What lessons should dads pass on to their children about fatherhood? Jeremy Davies of the Fatherhood Institute shares his top five tips for his teenage son.
—This is article #4 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
As far as I know, my 15 year old son has no immediate plans to become a father. But he’s talked in terms of wanting children when he’s older, as most of us probably do when we’re that age.
So as his dad, and after a decade of studying and advocating for involved fatherhood through my work with the Fatherhood Institute, I thought perhaps I ought to get my pipe and slippers out and share some wisdom on the subject, before he makes me a granddad.
Here are my five top tips:
- Don’t work too hard
Modern life is expensive and you’re going to feel the pressure, probably even more than I did, to spend a lot of time and energy on paid work so you can afford it all. Add kids into the mix and life certainly isn’t going to get any cheaper.
But do try to resist the temptation to become a workaholic. If you decide you want to be a dad, you really need to be available and accessible to your children – even if sometimes you’ll wish you could escape and run back to the grown-ups.
Nobody ever lay on their death bed wishing they’d spent more time at work, and plenty of us, men especially, regret not spending more time with our families.
- Yes, the washing up too
People often talk about fathers as if they matter because of their distance from the ‘real’ parenting work. We’re cast as the fun ones who pop up with presents and take the kids out to play, who step in to impose discipline, or act as a ‘role model’.
Anyone who peddles this kind of nonsense generally believes that men should be breadwinners, and women are the ‘natural’ caregivers. Please don’t buy into this view.
Earning money is important, but that shouldn’t be all down to you, any more than the other stuff should be all down to your child’s mother (contrary to popular belief, you’re designed to be just as capable of that)
So steer clear of anyone who wants you for your pay packet, and set your stall out from the start as a hands-on dad. It’s the day-to-day involvement that will set you on the road towards a really close relationship with your children. And yes, I’m afraid that does include doing the washing up.
- Earn a seat at the ‘top table’
If you were to set up a business with a friend, you’d want both of you to be ‘on top of it all’, so you could make joint decisions and, when necessary, leave the other to get on with it and not mess things up.
There’s no single best way to approach the ‘business’ of parenting. So it’s not necessarily the case that you and your child’s mother have to do literally equal amounts of earning and care-giving (the technical term for ‘the other stuff…including washing up’) at any given time. But after decades of progress towards gender equality, you might want to think about that as your benchmark.
My own view, for what it’s worth, is that parents tend to work best together when each of them plays a significant role in earning the money that makes the business viable, and in doing the dirty work required to develop the end-product (a happy, well-adjusted child who keeps his feet off the seats on public transport).
That’s just an opinion…but even if you disagree (damn that independent streak of yours) the evidence is there that by spending time early on becoming a sensitive parent, you’ll put yourself in a better position to help your child thrive.
And if you both get good at the care-giving, successful co-parenting – sharing the decision-making and coordination of the ‘parenting business’ (so both of you are ‘bosses’ at home) – is more likely to follow. And that’s good too.
So chuck out the gender stereotypes and get stuck in. Trust me, you’re a testament to how well this stuff works.
- Stand up and be counted
As a hands-on dad, a lot of the time you’ll feel like a square peg in a very round hole. The world’s still set up as if parenting is a game for girls. Things are changing, but sloooooowly.
So expect to have to stand your ground at work – or if necessary jump off the career ladder altogether – to achieve the balance you want.
As things stand, our highly gendered parenting leave system does little to encourage employers to support you as involved dad
Don’t be surprised if midwives and health visitors ignore or talk over you, if schools address everything to mum, and if people stare at you or make stupid comments that suggest you’re a slacker and second-class parent.
Be brave, little man. Enjoy and stay proud of your role as an involved father, and whenever you get the chance, do what you can to change others’ attitudes. The more dads kick against the system, the more balanced the world will be by the time your children become parents.
- You don’t have to do any of this
Finally, once you’ve thought about all that, please remember the following…
Lots of us have it in us to be great parents, but there’s a big wide world out there, full of wonderful things to see and do.
So find what makes you happy.
The planet’s pretty full already, and lots of people find fulfilment without reproducing. Hell, there’s even some evidence that they have happier relationships as a result.
So if happiness for you includes having kids, that’s great – but if you’re going to do it, do it right. Or just don’t have them. Either is fine.
Now finish your homework. Oh and your room needs tidying, by the way…
—Picture Credit: Flickr/Stephan Hochhaus
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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