Editor’s note: The Baby and Blog writing team shares a variety of views on the role of a father in the household. Here, our writer Didan expresses her view.
Yes! I’m a Daddy’s girl and I hope my daughter grows up to be a Daddy’s girl, too. The bond between a man and his child is the greatest form of empowerment and protection a child can have. I wear the features of my father’s face and have duplicated his strong personality, too. Since I learned to walk, I was trailing him around the house and messing with his tools – wanting to do whatever he was doing. My Daddy and I would often stay up late watching movies and every Kung Fu movie would close out with the both of us play-fighting: fists flying and feet leaping through the air. He even took me to work with him, on a number of occasions. A man who is rarely at a loss for words, he taught me the art of holding an engaging conversation; and I’m a fierce debater – my analytical and persuasive skills honed by many sessions of arguing topic after topic with him. From my earliest years, I could see how my Daddy was smitten with Mommy, and how he seemed to dissolve into sorrow whenever they were separated for too long. These observations helped to formed my standards for love and defined my understanding of devotion. The invaluable and irreplaceable force that my father is in my life, cannot be described in any of the languages that I’m familiar with. I know, that being fathered is an unequalled experience, that children yearn for and treasure; so I could never understand how any woman could consider herself a worthy substitute for her children’s Dad.
The Single Mother’s Misperception
In 1957, Edith Clarke wrote the book “My Mother Who Fathered Me”, based on her studies of West Indian family patterns. In the decades since it’s publication, the expression has been frequently used and widely accepted as a description of the struggles and accomplishments of many single mothers in our society. But, when asked to explain what is meant by this phrase: “a mother who fathers”, the usual response is, “she did everything – wash, cook, clean, house, clothe and feed us.” In essence, such a mother was usually left to be the sole caregiver and provider for her children; and she often ended up bearing all the financial burdens of the household. But, it is rare, if ever at all, that you will hear this sash of honour being placed on a mother who received sufficient financial support from her child’s father. That’s because our society has led us to believe that the purpose of a father is to provide the tangible resources: food, shelter, clothing and material possessions, for their offspring. Unfortunately, many women have deliberately restricted the father of their children to the sole duty of making financial contributions – because they themselves did not experience an involved father and they imagine that the only thing they lacked in their childhood was that extra income. But, money is definitely not all, because even though there are more women are in the workplace today, we seem to have more poverty, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, promiscuity, violence against women, child abuse and other social ills, since the ‘nuclear’ family gained two incomes. Is it possible, that many women, who feel empowered by their ability to generate an income and feel affirmed by the champions of gender equality, have intentionally or unintentionally stifled the optimal development of their children? Have they ignored the indispensable role of their male co-parents and disregarded the intrinsic need a child has for a relationship with his/her father?
The Hats of an Involved Father
Research in various countries has shown that children who have a relationship with an involved male parent are smarter, more emotionally intelligent and have better social skills – among other things. They make better choices as adults and are less likely to suffer from mental health issues or addictions. But what exactly does a father do – beyond bringing home the dough and securing the home – to impact their children in such a significant way?
- Provider – Dads often define their self-worth by their ability to give their children all the things they need and want. But, beyond the tangible resources like food and shelter, fathers also teach their children about responsibility, independence and resource management through the way they handle money and the family’s expenses.
- Protector – From childproofing the home for a toddler and handling external threats to their safety to monitoring his teenager’s whereabouts and controlling the activities s/he gets involved with, a father defends his children and guards them from harm. The sense of security he provides is larger than his physique and is felt even when he is not in his child’s presence.
- Playmate – The high-energy, physical frolicking that Papa is known for, is rarely matched by Mama, since his wild romping usually pushes limits and involves lots of rough-and-tumble. These impromptu wrestling matches and launch-into-space tosses into the air are key to brain and muscle development. But, more importantly, these sessions of roughhousing teach children to manage their emotions, improve concentration and thinking skills.
- Pilot – As head of the family (and the final authority), Daddy determines the family’s mission/priorities/focus and he guides his children based on his life principles. He doesn’t just lay down the law and enforce discipline; he is a role model, who allows his children to learn about consequences and even acknowledges his own mistakes. A father helps his little ones with school work, but he also helps them to solve problems and make decisions through the various ages and stages of life.
- Philosopher – Through daily conversation and time spent together, a Dad passes on a lot of life lessons to his children. He helps to shape the way the see the world – the way they love and the things they think are worth fighting for. He moulds their minds with both his words, his silence and his actions. Using his reasoning, his morals and his conduct, a father prepares his children for facing and managing the realities of life.
Fathers who co-parent effectively also have a healthy and positive relationship with the mother(s) of their child(ren) – even if they don’t live together and even if they’re not having a romantic relationship with each other. An involved father shows affection to and is considerate of his child’s mother. He assists with the responsibilities of childcare and housekeeping. He affirms his partner and appreciates the role she plays as a mother. He treats her with respect and never speaks negatively about her. An involved father models a healthy male-female relationship for his children as he interacts with their mother. His son will learn how to be kind to women and to honour them, while his daughter will learn how she is to be treated by a man. By the way a father relates to and interacts with his child’s mother, he makes mothering a less hectic and a more joyful experience.
It’s important to note that a father doesn’t have to live with his child to be involved in an effective way. In fact, your child’s ‘father’ doesn’t even need to be the biological parent to fill the Daddy shoes – ask any adopted child. So, if your child’s biological father is not willing or able to fill the shoes of a father, the role may be played by other males your child relates to for e.g. uncles, grandfathers, step-fathers, older cousins, family friends, teachers or mentors. The man who becomes the father-figure in your child’s life just needs to be committed to the relationship, emotionally attached and willing to invest himself in the nurturing and development of your child. But, even after looking at all the arguments, statistics and research data about the relevance of fathers, some mother’s will still want to cite single-mother success stories: children that came out of female-headed, single-parent homes, but made a name for themselves. However, even those successes are often tied to the intervention of or inspiration from a father-figure in the lives of these young persons. Nonetheless, if a child can accomplish great things with an absentee father, can you imagine what could have been achieved if the mother-father balance was not damaged?
Whether we are living with and loving our child’s father or we’re separated and settled on keeping it that way, there are steps we mothers can take to respect the role of fathering and to honour the involved fathers in our lives. To facilitate our children’s experience of being fathered, we will need to make the commitment to:
As we praise mothers for their endless sacrifice, let us also heartily acknowledge the priceless and essential contribution that the involved male parent makes to his child; because at the end of the day, parenting is not a competition but a collaboration. That’s why a mother can never father a child.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.