“Inaugurated in 1957, the Australian Father of the Year has been awarded annually to high-profile, famous fathers, from prime ministers and politicians to sportsmen, business leaders, entertainers and musicians acknowledging the support, guidance and love they show to Australian children.”

So says Wikipedia. I am not famous or high-profile. The smear-the-opponent style of politics means that I will never go there, and my dad jokes hardly rate as entertainment.

A long time ago, I played in a few local club hockey grand finals and even helped win a few as goalie. I would rate as a gifted musician if playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the recorder was regarded as an exquisite musical arrangement. It would seem that Australian Father of the Year will elude me, but for supporting, guiding and loving my daughters in my own ways.

Despite my stout competitive streak, I have no aspirations for parenting awards, although I do admire and appreciate the inspiration of dads who receive the parenting gong. Being famous or a sportsman or a politician is too lofty for me. Instead, I set my own parenting criteria and enjoy the beautiful devotion of two wonderfully discerning critics.

Goals

As a single dad, I am continuously conscious of having to support, guide and love from a distance before gladly mixing it up in our together time. And, when I am running solo, there are always opportunities to be inspired and reminded to lift my performance at the dad gig. As much as Father of the Year is a noble achievement, the recipients are way out of my line of sight, so parenting lessons or coaching tips from the winners aren’t visible to me. Instead, I have cobbled together my own criteria for “Backyard Dad” award.

For the sake of full disclosure, there aren’t any prize money or fame or sponsorship deals in my award. My backyard is the space I can see, and a little bit beyond if I put my glasses on. I declare my conflict of interest — I created the award, I am often the only competitor, and I judge the winner.

My criterion is that a winning dad does the day-to-day fundamentals consistently well. A champion dad rescues fun from the day-to-day drudgery of breakfast before the rush to school. A great dad sits still alongside his kids to listen and listen and listen while his precious children relate their woes long enough to find their own fix. A great dad bounces back from losing over to frustration and tiredness to say sorry after giving his kids a spray. A resolute dad holds steady while being on the receiving end of a spray from his teenage offspring in full flight.

And, I know that there are great dads out there who do those things and then some. Please, talk yourself up, as you are probably one of them. But, I doubt that there is any dad who does ‘winning dad’ all the time. I… we… we all have a decent crack at doing the best by our kids, yet our parenting sprint sometimes takes a tumble on misplaced hurdles. So, when my winning form hits a bad patch or I miss the delightful gift of picking my daughters up after school, I go looking for the everyday encouragement of a new “Backyard Dad” winner. I spotted two recently.

Inspiration

As I trawled the supermarket aisles, I noticed a dad who was link-armed with his mid-teen daughter. They bumped at each other and cajoled their way along the stock-laden shelves, fully wrapped up in the presence of one another. Of course, this otherwise anonymous dad and daughter probably clash at home and maybe supermarkets are their go-to happy place, but in that moment, the frivolous joy in both of them was wholesome and inspiring. They looked at one another and smiled! There are few things more tedious than the crazy search for grocery items, so I really delighted in this dad cheering his daughter on in such overt affection in the most everyday of situations. Winner!

Later, I was stuck at the lights, softly lamenting another handover of care. My mind was splashing around memories of a cracking weekend with my two earthly angels when I spotted a bloke who was being outpaced to the traffic crossing by all the other post-work pedestrians. The sweeping action of his cane and dark glasses on an overcast day drew my attention to him being vision-impaired and not that he couldn’t see. He reached out for the reassuring touch of the pole that held the traffic light button, obviously honing in on the dramatic beeps.

And then, his arm movement went beyond the traffic button, arcing out, up and then down to come to rest on the helmeted head of his fast-incoming daughter on a scooter. I was awestruck by the simple show of affection and care. While his daughter may not have been visible to this winning dad, he was incredibly aware of his daughter despite the frantic traffic noise. Witnessing that simple gesture filled my parenting heart with an awareness that great parenting is often in doing affection really well. Winner!

Both my winners reminded me that the everyday holds wonderful potential to care deeply in the form of gentle touch. It is in shaking off the everyday pace to be deeply present. And I still tune into my winners to remind me that being present doesn’t have to be in the face-to-face, but in a phone call or silly email banter or leaving love notes.  Thank you to those two winning dads… where ever you are. I wish that you had an acceptance speech for me to hear.

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Photo by Kampus Production.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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