Father’s Day has been growing in emotional significance for Henry as long as his seven children, aged 13 to 41, have been growing up: “When they were little, they would wish me happy Father’s Day because they were prompted by their mother, or they had made cards and crafts in school, while now they remember it spontaneously, plan it in advance and thus it is really heartfelt. As they grow older – and I do too – I appreciate how much they care about me.”
The Earle children get together to organise, or ‘plot’ a surprise for Dad – as they do for Mum on Mothering Sunday. But every single Sunday is special for them: “From the start of our family, we have always called Sunday ‘Family Day’. A day to meet go to Mass and have a meal and when possible go out to the countryside or the beach. Together.”
A devout Catholic and church volunteer, he marks the religious festivity of St. Joseph’s as the main occurrence to celebrate fatherhood and its spiritual meaning. He notes that any excuse is good for a family reunion, so they will do it all over again – minus the gifts! – on the third Sunday in June, when the British and North American secular holiday falls, which Henry reckons as ‘commercial’ and yet worth of an extended lunch with the kids.
We have always called Sunday ‘Family Day’.
“Being such a large family, with our children, their partners and their own children, we tend to gather at home, around a table laden with food and drinks,” Henry says. “We do so for birthdays too, and this makes it a busy schedule of get-togethers. We do everything as a family: we even fight as a family, but that is the beauty of being together!
“We’ve always made a point to go together to a restaurant at least once a year, and when we do – booking well in advance, of course – we are a loud family who enjoys an extra good time, bound to be noticed from afar.”
Summer sees the Earle’s move their shindigs to the seaside: “Summer days mean trips to the beach, with rolls for lunch and barbeque for dinner. These holidays are fun, with lots of board and cards games. I find being surrounded by them all relaxing and enjoyable.”
A large family is what newlyweds Cathy and Henry wished for, she, being one of seven siblings and he one of four: “We believe in family values. We were longing for our first child to come, then we wished for a second one, and so on.”
“That is natural, no matter how many children you’ve got, or how old they are.”
If elsewhere ‘two’ is company and ‘three’ a crowd, that is not applicable to siblings, according to him: “When parents have a toddler and a new baby is on the way, they wonder how they’ll cope. And yet they do. They know they will. No matter how many times, they do it over again. They always find a way to cope with a growing family. Indeed one worries about children’s welfare and future – as a parent that is natural, no matter how many children you’ve got, or how old they are.”
He credits his wife and her superpowers for managing the household like clockwork, carrying out chores, keeping on top of everyone’s busy schedule, including Henry’s, and reminding everyone about their social engagements, deadlines, and training them for the real world out there. There are sacrifices to be made, mostly on the materialistic side of modern lifestyle, Henry admits, but materialism is something he can do without, gaining on spiritual and affective intensity: “I am most happy when I see my family happy.”
The essence of fatherhood is caring for, and communicating with, one’s children, always finding the time to spend with them individually when necessary: “And protecting them as much as we are allowed, and always being ready to pick up the pieces, should they fail.”
Henry says that a good father must set the example and must demand from himself the same attitude and behaviour he expects from his children. Also, parents ought not to try and mould their children in their own image, but recognise, acknowledge and respect their personalities and aspirations.
“Our children admire and support each other, but were never jealous of, and never wanted to copy each other, and we allowed them to develop their own character, sometimes going through heart-breaking tough times. There were those who dragged their feet to study for any length of time, and those who burnt the midnight oil to the point I had to clump their books shut and send them out for a walk, to unwind.”
His proudest moment? “When someone relays positive comments about my children.” And now, after 34 years of marriage, and all kids but two, aged 17 and 13, having gone to university, graduated, landed jobs, flown the nest and brought grandchildren, he counts his blessings: “Fatherhood to a large family has helped me in many ways, such as growing in patience, respect for the other, knowing how to forgive, enjoying the others triumphs, knowing we can’t have it all, sharing whatever we have, supporting each other, enjoying and loving each other, no matter how different we are. Crucial lessons, I think, for a good society”.