Updated: May 19, 2020
Through my experience, I have been faced with very similar challenges in all the contexts that I have
worked in. Problems present themselves mostly through a child’s behaviour or academic performance, but behind this there is a desperate need from the child and the parents to be seen, heard and understood. This looks very different from family to family, but underneath it’s all very similar. I was, and am still presented with parents who are going through difficult times with their children (or their partner or parents) and they ask for help, or in many cases for me to fix the problem. I cannot fix problems, but I can assist clients to address their problems and make the necessary changes. I saw this need constantly presenting itself to me and so I decided to start running talks and presentations to parents so that I could reach a broader audience as opposed to the individual cases.
It has been clear that the vast majority of attendees are mom’s, in fact the bulk of talk and presentations on the topic of children and families is generally geared towards moms, and this extend to the majority of workshops and courses I have attended over the years, that have been predominantly female attendees. I often felt out of place and as though the talks were not for me, which lead me to the question of, what about the dads?
Dad’s play a critical role in the development of a child, whether biological, or not. The father-figure role that a child (both boys and girls) needs to interact with plays such a critical role that there is research to suggest that “fatherlessness is possibly the single biggest driver for social dysfunction in communities around the world” (Wilkinson, 2013, p. 94). Being a dad is an incredible job, or rather an incredible privilege. Let’s work towards being the best dad’s we can be, to give our kids (sons and daughters) an unforgettable childhood that they can share and pass onto their children.
DAD by Craig Wilkinson
A couple years agoI attended a talk by Craig Wilkinson where he shared his story and his insights that lead to his book “Dad”.
I refer parents (moms and dads) to this book regularly as it conveys the significance of the dad-role in a child’s life, along with some very important lessons and understandings about the (as Craig puts it) “responsibility-laced privilege” of being a dad.I highly recommend that you get your hands on this book (digital or hard copy). There is even an interactive online course you can do for a more hands on approach.
Craig discusses that more and more research indicates that “fatherlessness is possibly the biggest driver of social dysfunction in communities around the world”. -He further tells of another author who worked a lot with men in prisons, and he was working with a particular group of men. They were approaching mother’s day and all the men were very keen to ask him to pass a card on to their mothers. As father’s day approached he pre-empted something similar from the men - except none of them asked him to send a card to their dads. When he investigated this they either shared that they didn’t know their father or had an estranged relationship with their dads. - it’s not necessarily the reason they are in jail, but we can’t overlook the impact this had on them and their experiences.
According to Craig, boys “ask” their dad’s three important questions through their lives - who am I (self-identity), do I matter (validity) and do I have what it takes (Self-belief)? only a boy’s father can answer these questions effectively. Answering these questions effectively helps create a secure, and strong young man. On the other hand, not having answers leaves a significant wound within our ‘masculine soul’, and sadly “wounded men wound”.
Fundamental to the nature of masculinity is that it cannot simply be taught - it needs to be imparted. This requires a father to be present, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too, to engage and share experiences with his son.
Craig includes a letter that his 18 year old son wrote for him. It is an incredibly moving and powerful letter which tells us about his personal experience of being fathered. I strongly recommend that you get a copy of the book and read this, a few times.
Dad’s do it differently
Let’s be honest, dad’s do things differently. This can be fun, and the kids often love it, BUT this can often be quite different to how a mom may do things. This can create quite a lot of tension in a relationship. Men and women are different, that’s ok. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, and in fact it is important and necessary, but this needs to be discussed and communicated effectively between partners. Sadly, I engage with families where communication has either broken or is not effective, leading to frustration and conflict. Communicate about how you may do things differently so there is an understanding and expectations can be adjusted accordingly.
Something that has become quite evident in my experience, not only in working with parents, but also just existing in the world today, is that a dad’s role is seems to be constantly reduced and reduced to the point that the father plays a very small role in his own children’s lives. So even in families where mom and dad are happily married, dad can still function as an absent father. This seems to be partially because dad’s may feel like his wife regularly has an issue with how he does things, or he forgets things (because its new and different for him) and she has slowly assumed more responsibility. As this happens, I often find that a dad may take a step back because of a range of different reasons from feeling inadequate, embarrassed, or overwhelmed as a few examples. This then feeds that cycle of a mom needing to do more and so this continues. We certainly cannot place blame as there are many contributing factors, one of which we cannot overlook is society and the expectations that are placed on parents based on what their roles are expected to be.
If we do not actively challenge these personal and societal expectations, we will never break the cycle. Being an involved dad requires one to be an actively involved participant in all aspects of a child’s life. Being a dad takes hard work and repetitive effort. It takes many mistakes, but a willingness to learn from these mistakes. It takes the courage to tell your wife or partner that you want to be involved, you want to do more and so “please help me to learn or remember what I need to do”.
It also takes effective teamwork and absolutely critical communication. On this point, it’s important to remember that men and women are different, and think and engage with the world differently (neither one is right or wrong) but communication is not simply talking to each other, rather it’s about ensuring you convert your message in a way the other will fully understand it, and similarly making an effort to fully grasp what has been said to you. Try to eliminate confusion and misunderstandings by using reflective talk to indicate what you have heard and understand. Get this right and you’re on the right track.
My Dad Is…
An important statement we need to consider and complete is “my dad is…”
We need to consider this not only for how your children may complete it, but probably more importantly reflect on your now relationship with your father. Your experience with your father will directly impact your relationship with your own children. Be cognisant of this, reflect on it, and if you need to work with someone on this.
As I mentioned earlier - “wounded men wound”, so take some time to reflect on this to address any issues you need to and heal your own wounds. Also, ask yourself how you would want you children to fill in the blank for this statement, and then ensure that you are living it.
The new manhood by Steve Biddulph (author of the book Raising Boys) is another book I would recommend you get a copy of. One thing that Steve talks about which I found quite significant is that in order for a man to actively work towards being a great father, he needs to engage with his own father and forgive him - for whatever it is that they are carrying with them. If you are lucky enough to still be able to have a conversation, do it. If not, it can be a bit more difficult but you can still work towards forgiveness. There is often a lot that we carry with us from this relationship with our own fathers that we may be unaware of, take some time to reflect and engage, and then take action and ownership for the “responsibility-laced privilege” of being a dad so you can make the most of it.
This takes hard work, effort and engagement, but in the end it is all worth it. Being a dad is awesome, so be the hero and the role-model your children want to learn from.