Dads, do yourself a favour and start seeing yourself in a good – or at least, better – light!
“Although fatherhood does not get the same attention as motherhood, the reality is that fathers are vital to their children’s well-being and emotional development,” writes author and ordained minister Victor M. Parachin. In light of that simple truth, we’re celebrating fathers every day, not just on Father’s Day!
First of all, we believe that all dads should scrap all the various cultural myths they’ve ever encountered about fathering – that men are biologically unfit, that men are not nurturing or in touch with their children or themselves, or that men are the less important parent as compared to mothers!
If any of those sweeping statements have struck a chord in you, then it’s high time that you gain a broader perspective about what it really means to be a modern-day father. Granted, some of these stereotypes have stuck around for ages and shaking them off overnight won’t be automatic or necessarily easy. But we do encourage you to at least thoroughly consider the contrary arguments to these negative associations about fathers.
“Men who are strong fathers take the initiative and assume their proper role in childrearing responsibilities,” adds Parachin. “When done properly, a good father can emerge as his child’s confidant, friend, mentor, counsellor, life-coach and role model.” If you’re up to fulfil any (or even all of!) those roles, then welcome to one of the most rewarding and fulfilling journeys a man can ever experience in his life… Fatherhood!
The stereotype of men being the sole and main breadwinner in the family still exists. In fact, this perception persists to this very day, where a man’s success in life is defined by his career more than anything else. Previously, a stay-at-home dad would be unthinkable, with society frowning upon his sense of worth and self-esteem, judging him almost unanimously as having failed in his career.
However, according to a recent Forbes article, men are now finding the courage to shift their priorities, with more fathers choosing to reverse roles and care for their children at home while their wives concentrate on their careers instead.
“We are at the beginning of an epic shift in cultural norms. More men are finding parenthood meaningful and that is raising the status of fathers,” says Harlan Landes, the founder of Adulting.tv, a podcast and video series about living a capable and fulfilling life.
“Some men are trading career advancement for time with their family because they value the fulfilment they find in fatherhood, not because they can’t hack it in the job market. More men than ever feel that being a good father is a significant accomplishment in life,” adds Landes.
Still not convinced?
Here’s what Dr. Kyle Pruett, M.D., and a child psychiatrist at Yale University, has to say about the issue. Dr. Pruett advises men to “think long, hard, and often about what you want to give your children besides your money.”
Rather, fatherhood goes beyond bringing home the bacon and it has irreplaceable value. “Acknowledge fatherhood as one of the longest, most creative and rewarding adventures of your inner life,” says Dr. Pruett.
Most men feel that Mother Nature will prime their significant other to be ready for baby when it arrives, since the mother is the one undergoing pregnancy, giving birth and having the stronger surge of hormones overall. They may also feel that they have less opportunity to bond with their newborn as paternity leave is usually much shorter and the mother is also the one who is breastfeeding and more hands-on.
As such, men might mistakenly believe that they do not to need to get involved this early in their child’s life as they feel awkward and even unnatural.
However, neuroscientists have found that men do undergo hormonal changes which makes them more mentally alert and prepared in the face of impending fatherhood. While men and women may bond with their offspring in different ways, the fundamental importance is that investing in time and effort can make a world of difference in an infant’s life. This applies to both mums and dads (there is a reason why childbirth classes require fathers’ attendance too).
In their book, Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be, authors Ross D. Parke and Armin A. Brott offer this advice: “Don’t assume that your partner magically knows more than you do. Whatever she knows about raising kids, she learned by doing – just like anything else. And the way you’re going to get better is by doing things too.”
A little rough and tumble play never hurt, with the University of Newcastle in Australia highlighting how rough play between fathers and their young children can actually help the child’s brain. Meanwhile, Henry Biller, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology at the University of Rhode Island, observed that when playing with babies, fathers tend to be more physically active with them than their mothers are, and try to engage their infants in more vigorous play.
Dr. Biller sees this difference as beneficial: “Involved fathers are more likely to stimulate the infant to explore and investigate new objects whereas mothers tend to engage their infants in relatively pre-structured and predictable activities,” he highlighted.
He went on to note that infants with involved fathers usually form strong paternal attachments at an early age, and usually have a developmental advantage when compared with babies who were only close to their mothers. “Well-fathered infants are more secure and trusting in branching out in their explorations, and they may be somewhat more advanced in crawling, climbing and manipulating objects,” concluded Dr. Biller.
While some cultures, especially Asian ones, place particular emphasis on having sons to continue the family surname, it does not necessarily translate to fathers preferring sons to daughters. Marriage and family counsellor Michael Gurian admits that it can be a paradox: while he identifies a father’s “most difficult challenge” as being able to bond with his daughter, he also highlights that “a father’s love can make or break a girl”.
Paediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker also debunks the notion some fathers may have that their daughters will gravitate towards their mothers as they have more in common. According to Dr. Meeker, girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety, are more assertive and less likely to seek attention from the opposite gender as they grow older.
A father’s enduring love and support is integral to their daughter’s success, as testified by Emmy award-winning medical journalist Dr. Prerna Mona Khanna, who is certified in not one, but three medical specialties in the US. Despite having two other sisters and a brother, Dr. Mona credits her father for his foresight and lack of gender preference that enabled her and her siblings to thrive in life with equal opportunity. “My dad knew if he stayed in India, we were destined to get married and have kids and not really make much of ourselves professionally,” she remembers.
She adds that her father’s love gave her a “sense of empowerment. It was very important to my father that his children be well-settled, be self-sufficient, and be in a career that was noble.” Today, her brother and sister are Chicago-based physicians and another sister works in administration for a hospital in Los Angeles.
All’s fine and dandy with this assumption if fathers across generations have always proved to be good role models and a steadfast presence throughout their children’s lives. But the reality is such that less-than-exemplary fathers do exist in society – from the absent to the abusive. Labels don’t help, but to some extent, all men are influenced by the fathers – or father figures in their lives – in varying degrees, and there’s no denying that.
“Look hard at your father in you,” says Dr. Pruett (quoted in myth #1). “He’s there. Understand what you are doing with your father’s parenting style in the raising of your own child – modelling, overcoming, repairing, emulating? – or a quilt of all of these.”
However, psychotherapist and counsellor Dr. Bruce Linton, Ph.D., stresses that simply relying on the understanding of one’s own father can be limiting for dads-to-be or fathers with children. He suggests that fathers form their own support networks to share and talk about this life transition. “They can begin to explore within themselves and in the world at large for the kinds of behaviour and family life they would like to provide for their own children,” says Dr. Linton.
Just like how there is no such thing as a perfect parent, fathers should acknowledge there is no singular formula in being a good father either. Fatherhood is a role that will constantly evolve as your family grows, and it certainly helps if dads see themselves as partners instead of mere helpers when it comes to raising their children.
Understanding what it means to be a father is a very personal journey for each and every man. Each father, in his own way, must dig deep and discover what kind of father he wants to be for his children. Accepting this and being truthful with his own emotions and expectations will certainly help him breathe easier, and any preconceptions or comparisons will only serve to stifle him as he strives towards coming into his own as a full-fledged father.
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