Look around and you will find workshops, books, magazine articles, stories, movies, and comic superheroes all depicting qualities of manhood and fatherhood. We now have a whole load of research over the last 20 years on how fathers influence their kids health and wellbeing. Check in with Google! It’s all good, albeit a little overwhelming. However, how do you know how to be a dad?
Look back and look inside!
Your identity as a dad no doubt has a personal history. This story helped, or hindered, your preparation and growth as a man and as a father with certain values.
What are your fatherhood values?
I invite you to think of values as the philosophies that we believe are important in the way we live and work. They determine our priorities and, deep down, they're the measures we use to determine if our life is turning out the way we want it to.
In terms of fatherhood, it will be your personal characteristics incorporating your values, patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make you the unique person and dad you are.
Where did you come from? How did you get here?
Many of our personal values and characteristics will have originated, to some extent, from our upbringing, from our own father and/or mother or other guiding mentors in our life such as a relative, teacher, author, or friend.
Thinking about your father may evoke memories of an emotionally absent, if not physically distant man. Or you may remember a father who was very actively engaged physically and emotionally with you and the family. You may remember something in between, or indeed you may have lost or never known your father.
What was the wisdom handed down to you, and from whom did it come from?
Recognising helpful and unhelpful aspects of your own father’s values, behaviours and characteristics provides you the opportunity to choose to do things the same or differently as a father today.
I encourage you to spend a few moments reflecting on what were the helpful aspects from your own father, or father figure/mentor from your personal story. Make a mental or physical note and share with your partner. At the same time, you may remember some unhelpful aspects as you jog your memory of your childhood.
If you find that some difficult memories, thoughts and feelings emerge through this reflection, give yourself careful attention, time and compassion.
Moving through and letting go of painful memories is an important part of personal growth. I encourage you to stay mindful of your own needs. If you need to talk to someone you trust, or seek a counsellor/therapist to support you, take the time to do so.
Below are some examples from men who have spent time reflecting on their own fathers characteristics, values and behaviours.
- The special activities with dad, observing his sense of intrigue with little kids
- Outdoor activities, trips to the forest at Easter, pockets full of Easter eggs
- The hobbies, e.g. sailing
- The resource role, being the material provider for the family
- Value system, moral constraints, integrating values into life, a sense of right and wrong
- Sensitivity to needs of others and accepting difference
- Pocket money/savings, teaching anticipation as a good reward, sense of work ethic
- Relating to others
- Values of sportsmanship
- Work ethic- chores around the house
- Sense of family and responsibility
- Kindness and loving towards women
- Respect for parental relationship, sense of a team with a balance of power
- Understanding difference
- A life expert
- Early family holidays and treasured expeditions
- Always there
- Holiday memories, jewels of childhood
- Good solid relationship with mum, demonstrated affection
- Encouraged generosity
- Provider of stability
- Emotionally open
- Other father figures e.g. primary schoolteacher, teaching fly-fishing
- Heavily career minded with increased work demands
- Just the provider of educational and material things
- Restrained regarding sexuality, women and physical affection
- No physical contact
- No sense of spirituality, academia, or physicality in relationship. Shaking hands was the norm
- Not relaxed, very gruff
- Could be intimidating
- Highly strung, anger issues, sometimes lashing out
- Not verbal enough, bottled things up
- Cold and unable to communicate feelings
- Hard to see softness, closed off
- Distant, not sporty, very few friends
- Very shy, threatened by others, verbally abusive
It is possible to let go of those unhelpful aspects by focusing your attention on what's important to you now. Becoming a father is a great opportunity to do things differently from our own parents.
Which of the helpful and unhelpful aspects resonate with your own experiences? I encourage you to consider these on your lifelong journey on how to be a dad.
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