The re-discovery of fathering is the most exciting thing I’ve seen in 20 years of working with families. Fathers have always cared about their children, but often it has been from a distance. Working hard to support the family, and feeling less able than a woman to care for children, kept the fathers of the ‘50s and ‘60s remote and unsure of how to get close to their kids. ‘Hold on, though,’ I can hear you saying, ‘these days it’s different. Lots of men are very involved with their children.’ Well, yes and no. It has become fashionable for dads to be present at the birth, mind the children, get up to help with night feeds and so on. This is great and everyone benefits. But it has still been a secondary role, a kind of helpmate — all very Sensitive New Age Guy-ish, and still not the whole story of fathering.
Being a father doesn’t only mean being helpful and nice. Rather, it means bringing something different to the whole equation. We’re starting to realise that dads add a healthy, masculine influ-ence to a family, if they can get over their insecurity. Especially when they have children to care for, women don’t want a man who is a bully, but they don’t want a wimp either. They want some- one who is confident in his manhood — in the living room, as well as the bedroom. A man who is at ease with himself, and doesn’t hide from getting involved, giving his opinion and discussing how to solve the day-to-day problems that children bring.
HOW ARE FATHERS DIFFERENT?
Mendifferently with children. They disrupt and energise and activate children. This can be a bit of a nuisance when mothers are trying to calm them down but, if you can get the timing right, it’s great for kids’ development. Fathers, especially, delight in taking the children out and exhausting them. An hour at the park or leisure centre works wonders. One dad I knew found the only way to make his baby son sleep was to walk with him over a shoulder through the streets at night. Another took his baby for drives in the car. For safety, they went round and round the block, and were reported to the police! Dads have a different perspective. Especially when they come home after a day at work, fathers can sometimes see a need and meet it, when a mother is so up to her neck in babies that she can no longer think straight. For instance, they can take the family out to tea, bring home take-aways or just suggest, ‘Let’s leave the place untidy and forget it.’ (Or, better still, clean it up while the mother sleeps.)
Dads can be good at discipline. Fathers have to learn to be strong and firm, without being hard or mean. They should never hit or abuse their children, nor be cruel or sarcastic. Once they are confident that they have struck the right balance, discipline comes more naturally and easily to them. Mothers can relax because they know their partner will back them up and they are not on their own with difficult kids. Women, especially single mothers who have to do it alone, can discipline children, too. But it takes incredible energy.
Dads sometimes cop out of discipline and even side with the children, becoming the proverbial ‘soft touch’. In doing so, they undermine their partner and make her feel like a nagger who is hard just for the sake of it. Yuck! Fathers should back up their partners and, if anything, be the one who is slightly more demanding of the kids. Women are happiest when they can rest in the strength and energy their partners bring to the family scene, and know that it is done safely, too.