Fathering may be the hardest job because there is no defined role. Mothers carry you and bear you. Fathers were in the room—we know it. But what comes next? The game is changing. Fathers and mothers are rewriting the script every day, thank goodness, because both parents are more busy than ever, and now are taking on the role of online teacher in the middle of a Pandemic or trying to fill out a summer with fewer options available.
While stereotyping dads might be unfair, 21st century fathers seem to fall into a couple categories:
A race car driver who speeds around the curves, very busy in professional and social life. Some make pit stops to visit their wife and children, maybe inviting them for a spin around the track, but are not heavily invested in family life.
Athletes keep themselves in tip-top shape, which is a good thing that can prevent heart attacks later and free their children from being forced to care for them in their old age. They can offer an example and engage their children in softball, basketball, swimming, running, and bike riding. Great stuff as long as they are not the parent yelling from the sidelines, criticizing their offspring’s performance.
Excitement about a game when you’re five or ten should be the key motivator to play, not diminish your spirit. The challenge for fathers comes in when their child is still learning to field the ball or “see” it as it zooms to the plate. Being MVP may be a long way off, but baby steps could get you there or help you find your child’s true bliss. Any sport, even video gaming, brings out the competitive spirit, yet very rarely do any of us learn anything the first time out—it takes time, patience, and practice. That can be boring but learning determination and persistence might be among the most important lessons a father can convey.
That brings us to Teachers—a vital role for fathers. Imparting the knowledge a son or daughter needs before they venture out into a world that may not have a warm, cushy place for them after they leave home. Often the go-to cache of vital information imparted from father to offspring includes what he learned from his father and there’s value there. But the world is changing second by second, when in prior generations it moved forward day by day. A father will not always be around when a child needs to make some of life’s most important decisions. That is where critical thinking comes in.
A father might not always agree with his child’s decisions, but if his offspring can apply a consistent pattern of thinking, examining the choices with a clear lens, then the father knows he’s completed an important part of his job.
As a child matures, the father can become the Tree that can be in one spot, not necessarily immobile, but there, where he can be found to reach out, to listen, lend a hand, a hug, a heart-to-heart. The father can steady the child in the rocky times, remind him of his own struggles, how he overcame them, or accepted them and found a new focus.
The hardest part of being a father is learning when to let a child figure it out, not attempting to save them, so they can build the mental timber of experience they’ll need to piece out the tougher problems life will throw at them.
Fathers pull from this grab bag of roles, but their most important task is to help their child build the resilience to lead them through today’s challenging times where there are no simple answers and to prepare them for the future. Building confidence in one’s ability to problem solve and devise work-arounds when the first solution begins to crash and burn. That will build the confidence needed to overcome failure, to learn it does not always work out, but to persist and try again. Becoming discouraged under overwhelming circumstances is natural, but learning that you have the tools to analyze a problem and to reach out and ask others to join you in finding a solution—that’s a strength you can stand on.