Dads might teach you do fun stuff, but it's mothers who invariably give children the tools they need to grow up.

Dads might teach you do fun stuff, but it's mothers who invariably give children the tools they need to grow up. Photo: Michael O'Sullivan

Most of us like to think that our fathers mould us, make us the men we are. Teach us how to shave and smoke and treat women well. But I'm pleased and proud that, in my case, my mother was the one who pointed me the way to go, the one who taught me how to dress and act and, most importantly, how to clean grubby faces with a hankie and some spit.

Son #2, covered in sauce from a sausage roll, at some sunny swings the other day. Hankie. Dad dribble. Wipe. "Ow!" One clean-ish kid. Forty years ago I was getting the same treatment. And giving the same reaction. It might not be that hygienic but as a scientifically literate relative remarked, it's probably good for the kid's immune system.

For one reason or another my dad was absent from much of my youth  so it was my mum who took me to the barbers and bought me clothes and shoes. Insisted on sunscreen, and instilled in me a love of long luxurious baths. She tried her best to teach me about culture and manners and having well-shone shoes. Some of it stuck - much of it didn't - but not through lack of trying.

But it's not what we're told that counts, anyway. Kids, I'm finding out, don't listen anyway. What they do do, though, is watch and learn.

Many of the lessons we take from our parents and pass on to our kids are through osmosis. We don't realise that it's happening until it's too late. There have been reports lately that the youth of today (Generation Zzzzz?) are becoming more and more clueless about money because they don't see their parents doing things with it - no cheques nor pay packets, no real money at all, just notional electonic transfers from one place to another. The what and why of money doesn't seep in.

But a mother's touch does. And I see it my kids. They're picking up good habits from both parents, I hope, but many of the better ones they're getting from their mother. And not just from the gentle nagging. Daily sunscreen, teeth cleaning ("do I have to do this every night?"), attention to hair and dress sense - it's far more her influence than mine. I'll teach the boys how to shave, but most of the important stuff will come from their mother.

Boys want to be like their fathers but most of us have our mothers to thank for the men we are.

What about you? What did your mother pass on?