“The world is demanding. Fathers don’t hold all the answers to repairing society. Despite all your attempts as a father, your children may still have unresolved social issues: there is no cure-all in fatherhood. As a father, you hold some of the keys to unlocking the hopes and dreams within your children. When they are grown, you hope they look back on you as their hero, someone who shaped their life for good.” — John Gottman

Since I was remiss in submitting this before Father’s Day, I hope fathers everywhere enjoyed special time last Sunday with their children.

Fathering is quite different today, transforming from the legacy of our patriarchal culture. Fortunately, we’ve been gradually moving to a place of deeper connection. Although dads have traditionally been the breadwinners, the more absent parent, this has changed. While most dads continue to work outside the home, the conventional family has almost disappeared. The shift in fathering is evident in many aspects of our lives, which is certainly positive for today’s children.

Dads are needed as much as moms, for they bring something unique to their children, yet no less important. While an increasing number of families experience both parents working outside the home, dads are typically more involved in the household responsibilities and in their children’s activities. A boy’s childhood journey determines a great deal about how he will ultimately father his own children. Boys learn very early they’re expected to be strong rather than to feel. Between the ages of 4 and 6, they can easily be disconnected from their emotions, often experiencing shame when expressing feelings and vulnerability. As they grow older, the need to fit in with peers is more critical. This has required adapting to the patriarchal framework and expectations; it’s about being tough. Admitting vulnerability, sadness or defeat can quickly bring rejection or the withdrawal of support from a boy’s peer group, undermining his self-confidence.

Our lives are certainly more demanding, with increasing influence from the media. Despite our children’s focus on computers, iPods, cellphones, etc., they still need us as much, if not more, to guide them in positive ways. The quality of time spent with our children is what matters most. Given we have limited opportunities to be with them, playing provides fertile ground for teaching, encouraging, and strengthening connection. Allowing our phones and computers to interfere with that, we deprive both our children and ourselves of valuable, mutual sharing. The message we convey to our child is: “You’re not important to me.” Children are the barometers for the emotional climate, acutely sensing our level of attention and interest. Play allows children to expend energy and tension, while also providing parents with a way to tap into their uninhibited, playful side, a chance to connect with their child. This connection secures children’s trust, shaping healthy relationships.

Dads can be an integral part of this foundation, starting when children are very young. An optimal time for connection is bedtime, a wonderful opportunity to create stories, to snuggle, creating a calm, safe space in which to recap the day’s events or to listen to our child’s struggles. A father recently shared his story of what nurtured respect and connection with his dad. Working by his side outdoors and listening to his dad share his life experiences helped build the trust and strong sense of security that allowed him to seek his father’s guidance later on. He maintains that their shared time provided a safe connection to be more open on a personal level. It was through these experiences that he learned how deeply his dad cared about him. The influence of dads should never be underestimated!

Fred Rogers said it so well: “It’s not always easy for a father to understand the interests and ways of his son. It seems the songs of our children may be in keys we’ve never tried. The melody of each generation emerges from all that’s gone before. Each one of us contributes in some unique way to the composition of life.”

Please send me your questions.