29 I tried to relieve your fears: "Don't be terrified of them. 30 God, your God, is leading the way; he's fighting for you. You saw with your own eyes what he did for you in Egypt; 31 you saw what he did in the wilderness, how God, your God, carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here.
I honestly don’t remember much about raising our kids. I’m sure Mary remembers much more of the details. Some of the times I remember were bad times: when I cut Rebecca’s bangs too short, and she didn’t forgive me for a year. Or when Daniel and I were roughhousing and I launched him a bit too far and he winced in pain although he landed on the bed. He was fine. I remember grabbing some ointment in the middle of the night to put on some diaper rash and it turned out to be Ben Gay instead of Desitin. That may have been Daniel. I can still remember the screams. I remember slamming Shaun’s fingers in the car door. I can still remember the screams.
But we went on many fun trips with friends and their kids. We spent a lot of time in the car and sang together. We played games, and much of the time we were taking the kids to dance lessons or watching their sporting events. I also remember laughing a lot with the family. If you have children, then you may be like me and think they are the funniest people on earth. One night when Daniel was about 5, he walked out of the bedroom and said to Mary, "I have a question … I can't sleep." Somewhere along the line our wee children have grown into wonderful intelligent adults with wonderful spouses whom we enjoy being around.
I remember how athletic my dad was and how he instilled in us a sense of using our bodies. We would laugh a lot as a family and spent a great deal of time together: card games, table games, table tennis, badminton, horseshoes, or hiking. Like most fathers, Dad liked having the family together.
Mary and I didn’t do much sporting activities with our kids. We sang a lot, and I have always enjoyed being around my kids. But like so many fathers, I spent a lot of time at work and with failed business ventures to try to provide for the family. Sadly, this ate into family time. Thankfully we have some pictures of good times with the family.
So I look at myself as a father and I have a mixed evaluation. No, I didn’t beat them, or call them names, or do anything severely destructive. We tried to instill a love of God and took them to church, where I was always involved with music. So, from that perspective I wasn’t a bad father.
I am always appreciative of my own; I never feared my Dad, although I had a healthy respect for him because he was the disciplinarian. I guess it’s like doing family chores: if you’re part of a family you’re going to have to do some things, and experience some things, just because you are part of a family – and that includes picking up dog poo, doing the dishes, or getting a lickin’. I feel like Dad did a good job instilling values and getting me and my brother grown up.
So, Father’s Day is always an interesting time for me; it makes me think: I had a good father, but was I a good father? And what is a good father anyway? Studies show that more people dote over Mom on Mother’s Day – more gifts, cards, calls, money spent – than Dad on Father’s Day. What’s up with that?
Our Biblical values on fathers come from a period between approximately 745 BCE and 110 CE. This was a time when culturally, the father was head of the family. His word was law, his decisions were final, his word was unquestioned, and his influence was dominant in all matters of family. He was not seen as the caretaker of the family; that was the mother’s responsibility.
That family cultural structure remained the standard for much of Europe and the United States until the 20th century. Then radical changes from social, economic, and technological advancements altered the basic structure and function of the family — with an impact on the authority of the father. His influence increasingly became seen as minor, even negligible, and his importance was defined solely by how well he provided for the family.
This became commonplace thinking from the mid-1900’s into the 21st century. During this time, research studies did not place much importance on the role of the father, and his influence on the development and growth of his children was reported as "insignificant." As late as 2010, one researcher named Pleck, concluded that “there is nothing inherent in fatherhood of distinctive importance to children”. Huh! This guy must have had a bad childhood.
The term "parent" was often meant as mother — and father, if mentioned, was equivalent to other influences. Only a small number of parent-child studies investigated the father's role, and the few studies that were done at that time focused on the father's involvement as reported by the mother. Although another researcher, Paquette, in 2004, maintained that fathers play a special role in childhood development, most research for fathers was a dry riverbed compared to the overflowing banks of research for mothers and their influence on parenting.
