Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tara Parker - The Basics of Fatherhood

Tara Parker at the New York Times' Well blog offers up a nice post on the importance of fathers. While I have no doubt that mothers are crucial to the well-being and mental development of children, I also think fathers have been given short shrift in this area, both culturally and legally.

Having grown up without a father for most of my childhood (from birth - nine years of age he was working 6 days a week; at age 13 he died of a heart attack), I can attest the hole in my life that this experience created.

During the four years I had him in my life, I wanted more time than he wanted to give, although I did get to know him a little more in the last year before he died. Even so, his absence haunted me in many ways as I grew into manhood, and left me with the conviction that children need their fathers as much as they need their mothers, and for boys maybe even more.

Here is Parker's post, which references another article.
When it comes to issues of childhood health and raising kids, mothers tend to dominate the discussion. But as the Web site PsychCentral points out today, fathers play an essential but often undervalued role in the health and development of children.

In the essay “Fathering in America: What’s a Dad Supposed to Do,'’ Massachusetts family therapist Marie Hartwell-Walker talks about the role of fathers.

“Many TV sitcoms and animated shows continue to portray dads as dolts or, at best, well-meaning but misguided large children whose wives have to mother them as well as their offspring. If an alien in another universe happens to tune in to ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Everyone Loves Raymond,’ ‘Family Guy,’ etc., he (it?) will come away with a rather skewed idea of how men function in American families.”

Dr. Hartwell-Walker notes there is little agreement about what makes an ideal father, but there are some universal qualities that seem to matter most, including:

Be there. In study after study, kids consistently say they would like to have more time with their dads. Regardless of whether a dad shares a home with the children and their mother, the kids need dad time. Working together on a chore or simply hanging out can be as meaningful as attending events or having adventures. Kids want to know their fathers. Just as important, they want their fathers to know them.

Be there throughout their childhoods. There is no time in a child’s life that doesn’t count. Research has shown that even infants know and respond to their fathers differently than they do to their mothers. The bond you make with a baby sets the foundation for a lifetime. As the kids get older, they’ll need you in different ways but they will always need you. Insistent toddler, curious preschooler, growing child, prickly adolescent: Each age and stage will have its challenges and rewards. Kids whose parents let them know that they are worth their parents’ time and attention are kids who grow up healthy and strong. Boys and girls who grow up with attention and approval from their dads as well as their moms tend to be more successful in life.

Balance discipline with fun. Some dads make the mistake of being only the disciplinarian. The kids grow up afraid of their dads and unable to see the man behind the rules. An equal and opposite mistake is being so focused on fun that you become one of the kids, leaving their mother always to be the heavy. Kids need to have fathers who know both how to set reasonable, firm limits and how to relax and have a good time. Give yourself and the kids the stability that comes with clear limits and the good memories that come with play.

Be a role model of adult manhood. Both boys and girls need you as a role model for what it means to be adult and male. Make no mistake: The kids are observing you every minute. They are taking in how you treat others, how you manage stress and frustrations, how you fulfill your obligations, and whether you carry yourself with dignity. Consciously or not, the boys will become like you. The girls will look for a man very much like you. Give them an idea of manhood (and relationships) you can be proud of.

To read the full essay, click here.

Go check out the full essay, it's quite good.

No comments: