A few years ago a friend of mine used to run classes teaching men how to use a cut-throat razor. It was all very on-trend and swanky, but the main reason he started the lessons was because he felt it was a skill men had lost that ought not to be forgotten. And it got me thinking about other skills that men have lost over the years that have traditionally been passed down by their fathers.
Before you read any further I should point out that this blog is based on my experiences and of the experiences of people I know. I am not making wild generalisations about the population at large. Disclaimer over…
As a hopeful dad, who also happens to be gay, I realised there were certain aspects to my skillset that are lacking in one way or another.
Sport – I am unable to kick a ball with any sense of direction, I lack the ability to catch an object that’s thrown at me (and when I do catch the said object I lack the ability to stop myself from cheering – it really happens that rarely), and if you expect me to hit an object that’s thrown at me with a bat or racquet, well then we may as well just give up now. I think it’s safe to say that I have little or no knowledge, skill or prowess in any sport whatsoever.
DIY – I have a drill, a set of screwdrivers (both Philips & flat-heads), a spirit level, spanners, wrenches, a drawer full of screws and a drawer labelled ‘miscellaneous’. But if a shelf needs going up, a picture needs to be hung or some painting needs doing then I usually call a wonderful handyman who lives near us who, for a small fee, will get everything sorted with minimum fuss. I should point out that I could very well do everything around the house that needs sorting, but it would take all day and it would end up being a bit wobbly, wonky or streaky. Having said that, I plumbed in our washing machine and dishwasher, sorted out minor electrical issues, and I can put together flat-packed furniture in record time - so I’m not completely useless.
Cars – When I was a kid my dad would spend hours tinkering with the family car. I remember him taking the car battery inside once a month to charge it from the mains plug – did everyone’s dad do that? He would check the various water compartments were filled, that the air pressure on the tyres was correct and safe, he would check the oil levels and knew how change the oil when necessary… the list is endless. I don’t think he ever got his car serviced and it ran for years. Nowadays, I know where to find the dipstick but I have no idea what I’m actually looking for or what to do when I do. Plus the car goes in for a service once a year so someone at the garage does all that for me.
Now, I’m not blaming my dad for not passing on these skills. I suspect that I simply wasn’t interested in sport, DIY or cars, and I always kind of assumed it was because I was gay. But actually lots of my straight friends share similar feelings about these traditionally male pursuits. Some of them might be great at sport but couldn’t drill a hole in a wall without destroying the wall in the process whilst others can throw together an amazing bookshelf whilst not being able to kick a ball straight.
Whether it’s simply that my generation’s dads decided to do everything for us without actually showing us how to do stuff, or new patterns of working meant they weren’t around and our mums didn’t have the relevant skills, or that we were the first generation to have computers and multiple TVs at home and we simply didn’t engage with what our fathers wanted to pass on. Whatever the reason I knew that something had to be done.
So I came up with the idea of “Dad Camp” – in my head it’s a place where men can share the skills they have with other men and can learn those forgotten (or never taught) skills they want to be able to pass on to their sons.
But then things took a turn for the unexpected. What about the dads with daughters? This wasn’t a question of whether their daughters should be taught sport or DIY – of course they should. The question was how to do their daughters’ hair, or bake cakes, or make homemade cards – all the things that traditionally mums used to do.
With more and more modern dads taking on as much parental responsibility as their partners, with the number of stay-at-home dads steadily rising, and the possibility of Tom and I having a daughter, it suddenly became clear that there was a whole other skillset that might need to be taught and learnt.
This became all the more apparent when a friend told me of the time he had to book an emergency hairdresser appointment for his daughter as he didn’t know how to put her hair in a bun. His wife was away for the weekend and his daughter’s ballet teacher is notoriously strict about such things. He has since learnt and can now do a very neat plait too.
Another friend of mine who’s a single mum showed a huge interest in Dad Camp. She was aware that she didn’t want her son to miss out on the traditionally male pursuits but felt she didn’t have the all the necessary skills to teach him.
So suddenly Dad Camp was looking like it might need to be renamed. Because this wasn’t about what dads passed on to their sons anymore. It was about what parents passed on to their children. Nowadays families are made up of single parents (both female and male), parents of the same gender and parents of different genders. And all these parents have their own specific set of skills and values they want to pass on to their children regardless of what gender they are.
And so I give you “Parent Camp” - a place where parents can share the skills they have with other parents, and can learn new skills they want to be able to pass on to their children.
Would you be interested in joining a Parent Camp? What skills would you want to share or learn at Parent Camp?
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...