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recently led a workshop about fatherhood, called Father Time, at
Hand in Hand Parenting in California. Here are some highlights
of things I learned at that event:
people (both fathers and mothers) to say something about a
father that they admired. Most talked about their own father,
grandfather, or uncle. Some moms mentioned their husbands.
Some of the traits they admired about these fathers were: joie
de vivre (joy of living); He had time for me; He was fun; He had
patience; He knew what to do; He listened to me; He was patient,
loving and caring; He always answered my questions honestly and
genuinely; His heart is in his parenting--he plays with our kids
even if he has a headache or had a bad day; He spoke to me as a
person; He included us in building projects; He was still able
to learn new things, even as a grandfather; He was never bitter
even though he had a very hard life; He was understanding and
warm; He had attention for me.
I was very
moved by this list, and it was immediately obvious how different
these descriptions of real fathers is from the picture we get
from TV and other media, where fathers are usually stupid or
violent or absent or emotionally unavailable.
were both dads and non-dads in the workshop, I asked the
non-dads what questions they have for dads. Here are some of
their questions: How would you like to be involved in
parenting? Why do fathers feel they have to be so strong, why
is it hard to show your feelings? How can your family support
you in being involved as a dad the way you want to be? What did
your father do with you that you would like to do with your
child? How do you show your feelings and connect with your
children, especially older children? How can I help you share
your childhood story with me and the kids? Whatís your vision of
a society that would allow men and boys to live openly in touch
with their feelings? Do you ever go to other men for parenting
advice? (several people said yes to this). (If any fathers out
there would like to answer any of these questions, please send
them to me and I will put them in the next issue of the
Next, it was
the fathers turn in the workshop to speak up, so I asked them
what they would like non-fathers to know about fathers and
fatherhood. Here are a few of their responses: We struggle with
need to be right, and with competitiveness; We were punished for
showing feelings; We are expected to be the disciplinarian, this
is tiring and makes it harder to stay close with our children
and our spouse; Our perspectives on parenting are different from
yours; We need to switch gears after work; Our lives change
after we have children; Iím doing my best; I had a father who
was not elegant about discipline, so when the kids act up I have
a voice in my head pulling me to use a sledgehammer or to
At the end of the workshop we talked about how fathers are
parents and fathers are also men, but we get lots more training
in being men than in being fathers. A lot of this training (for
example: donít have too many feelings) interferes with being the
kind of father we want to be. Someone in the workshop pointed
out a positive aspect of male training, which is that many of us
learned from our own fathers how much family means, and that
family is worth making sacrifices for.
A father in
sent in this lovely story:
toddler daughter was sick with a bad cold and we needed to use a
bulb syringe which was very painful for her. She was very
upset and no amount of cuddling or talk would calm her down.
My wife was in the bathroom taking a break to calm her nerves,
and I decided to play role reversal with my daughter. Her bunny
got to administer the medication while her baby bear (played by
me) put up all kinds of resistance. She became very calm and
nurturing to the bear and explained why this process was needed.
Then she used her own bulb to pull out all the "gunk" and make
her bear feel better.
My wife was stunned to hear silence instead of screaming and
came in to see what was happening. She was amazed to see our
daughter playing happily on the bed when she'd been inconsolable
just moments before.
In a whisper, I heard her say to me "that was brilliant".
We played this game over and over for the next several days and
each time our daughter became more amenable to the bulb. I'm
pleased to note that baby bear also made a wonderful recovery.