TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
When the family’s first child is born, a father is born. One father said with a grin after receiving his newborn in his arms: “I tipped the baby this way and that, and looked underneath her. Where’s the instruction book? I thought every new model should come with an operations manual, including this one!”
Fathering is not something that comes naturally. We learn fathering, not by instinct, but by the way we were fathered. In the past, birthing and new-parent classes were only for mothers. Mother alone was expected to feed, bathe, rock, burp, clothe the baby and change his diaper. She would then hand the infant to the father for a good-night kiss. He would dutifully kiss the cute little tyke and hand him or her back to mother to put to bed.
Dad’s job was not to actually tend to the child; he was to go out and make a living. He bought the baby food. Mum spooned it into the baby’s mouth. This is the stereotype of yesteryear.
Today’s teens and tweens face a host of fears and challenges we adults did not know in our youth. And these fears and challenges come early for them. They no longer have time to mature slowly, as in the old days when fathers and children sort of groped their way into the future.Today’s dad has to know what he is doing and hit the ground running, from the very beginning of a child’s growth and development.
“Any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad,” the quote by Anne Geddes, the Australian-born photographer renowned for her whimsical snapshots of babies, comes to mind.
It is clear that a father invests materially with his pay cheque. But when he begins to make a heavy relationship investment, the chances of his marriage succeeding will go way up. The chances of his children succeeding will skyrocket. In addition, the father himself benefits, in every dimension.
Fathering is a long-term investment, and by any measure your most important one. We want a deal with the best return and the least strings. How can fathers realise a maximum return on your most important long-term investment?
Today’s teens and tweens face a very different world from the one you grew up in, in terms of the risks they face, and their attitudes towards life and technology. If we’re going to see our investment in them reap its richest rewards, we’re going to have to move beyond the old ways.
The two keys I believe are: Build a relationship, and be a good role model.
Children learn more from watching their parents than from listening to them – more is caught than taught. As parents, this puts great weight on how we conduct our lives. It requires us to be intentional about how we live. It requires us to self-reflect and evaluate if our lives match our words. And it requires us to be intentional about identifying the lessons we hope our kids will take from us.
US-based J oshua Becker, on his blog www.becomingminimalist.com, shares “35 Things I Hope They Will Say About Their Dad.” They represent the 35 most important lessons he hopes his kids will learn from his life. I’ve chosen and condensed 10 of them which I hope will be a source of inspiration to all the dads out there.
1) “He loved us.” I could see it in his words, his face and his actions.
2) “He loved our mum.” And was always faithful to her. His love for her provided a healthy model for my family.
3) “He worked hard but he always came home on time.” He understood the value of a hard day’s work and wasn’t afraid of it. But he knew when to quit for the day.
4) “He loved his job.” He worked hard at his job not just because of the money, but because he believed in what he did.
5) “He lived within his means.” We were taken care of. We did fun stuff. We had nice things. But he knew where to draw the line.
6) “He made us laugh.” It was always fun to spend time with him.
7) “He had our best in mind and pushed us to improve.” We were disciplined, but it never felt motivated by anger ... only love.
8) “I knew I could count on him when I needed him.” Any time, day or night.
9) “He was proud of us.” And he told us often.
10) “He dreamed big dreams for me.” Even when I didn’t believe in myself, he did.
As the American writer Clarence Budington Kelland put it: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
May we continue to celebrate fatherhood even after Father’s Day. Enjoy the journey as you do not just work and provide for your children but spend time to build that relationship with them.
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.