I walked into the classroom and there was only one dad sitting in the middle of 15 children. My son’s school had reached out to fathers some days before, asking us to come read to the kids on Thursday, as a prelude to Father’s day. But here we were; just two of us. I looked and was sure that this man was not the father of all fifteen children. Where are the other dads?
When you start the journey of fatherhood, you soon realize that anyone can be a father, but it takes much more effort to be a dad. Being a dad is more than just donating sperm. It is about being actively involved in their lives not just watching them grow; but shaping their values, imparting the right culture and helping them understand how to take on the world. Here is the inherent challenge of a modern world; our lives are designed around our careers or businesses, and (particularly men). Our noble desire to provide for our families can misguide us into thinking that once we provide for our families we have fulfilled our duties. Yes, as fathers, we have an unwritten contract with our children to secure for them the very best of everything we can. But our role as fathers should not be reduced to just our duty as providers. We need to take active part in raising our children. Every child has material, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. Catering to all of these needs is an essential part of their developmental process. The legitimate hustle to afford a decent life can drown this consciousness as we then fail to show up in other areas. A little know disease of our time is physically present, but emotionally absent fathers. I would like to talk on meeting the emotional needs of our children here.
There is a place in the heart of every child that is the shape of a dad. A typical African dad is emotionally distant and often times, executes his love for his child(ren) in ways such as discipline and provision, instead of a relationship. As fathers (and even as husbands), many of us have erroneously come to derive self-validation chiefly from our ability to provide, thus putting the happiness and non-financial needs of our family on the balance. We have to learn to affirm and validate our children too not just with stuff, but with our time, our words, our presence and even our prayers. When kids don’t feel nestled in the love and acceptance of their parents, it can ruin their self esteem or complicate their lives in many ways. Who we are and what we become depends to a great extent on who loves us. someone once said “It is very challenging to find identity as a young person, if you don’t have the sustenance of love…” We must let our kids know that they are valuable, that they are loved. It matters less what people think or feel about them when they hear the truth first from home.
As children grow, they become more complex and their emotions become complicated too. If care is not taken, they can easily become dysfunctional. Our interaction with our children should also evolve as they growth. We can not always shout them into doing what we want to do. You can change bad behavior but can hardly change a bad child. The events that break such people mostly occur while they are children. We have so many broken children walking around in adult bodies. These broken children grow into troubled adults. When we understand how powerfully narrative of our identities control much of our lives, we can easily rationalize why the hardest people are often the most broken children. Sadly, they go on allowing themselves to be victims of the same narrative, re-enacting the account with every opportunity they get. Realize that even in the delinquent years, there are no bad children only bad behaviors, there are no selfish children only selfish behaviors, and there are no clumsy children only clumsy behaviors. If you see your children or their friends as bad children, you start out on the wrong foot. You have to be tolerant and keep an open mind when you get here.
Steve Biddulph in his book “Raising boys” said our role as parents is to keep our children until they are old enough to get help for themselves or know what way they should go and follow through with it. Like most of our parents, we should not fall into the trap of editing their dreams, or stand in their way, or limit their hope or discourage them in any way. Our job as fathers is to develop their interest in all areas, and not just the ones you are keen about, give them the resources to achieve their dreams. Truly successful parents are the one’s saying “Go on! You can achieve it. You can do that you can be great at that, and you can be terrific at that”. You have the power to stretch their imagination. Read if you want them to read, engage them in discussions that can stimulate their minds.
Fatherhood is a role that we have to grow into; it is on-the-job training. It is not an event, but a life time job with lifetime responsibilities. These responsibilities as fathers are not something owe our biological children only, it is something we owe as many children as are within our spheres of influence; our nephews and nieces, kids in our neighborhoods, churches, and even young people who would benefit from our mentorship as older friends or brothers. This means protection for them, not just when they are victimized or right, but even when they are wrong. Virtually everyone on the face of the earth will at some point or have at some point made mistakes. When they do, you must stand for them, protect them, correct them, discipline them and keep them safe. Never back down. In same vein, recognize the little things that we are called to do to build these little ones to great men and women. Be present for “coffee with dads”, PTA, Sports day and more. It’s appreciated more than you will ever know.