Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Being An Involved Father

June 26, 1995

In the past few years, fathers - and especially a functioning two-parent family - have been recognized for its importance in raising successful children. The definition of good fathering has undergone a radical change. Our fathers played different roles from the expected roles of fathers today. It is not an easy transition.

Traditional fathers. Historically, fathering consisted of providing financial support, safety and discipline. Men felt the financial responsibility to the core of their being. This role gave fathers permission to immerse themselves wholly and completely in their work.

Fathers often felt pressured by career demands and justified their lack of family involvement to attitudes and schedules that weren't conducive to good fathering. When work is used for the foundation of male identity, it lures men toward self-pride, materialism, workaholism and excessive competition.

Work involvement came at the expense of important relationship skills - emotional self-understanding, expressing feelings, and being in touch with the feelings of others. The emotionally absent or unaware father did not get to know his children nor did his children know him. Occasionally he might explode with rage after having stored up feelings and resentments.

Economics today and fathering. With today’s economics the "Good Provider" role is being shared. Mothers are in the work force in unprecedented numbers. The special privileges of entitlement and sex role divisions no longer fit. Mothers can no longer keep up the demands of children and the home.

Hard choices have to be made to put family and children first. Out of necessity fathers are becoming involved with their families. With women in the work force, the father’s role in supporting his wife and helping with the children and household becomes more crucial.

The benefits of being an involved father. Fathers are learning that the more sensitive and responsive they are to childrens' needs and feelings, the more they can understand, communicate and guide them. Men now enjoy close, affectionate bonds with their children. Sons and daughters thrive better and turn out to be more capable, responsible and resourceful human beings.

Responsible fathers provide their sons a same-sex role model to help them identify with the positive masculine qualities. A nurturing, affectionate father provides a needed antidote from a defective adolescent model of masculinity - tough, reckless, rebellious, free from commitments and responsibility, sexually exploitative, physically aggressive and afraid of intimacy. These hyper-masculine traits get young men into trouble in relationships with women, authority figures, alcohol abuse and work supervisors.

Daughters are put off by fathers who are angry and harsh. Their relationships with young men become less confident and distorted. They may hunger for a loving, nurturing relationship with a male because of the lack of warmth in the home. They may lack trust in forming healthy relationships. Daughters need a powerful mother figure in their lives while fathers should assume a nurturing, accepting role to show them basic respect and dignity.

Fathers should be the more powerful disciplinarians with their sons. Sons identify and take on the qualities of the powerful role model in their lives. The strength of the father needs to be counterbalanced with qualities of gentleness, kindness and meeting the needs of others. The emotional bond he creates makes his discipline and guidance acceptable.

Fathers teach skills to their children. By being patient and loving they can enjoy a special bond around work and play. However, when they are quick to criticize, find fault or lose their temper, the damage they do to a relationship outweighs any learning taking place. Working with a perfectionistic or controlling father is a big turnoff and spoils many father/child relationships.

Fathers can play a special role in making family memories and making family life fun. Fathers can bring a sense of proportion and fun to family life when the mother may be too caught up in getting work done.

What does it take to be a successful father? A successful father is:

  • a loving husband who loves the children's mother in a way that communicates healthy respect, love and cooperation in family duties.
  • a responsible provider who enjoys his work and successfully copes with the challenges of earning a living and providing security for the family.
  • a confidant decision-maker who has self-discipline, goals, initiative and dependability.
  • a willing teacher who gently guides and corrects skills and principles that help his children live successful lives. He provides acceptance, praise and recognition for special qualities and accomplishments.
  • a nurturing parent who gives of his time and attention in loving his children and in developing an affectionate bond with them. He does things with them. He takes an interest in their activities. He knows how to touch, hug and get emotionally involved in their lives.

I know all this doesn't come easy. The pull of work can be strong. For some men, taking the initiative and getting involved with their children isn't second nature. Fathering requires increased intelligence and openness about emotions and relationships. I hope my own sons will start from a much better place than I did. I can help make it happen.