Beginning about 10 years ago, however, there has been an increase in research on the father’s role in parenting. Whereas earlier studies focused on the amount of time the father spent with a child, the newer research examines the quality of time spent. Quality time is characterized by interactions that help a child yet allow them to be independent, balancing autonomy and support. The intent is to ask guiding questions and offer suggestions for exploration leading to the child’s own solutions. Studies show that allowing a child to experiment, even through failure, builds confidence. If we interfere and interrupt too much, we unwittingly express a message that they are incapable or incompetent.
Recent research has shown that the quality of interactions between a father and his 4½-year-old is related to his child’s later social skills. Quality time spent early in life with sons and daughters leads to heightened levels of cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, and self-control in 3rd graders. Being an effective father and building better social skills in the child is all about quality time, totally independent of the father’s socioeconomic status or personality, or the mother-child interactions.
Fathers and mothers can both be nurturing, wonderful, effective, and sensitive parents even through their disparate approaches. Empirical evidence supports the widely held belief that one of a mother’s role is to calm and soothe their children when they are distressed. So, if a mother’s role is to soothe and calm, is it the dad’s role to excite and agitate? That’s kind of how I saw myself with the kids. When it was bedtime, it was difficult for me not to horse around and get them all wound up.
Research indicates the father’s role is different than the mother’s. Where a mother tends to serve as a secure base from which the child can explore, a father figure protects that secure base and incites their children to take chances, helps them face challenges with the confidence, and guides them on their return to the secure base. Moms provide a secure environment and dads excite their children to take reasonable risks within their secure environment.
I say father figure because this two-pronged nurturing approach works well with today’s gender-same parent households. One parent maintains the secure environment and the other encourages exploration; the mother provides a haven of comfort and consolation, and the father offers reassurance to explore and face challenges. So, Dad sends them out to climb trees and Mom comforts them when they fall off the branch. Works great.
It is also more understandable that there will be barriers to closeness between children, especially sons and their fathers. Through all that the father is doing, the message is: confidence, independence, and self-discovery. This almost begs for a separation at some point.
Love and unconditional acceptance constitute the core of a warm father-child relationship and goes beyond quality playtime. Research shows that fatherly attention and nurturing can be especially important to daughters. While mothers often tell their children they love them, a father often demonstrates his love rather than speaks it. Research has shown that many fathers who have limited time with their child often learn how to “be in the moment,” to make the most of the time they have together. It is understandable that a father’s love is less verbal than a mother’s. It seems slightly incongruous for a father to say, “I love you… now go jump out of that airplane!”
We might want fathers to tell their children “I love you” as often as mothers do, but it is more important that fathers make their love known in their own fashion, even if it is without words. As we embrace all types of diversity in nurturing, we can recognize the different ways of embracing children in warm loving relationships. As Dad runs alongside his child, gripping the seat of the bicycle, he gives them the courage to race into the unknown with the understanding that someone loves them enough to stay close yet trusts them enough to let go.
That is how our Heavenly Father is with us: always with us, loving us, protecting us, watching over us, and at the same time encouraging us to press past our fears and reach for all that we were created to be. No matter the messes we make, our Divine Father loves us, forgives all, and welcomes us back home.
As a parent, we cannot underestimate the impact that we have had, and continue to have, on our own children and the children entrusted into our care. We may not think that we are imparting what is essential or meaningful in an effective or understandable fashion. But I can assure you that we are making an impact; and the closer walk we take through our lives with Spirit, guided by the light of Christ within, the clearer are the footsteps that we leave behind. Not only is our own way made clearer, but our influence is made more remarkable. And of course, some fathers have done this better than other.
One of our greatest challenges in life is to live up to our potential as a father, mother, teacher, friend, spouse, employee, business owner, or citizen of the world. Wherever we find ourselves in this life at this moment, my prayer is that we express purely, freely and willingly the brilliance of God’s light and love, peace and joy.
I pray that we will remember that every day is a day in which we can honor our fathers and the loving Heavenly Father that guides and cares for us. I pray that regardless of our gender, we will open our hearts and express the best of who we are.
Happy Father’s Day to all.