiring.  The kids were off school because of the Eid holidays and all the places we would normally take them – the mall, the park, the other park – were all closed.  All of our Pakistani friends were visiting their families around the country so most of our friends were away too, but our families live in the UK and Canada and so we were on our own.  The kids were tired and irritable and fights kept breaking out.

Eventually, reluctantly, we put on a film for them to watch while my wife prepared dinner.  I collapsed onto the bed and opened my laptop to answer some of the many emails that were waiting for my response: funding proposals, meetings, requests for board minutes, and so forth.  I tried to get my brain into order, to assemble my thoughts, but it was like trying to round up a gaggle of hyperactive squirrels.  They kept wandering off.  This state of perpetual fatigue is, I think, going to be my salient memory of parenthood.  The other week my watch was showing the wrong date, and I only noticed ten days later.  I opened my laptop and started to type.

As if on cue, our baby boy, only six weeks old, opened his mouth and started to scream.

“Sweetie, can you get him?” called my wife from the kitchen where she was, by some kind of alchemy, turning fish, spinach and potatoes into something delicious.

I sighed.  My one chance to get something done today.  My one chance.  Once the kids are in bed and we have the house to ourselves all we do is collapse in front of a DVD, and often fall asleep halfway through an episode of the West Wing.  All of the work I was hoping to do today would have to wait until tomorrow.  It was frustrating.  I felt angry.  I felt tired.  I felt a whiney sense of injustice: why did we live so far from family and friends who might be able to help us?  Why had we gone so long without a day off?  Why had it been two years since our last decent holiday?

And then, as I picked up my new son and held him close, his eyes fixed on mine.  He pulled his head slightly back to get things into focus and stared at me.  And then, slowly imperceptibly, a tiny smile started to curl at the corner of his mouth.

My kids were watching TV the other day.  Perhaps a purist would say that watching TV is not ideal for children and that they ought to be out climbing trees or reading Hamlet or something, but hey, I have three small children, an increasingly pregnant wife, and we all live in Pakistan, so watching twenty minutes of TV every day doesn’t seem too outrageous.  The current programme of choice for my offspring is Mike the Knight, a show in which a young knight living in a sanitised medieval world (no Black Death, no Crusades, but plenty of cheery blacksmiths and friendly dragons) has adventures.


Then it struck me: we never see his father.

He sends postcards occasionally, which his son eagerly reads, but the father is never actually seen.  This struck me as odd.  I started to think about other shows which my kids have enjoyed and I started to realise that fathers are conspicuously absent in quite a few of them.

There’s Timmy Time, an animation where a cute lamb goes to playschool with his similarly adorable animal friends.  His mother waves him off from the gate every morning, but of his father there is no sign.

Then there’s the Octonauts, possibly the best kid’s programme of all time if you ask me.  One of the characters, Peso, is a penguin who is occasionally visited by his brother and mother – but not his father.

Then there’s the Pixar film Up: no dad there either, and the boy scout character mentions this fact sadly.  Or take the film trilogy Toy Story: Andy’s sister features, his mother is a major character, but we never see his father.  He’s not even mentioned once.


Why are fathers absent from so many programmes?  Are the programme-makers trying to reflect real life?  After all, a 2013 report from the UK stated that a million British children are growing up without a father around.  In the US the numbers are even more appalling: 24 million children growing up without a father figure – that’s one child in every three.  One in three!  That is a staggering statistic.

Or perhaps the programme makers are paying tribute to single mums who raise kids on their own.  If this is the case then I applaud them: anyone who has managed a household of kids on their own knows just how difficult it is, and frankly mums who do it regularly require infinite amounts of praise.

Or perhaps, most heartbreakingly, the script writers don’t even realise what they’re doing.  Perhaps fathers are so regularly absent these days that the currency of fatherhood has been devalued to the point at which their absence is not even noteworthy.

One of the blessings of our life in Pakistan is that I get to be around my kids far more than most of my peers back in the UK.  It’s a rare day when I’m not around for both breakfast and dinner.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when I haven’t been able to put the kids to bed.  So perhaps I feel this more keenly than most.  But it still makes me wonder what kind of example today’s fathers are setting to their own children…