Thursday, November 04, 2010

How did Dad become the family whipping boy?

I got a haircut yesterday. It was a bit shorter than I intended but I'm happy enough with it. I walked into the usual banter at the office but none of it was actually unkind, even from old friends and colleagues who are extended a free pass in that area.

It wasn't the same when I got home. The three women in my life looked at me and said "Oh my God!" This wasn't said in a good way. Later on that evening they were still tutting at me. Their central objection was that it was too short. Obviously there's a remedy for that.

Now clearly if the shoe had been on the other foot and I had reacted in anything like the same way when they came back from the hairdressers I would expect to be accused of everything from sexism through rudeness to mental cruelty.

I'm not looking for any sympathy but I do think it indicates how Dad is the only member of the contemporary family that the other members no longer think they have to be careful with. Everybody else is surrounded by an eggshell area to which they are entitled by virtue of having given birth (which is serious) or being a teenager (which is a passing condition) or having a hangover (which is fleeting).

Not Dad. Dad is, as Bruce Springsteen pointed out last week, furniture. Dad is the only person in the world whose clothes you can criticise, whose head you can pat, whose gut you can prod without the slightest chance of any come-back at all. But those people should watch out. Because I've got a blog now.


  1. I'm not sure what would happen if I mentioned to my wife that I didn't much like her hair after it had been cut. I think she would have been gobsmacked that I'd noticed before anything I said had sunk in.

    I have noticed that I am expressing displeasure at the length of my 11 year old sons hair. I think it looks better short. When did I become such a old git?

    But your main point is fair. When I was a lad, my dad owned the television. Really owned it and permission had to be sought to watch or turn it over. And we never, ever chose what to watch if he was watching with us. I think the internet has been invented to give me something to do in lieu of the fact I never get to pick the channel in our house so rarely watch tv. Another degradation in the power base of Dad's?

  2. And dad feels he is allowed to do exactly the same to me. It's a fair cop.

  3. Seldom has a blog performed a nail/head interaction so expertly. My role at home is simple: 1) provide cash-money when requested. 2) Be the smiling butt of abuse such as you describe. 3) Take responsibility for all the home's most unsavoury tasks. The latter so much so that I have come to refer to myself simply as Crap-jobs Thomas....

  4. I've got a blog and i'm not afraid to use it!
    And a Twitter account & a Facebook page and a.....

  5. My father and I are both simply grateful that we’ve still got just about enough hair to make a haircut worthwhile.

  6. Haircut? What's that? (No, I'm not bald, haven't shaved for 40 years either)

    True about dads.

  7. I get the eye rolling treatment. It usually follows an enquiry on my behalf which is either a. derided, b. ignored or c. met with an answer doled out as if to a two year old. I'm so attuned to eye rolling that I can now detect it hundreds of miles away over a telephone line.

  8. "Dad is the only person in the world whose clothes you can criticise, whose head you can pat, whose gut you can prod without the slightest chance of any come-back at all."

    My son is 10. I am already subject to all the above ... what on earth happens in the next 10 years?

  9. Can't really judge without a photo. Go on. We'll be kind.

  10. A bit off point but dad always used to say to me when I got a hair cut on the shorter side was 'the difference between a good and a bad haircut is about 2 week'

  11. Here on the other side of the world, Dad is also the butt of all jokes, the last allowable prejudice. And I too grew up with that saying of Backyardsix, but think it's the other way around (to cheer up the victim): that the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is about two weeks.
    I think this dates from the days before the Fabs and the Stones, when barbers could still rely on your custom every two weeks rather than three months.

  12. You're absolutely right about this. It's been building up in our culture for over a decade now. And, if you want to know where this stuff starts, I think that a reasonable barometer of how society tells us how we can behave is to be found in advertising. Look at most adverts from the last 10-15 years. The man, in most domestic scenarios, is the child. He's the one who sits with his son on the sofa, playing videogames and conspiratorially giggling about what pizza to order, or failing to understand how to use the washing machine. He has little maturity and no dominant status. The woman, in these scenarios, tends to be dressed for work and is clearly in charge. She is the breadwinner, the decision maker, the adult. The man is the overgrown child who forgets to sort out the car insurance.

    This may have been harmlessly witty in its inception, as a kind of ironic postmodern twist on sexism. But it has become a different kind of sexism: a kind that men aren't allowed to complain about. And, as I said, the culture has been telling us that this is the way it is for so long now that it has become a truism. A behaviour pattern. A family dynamic.

    At the weekend, in a colour supplement, I saw a new advert for a mobile phone. It showed men being dragged around by their better halves as they watched football on their new, video-capable phones; oblivious to all that went on around them. I noted to my brother-in-law at the time that, were the shoe on the other foot - if, for example, it was men dragging women around while they refused to tear themselves away from, say, Sex And The City - then society would deem it utterly unacceptable.

  13. Anonymous12:31 pm

    Lucas is right (as is David): Dad can be mocked as a kidult buffoon in a way that would be deemed offensive for mum, son or daughter.

    I blame Homer Simpson, although he's lovable, and Peppa Pig's dad, who isn't.

  14. I blame Men Behaving Badly; but this seemed to be the first mainstream Hollywood movie to make the point well: