Sometimes, the Universe seems to conspire to make us do something. In this case, I think it wants me to write about how important fathers are in the life of their children. We keep focusing on parenting in this blog, but there is a difference between mothering and fathering, which we have not discussed much.
I have a friend who goes on a men’s camp every year. When his boys were young, he went by himself and felt very supported there. As soon as his boys turned 13 and were allowed to go with him, away they went together and spent a great time bonding – singing, dancing, doing physical exercise and watching performances. He has been nagging me to come with him on that camp for a few years now, saying there is something special about the freedom and “safe space” it provides.
So far, I have not gone.
In the past few months, Ronit worked with several boys whose father had died or spent a lot of time away from home. Whenever we talked about them, I kept having the feeling that although they were young (5 to 8 years old), they felt like little men. I felt they saw themselves as somewhat responsible for the wellbeing of their family and had to fill the very large shoes of their absent father.
That was not enough either.
But this week, Ronit said to me, “You should write a bit about the role of fathers in particular. If I write it, it will be like a lecture, but if you write it, it will be real”. And then, out of the blue, I got a newsletter from Fathering Adventures, letting me know they now offer adventures not only to fathers and sons, but also to dads and daughters.
So I thought, “OK, that’s it. I’d better write something on this topic”.
Now, I am not a stereotypical man. I am not competitive, I never pick a fight, I do not drink, I do not swear, I love to cook, I work at home and do many homey things, like driving the kids to school, helping with homework, reading bedtime stories and so on. The main manly quality I have is the need to protect my family all the time and everywhere.
But I used to work long hours away from home and provide the main income, I used to be short-tempered when I was home and I used to be completely out of touch with what my family was going through. Even on weekends, it would take me until late on Saturday to get work out of my head so I can relax and participate.
When Eden was little, I was a very dogmatic and clueless father. Ronit was great (she was a very natural mother), so she took care of Eden, thinking it would be OK, because Eden needed a female role model anyway. In fact, Eden needed my company. In the evenings, when I told her it was time to shower and go to bed, she would refuse and we would have a big struggle, which ended in her agreeing to have a (long) bath instead of a (short) shower and me sitting beside her and listening to her tell me about her day.
Later on, I learned that fathers provide a very important role model to their daughters – that of a potential partner. In fact, the best way to ensure your daughter chooses a decent fellow for a husband and a decent father for her children is to be a decent husband yourself and a decent father to your children.
One of Eden’s favorite things was to walk hand-in-hand with me. She would hold my hand and look proud, which made me feel great. She is 23 now (her birthday is tomorrow) and still does that.
I thought that was a natural thing many fathers did, until I heard a story from a friend of ours who is a great father about his 16-year-old daughter. He said, “She and I were walking along the beach and she reached out and held my hand. I realized it made me uncomfortable. I was thinking about what others might think about me walking around with a beautiful young girl. I wondered about the psychological stage she was in and whether holding my hand meant something, um, you know. Then she looked up at me and said, ‘Dad, I love walking hand-in-hand with you like we did when I was little. I hope we never stop’. It hit me that as far as she was concerned, I would always be her father, no matter how old she was or how old I was, and that I made her feel safe and loved by holding her hand”.
Are you having a soft moment?
When Tsoof was about 3 years old, he discovered soccer. After that, he wanted to play soccer all the time. Between the ages of 3 and 5, a time of endless energy, as soon as I walked in the door in the evening, stressed and hungry, the only thing I could do was play soccer with him. Ronit and Eden took care of dinner and I took care of Tsoof.
This was what you might consider a typical father and son relationship, involving sport, but Tsoof also started playing hand drums at that tender age and being the musical parent (I am auditory and Ronit is not), I also played with him, took him to classes and supported his musical development.
Noff is a lot more like Ronit, but I stayed home with her for a few months when she was a year old and I get to spend the most time with her more than I ever did with her older siblings while working corporate jobs. She is the most independent of our children and that is something I encourage her to be. You can find several posts in this blog about how she inspires me.
I believe that one of the biggest challenges fathers have in modern Western society is that, being the main breadwinners, they engage with their kids at the worst possible times, when they are at their wits’ end, just wanting to sit down and shut everything out for while. In this state, the last thing they want to do is care for someone else.
I believe that if you ask any father, he will tell you he wishes he could show his children who he really is. That notion of “who I really am” means that every father acknowledges the effect of his circumstances on his relationship with his kids and feels in his guts that under different circumstances, he could have a great time with his kids and get a lot closer to them.
One idea is to go away with your kids to a place where circumstances are vastly different from your everyday life, where you and your children will go through something meaningful and special and where you will be able to pay close attention to one another for a few days in a row.
The video below is a bit overly dramatic for my liking, but every word spoken in it is gold, especially in the testimonials. The adventure packages include accommodations, food, kayaking, hiking, snorkeling and group coaching. There are weekend and 5-day adventures and there are adventures for “father and son” or “dad and daughter”.
[Disclaimer: we get nothing from showing you this, other than the satisfaction of doing something good. While I was watching the video, Ronit jumped up and said, “That’s a great idea for <one of her clients> and his son”, and then picked up the phone and called him].
If you decide to give Fathering Adventures a try, please come back here and post a comment to let everyone know how it was.