I have spoken to thousands of fathers and, without fail, several come up to me after a talk and say, “Thank you for your encouragement but I’m just not doing a very good job.” They look at me with pleading eyes that say ‘I desperately want to do better.’
We have a crisis on our hands: we are living in a culture that doesn’t like dads very much. Media, music and magazines berate men. Advertisements on television portray fathers as weak, distant and stupid. One car commercial shows a father throwing a ball to his son. He is inept, but a voiceover informs viewers “at least he can leave the child his car.”
If ads portrayed women as dumb and inept, we’d have a war on our hands. But good men stay silent. Especially dads. From where I sit as a paediatrician and staunch child advocate, this makes my blood boil.
I have seen the kids who have never known their fathers and ache for years over the loss. I have sat with young boys who have sobbed because their fathers took off across the country with another woman. I have spoken to girls who tell me they would do anything for their dads to pay attention to them. Life without involved fathers is a crisis in many countries, but it is also a very personal one.
If you grew up with an absent, abusive or negligent father, you know the depth of the pain I am referring to. Each of us knows men and women still trying to gain their father’s approval and acceptance. They become workaholics to prove they have what it takes to succeed. They ignore their spouses and children in order to engage in something that would please their father. A poor or nonexistent relationship with their father impacts men and women for life.
That’s exactly why bashing fathers is so distasteful and harmful. Hollywood thinks it’s funny, but it is high time we pushed back. Fathers are important, both scientifically and spiritually.
The Important Role of Fathers
Research reveals that fathers play a crucial role in the lives of their children.
- Toddlers who live with a father are better at solving puzzles.
- If a father reads to his child from age 6 months on, that child tests higher on IQ tests when she is 3 years old.
- Kids who live in a home with their fathers are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety or get involved in drugs, alcohol and sex when they are teens. They have higher self‚esteem and a lower risk of suicide.
- Kids who grow up with a father are more likely to finish high school and go on to university.
I could fill two pages with research showing the overwhelming benefits of an involved, loving father. This list alone shows that fathers are crucial to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health of their kids.
Connecting With Your Kids
How can you connect better with your kids and fulfill the important role you play in their lives? Many fathers feel intimidated when it comes to getting closer to their kids, particularly with their teenage daughters. Your natural response when you’re unsure is likely to withdraw from your kids, but this is the opposite of what you should do.
Instead, engage with your child. When your child is young, make sure to hug him or her a lot. Don’t be shy about embracing your kids and engaging in physical play with them. Psychologists tell us that physical play and even a little rough housing is good for both girls and boys. So dads, get those kids outside and climb some trees.
As your child gets older, he or she still needs you involved. During the secondary school years, kids become self-conscious and feel awkward, so they often back away when you want to hug them. Some kids will start refusing to do things with you and even get testy. When your 12 year old does this, don’t take it personally. The withdrawal has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. When your son or daughter feels ugly, unimportant, fat, too tall, too skinny, too pimply, move in. Let that child know you will always love and accept him.
This means you need to change your strategy when it comes to showing affection and love. Be creative. Don’t hug your child in front of friends. Don’t boast about him in public. Honour his awkward feelings and show your child affection, respect and admiration in private. Understand that sons and daughters need affection, love and respect expressed in different ways.
Loving Your Daughter
There are quite a few practical ways to express your love for your daughter.
Touch her in a way that makes her feel comfortable. Let her take the lead. She doesn’t want to sit on your lap anymore, so don’t tell her to. One big thing to remember is to be sensitive about how you hug her. Many girls are self-conscious of developing breasts and don’t want to be hugged head on. If your daughter is uncomfortable with this, put your arm around her shoulders and hug her from the side. Never address her as being sexy – either in the way she dresses or acts. This feels creepy to her and ties her view of love to her looks.
Never express any touch that could be misconstrued as sexual. Never pat her behind. When you touch her, do so in a way that honours her discomfort with her body. Touch her on the head, pat or squeeze her shoulders. Look at her face and touch it in an affectionate way. There are many ways to express affection while avoiding any interpretation of your touch as sexual.
When showing affection, you can talk about strong character qualities that she has, such as patience, courage or integrity.
Engaging with your daughter can be difficult, too. Here are some great ways to connect with her:
Ask her one or two questions at a time when she is relaxed (not after school or when she is doing homework). Then listen to her answer without interruption. Even if you don’t like her answer, don’t respond in the moment. Just listen.
Ask her to spend alone time with you once a week. Take her to breakfast, go for a bike ride or go to the garage and change the oil in your car – anything. The point is to let her know you want her company.
Don’t talk about her grades or activities often. The message she gets when you constantly make remarks about how she does in school or sports is that her value is in how she performs, not in who she is. Then she feels pressure to succeed to keep your love.
Praise her character. If she has a strong faith, courage or kindness, tell her you are proud of that. Think about Jesus and the disciples. They didn’t talk about what others did but focused on living with the fruits of the Spirit. Do this with your daughter.
Loving Your Son
When it comes to being a good father to your son, you need to act a little differently because boys need different things from their fathers than girls do. Some things they need include respect, admiration, approval, affection and love. Every young man needs to know that his father approves of him. Men who never received a stamp of approval from their fathers live their adult lives driven to acquire it, even after their fathers have died. Don’t let your son live without yours.
How do you give it? Tell him that no matter what he does – if he succeeds or fails – your love and admiration of him will never change. Communicating this in a sincere, heartfelt manner will shape the man he becomes.
Boys need respect from their parents, too. A young man who feels disrespected thinks he isn’t worth much. Show your son respect in the way you talk to him. When he is a teen, refer to him as a man.
When he is old enough, make sure he has a job outside the home. Many parents feel this is mean, but for a son it is a sign that you see him as strong and capable.
When it comes to affection, hug him. Tell him that you love him. Even grown men need to hear their fathers say they love them.
Once you endeavour to do these things with your son and daughter, you’ll be more connected to them. The great benefit from this is that now your child is willing to listen to what you have to say about Christ. The better you connect with your son or daughter, the more they are willing to follow your example and your behaviour as a Christian.
You are the gateway to God the Father in your kids’ eyes. If they love, admire and trust you, they will do the same with God. But if you abandon them or refuse to engage with them, they will have to overcome many hurdles in order to trust God. Build a strong relationship with your kids and make the path to Him clear.