The first time I wrote this post, I stood on my soap box and began to deliver a rousing speech on fatherhood. I really wanted to write a post that would inspire men who are about to be fathers, give high-fives to the good dad’s out there, and show all sorts of statistics proving that kids need their dads around.
My dad was a monster. I lived in fear of him, at one point hated him, and swore to never be like him. One day I woke up and he was gone and never came back. He left us in emotional and financial ruin. I didn’t hear from my dad until I was an adult of 20 something and he found a way to call me just to ask me for money. That was my dad. I swore to be the complete opposite of him. Where he was absent I would be present, where he watched TV in silence I would choose interaction, and where he left me without a sense of responsibility I would care for my child. That is what drives me to be the dad I am working hard to be.
I am trying to be the dad I never had. Growing up in my neighborhood there was so many of us in homes without dads, or worse, homes with abusive fathers. To me though, a common theme in my life was seeing so many young men growing up without any direction, no mentors, and no real direction.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes. Nine in ten American parents agree this is a “crisis.”
The absent father was a common pattern I saw that was creating just a new generation of lost and absent fathers. I wanted to do some research on the impacts of absent fathers and found the book, “Fatherhood: Research, Interventions, and Policies”. The book describes a longitudinal research study in the United States that spanned over 50 years studying kids and their fathers and found that kids value fathers who spend time with them:
Thus, in 1924, 63% of the teens in one city reported that the most desirable attribute of a father is that he spends time with his children. By 1977, the figure had risen to 68%. This reflects the fact that children, who know that fathers have other callings, appreciate fathers who take the time to be with them.
But being around is not enough to call yourself a good dad, there has got to be more than just being there. So I continued to read and ponder this question and found that researchers have suggested that defining a father’s involvement boils down to three things – Interaction, Availability, and Responsibility.
Interaction refers to your direct contact with your child through providing loving care and sharing activities. Your child wants face-to-face time with you. We do live in a day and age where fathers who travel a lot for their job find themselves away from their kids, but with the use of technology, fathers can help bridge the distance by ensuring constant communication using a variety of tools such as Skype.
Availability represents how often you are available for interaction by virtue of being present or accessible. You need to put time aside to have available to devote to your child. As fathers we must do our best to leave adequate space in our hectic schedules for our children.
Responsibility means exactly what you think. You must ensure your child is taken care of by providing all the resources your kid needs to be happy and healthy. Resources do not always translate to just money, but it also means people. Your child not only needs you, but other adults as well. Your family, friends, and care givers are all part of village that are working towards similar goals when it comes to your child.
All of this sounded good to me.
So far so good?
I am almost done writing this post and I feel like I am getting closer to that perfect ideal of a father. Last thing I wanted to touch on was culture. Culture has a huge influence on the ideas of fatherhood, but at this time I still thought that there were “universal” qualities that all kids needed in a father, regardless of culture. This is the point that my research shook up everything I was writing about.
I began to look at parenting around the world to see how it differs from some of the common parenting styles found in America. You only need to read a few articles about Global Parenting to see the contrast of parenting styles around the world. To American parents, leaving their kids on the curb while they go shopping is a crime, but not for the Danes. The more I read the more I realized how skewed and narrow my point of view was. I was looking for “universal” truths, but I was struggling to find them. In some cultures, like the African Fulani, a father’s involvement with his kids happens late in life and does not involve the same kind of emotional attachment that I felt was necessary between father’s and their children. What was more surprising to me was that children from these cultures are just as self-assured and happy as their American counterparts – if not more so! It became clear that my idea of what a “good” father is was so deeply entrenched in my Western-Americanized point of view. I found a book that perfectly stated this:
Western parents and researchers are interested in increasing father involvement, in part, because we believe this form of caregiving has significant social-emotional outcomes for the young later in life.
What do I know?
So here I am, back where I started. I wanted to pin down the essence of fatherhood into things that were universal, but it’s not that easy. Or is it even possible? There are so many different types of fathers out there and many of whom are doing their best for their families. Should I really look down upon the man who works two jobs to provide for his family, but as a result barely gets to see them? I thought it would be cut and dry, but it’s not. Not for me at least.
For now I have come away with some thoughts on entering into fatherhood and trying to define the right model for what you want to be.
- Talk to your baby making partner and set expectations on what your fathering style will be. What does your BMP need from you? What you both think the baby will need from you?
- Find examples. Look for people who you respect and try to see if there are in their style of fathering that you want to implement in your life.
- Draw upon your own experience as a child to help determine what you need to be for your own child. Do you want to be like the dad you had or the one you wanted? Both?
- Read. Do your own research, if anything it may provide you with some thoughts and insights to reflect on.
At the end of the day, if you’re a dad who is giving his all to your family and doing the best you can – I salute you.