This may be the first post by a dad on this platform and I hope it can inspire a few other fathers to write and share their experiences.
The idea for this post struck me after a few friends and I were intoxicated enough to talk about fatherhood, our experiences as sons, our expectations from our fathers, and what makes some of us hands-on dads. The conversation started after I praised a friend for being a hands-on dad and followed it by a simple question – What makes you so hands-on?
‘I don’t question my Dad’s love for me, but I don’t recall of him ever embracing me.’
‘I wish my father could have spent some more time with me.’
‘My father never came to my school, not even when I came 1st in class.’
These are not words of an eight-year-old but of fathers of toddlers, who retrospected their relationship with their own fathers. Some fathers who do not feel this emptiness carry on the legacy of not showing love to their children. Sometimes fatherly instincts come easily but sometimes they have to be cultivated.
Some of the most important memories children have are of the time they have spent with their fathers. “Some of the most important memories kids latch on to about their dads evolve from routine moments in family life,” says Dr. Ray Guarendi, a clinical psychologist, author and public speaker on parenting. These special memories could be as simple as going for a long ‘conversation-less’ drive with the father or the father tucking his child to bed with a book.
Psychologist believe that fathers bring a special strength to raising children. A father’s love and affection is a source of assurance and encouragement. And this works both ways –
I was assembling a trampoline for my three year old son. It took me quite a while to assemble the rods and it was taking even more time to loop the rope around the rods in the required pattern. My son sat there looking at me in excitement. I looked at him, smiled and continued to toil. I finally finished the assembly just to realise that I had missed a few loops and I would have to rework on it from the top. I lost it. Showing a little irritation, I put aside the half assembled trampoline. I then looked at my son to tell him that I would do it later, but before I could say anything he came close to me and said – ‘I love you, Daddy.’ That was the dose I needed. His few words of affection motivated me to finish the trampoline within the next 10 minutes.
The other way to show love to your child is by showing love to the mother in the presence of the child. A hug to the mother or a few praises for the mother reassures the child of the strength of the relationship you all are in.
I was at a friend’s place while his wife was out for some wedding shopping. His four-year-old son, who I consider very well behaved, was sitting and playing by himself when he suddenly burst out crying. The crying turned into a tantrum apparently for some car that had stopped working. My friend turned around and asked him what had happened but he continued crying. Unable to get him to be quiet he called for the boy’s caretaker. The boy continued to sob profusely. After a while the mother came home. The boy looked at his mother and cried even louder. The mother picked her son trying to calm him down. The cries turned into sobs. She put her son down, greeted me and then went to greet her husband with a hug. Seeing his parents hug, the son stopped sobbing. He instead smiled and after a few seconds got up and ran towards his parents and hugged them both. What a great group hug that was!
Sometimes there are situations where fathers either do not have the time or have problems expressing affection. In such situations fathers feel the need to make special efforts. We know of a father who comes for our activity classes every Saturday with his daughter. Since he is unable to give her ample time during the week he makes it a point to spend a good hour with her at our centre over the weekend.
It is also important for fathers to put themselves into the shoes of their children. It is more essential for fathers with sons. At times, without realising fathers tend to force their likes and dislikes on their sons. It is only natural to think what they liked as kids their sons would too. But hold on. Think about the present times, children have minds of their own. They have their own sets of likes, dislikes and interests in place. And they needn’t necessarily be inclined towards sports or music or whatever you enjoyed as a child. For a healthy and amicable relationship these boundaries need to be respected.
A friend had once shared an experience with me. After a lot of ‘jugaad’, he finally managed to get a few tickets for one of the IPL matches. He wanted to spend some quality time with his son so he made a plan with another friend and both went to the match with their sons. Just after the first session, my friend’s six-year-old was bored and insisted on leaving. He left no option but to disappoint his father, and made him leave a thrilling match behind. As the father drove the car home, bitterly contemplating various things in his head, and without uttering a word to his son, he glanced at his son who was curiously looking at posters that were placed one after the other under every street lamp. He took a moment, slowed down the car, absorbed the details on the poster, turned to his son and asked “So you are interested in going to the circus?”. Without waiting for a reply, my friend turned his car in the other direction and went to the circus. Seeing the smile and joy on the face of his son he forgot about the match half attended or its outcome (in which the team he supported had won). He won his son’s heart and that’s what mattered to him the most. To my friend’s surprise, after a few weeks the son expressed interest in going for a cricket match with his father. This time the son carried his PSP along with him. After a while, when he was bored of cricket, he switched on his PSP while his father enjoyed the match.
According to a child-rearing expert, “Punishment is something you do to your child and discipline is something you do for your child.” Believe it or not but studies have shown that fathers can be better disciplinarians. The other day, I was just hanging out with a few friends (all from boarding schools) and one of us said that the best way to raise your children is to treat them like a junior in school. I don’t know how it goes these days but back in our days, we could go to the extent of giving chores, punishing if need be, having fun and even caring when needed – which led to disciplining. No matter what chore we were given, no matter how we were punished, there was always mutual respect and care. We learnt it from our seniors and passed it onto our juniors. I have no examples to cite on how this has been implemented on children or if it has ever been done so but I have a three-year-old who happily runs chores for me, sits quietly when he is in middle of a concert/film, cries the moment I raise my voice to tell him what he did was wrong. I have never talked him down but treated him as someone who understands everything I say. I am willing to punish him if he misbehaves.
I don’t know how good a father I am or what I say is the rule book for being a good father. By the end of the day there isn’t any rule book for parenting. Like they say ‘whatever works!’
But I have shared all the above experiences, and I try to do it all, not because I need to but because I love to!