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May 2007

Father Time
I 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:

I asked 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.

Since there 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 newsletter.)

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 withdraw.

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 Hawaii sent in this lovely story:
My 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.


Larry Cohen
phone: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com