The importance of the father in a child’s life was never in doubt. But, we draw attention to how it plays out in families that are embracing socioeconomic changes.
By Arundhati Swamy
Modern-day fathers are making a statement, and how! From a disciplinarian to a nurturer, from a feared figure to an embodiment of respect and affection, fathers are candidly recolouring the parenting landscape. They are boldly dismantling traditional gender roles, unabashedly displaying tender emotions, effortlessly changing diapers, gleefully cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and uncomplainingly babysitting a restless infant. In fact, fathers are doing almost everything that until recently, was fiercely reserved for mothers.
So, what’s all the fuss about, you may ask. Not if you trace the history of a father’s role over centuries. In a patriarchal system, the father was the undisputed head of the family who provided, protected, and modelled values of courage, heroism and loyalty. He ruled the family, and the child was an obedient subject of his authoritarian power. Though never devoid of love, he could not risk exposing his emotions, lest they dent his armour of manliness. The father–child relationship remained distant, with no expression of emotion or natural male nurturing instincts.
Today, those roles still define a father’s masculinity and social identity, but with a twist! Global socioeconomic trends and unprecedented media attention on equality are rescripting the roles and responsibilities of family members. The small family norm, the working mother, and the changing ideas about gender roles are, in many ways, paving the way for equity or fairness, and sharing of family responsibilities. And, the new-age dad is undoubtedly proving his prowess in parenting by being involved and consciously engaging with his children, marking his parenting footprints for future dads to follow.
What has brought about these changes in practices that held sway for ages? Studies in India by eminent scholars (Gore, 2003; Sinha, 2003; Sriram, 2003) state that parents are becoming increasingly conscious of ensuring the best for their children. This makes the extended support of the father in raising children increasingly necessary. In 2011, the Association for Childhood Education International published a report by Rajalakshmi Sriram titled, ‘The role of fathers in children's lives: a view from urban India’.
According to the report, it was in the early 1990s that articles such as 'Can Fathers Be Better Mothers?' (Bhatia R, Femina, 1996) and 'A Father's Touch' (Parsuram A, Parenting, 1996) began drawing public attention to how fathers can contribute significantly to the social, emotional and intellectual well-being of their children.
The American Psychological Association published an article titled, ‘The Changing Role of the Modern Day Father’, on their website. According to the article, a father’s involvement and display of affection are essential for a child’s social and emotional development across all ethnic communities.
Furthermore, the economic power and independence of a growing force of working mothers meant that fathers needed to become active partners in raising children. It is no surprise then, that more and more dads are attending school meetings, rescheduling work and spending time with their children.
The world is learning to embrace the changing status of dads. However, there’s one thing that will never change – a father’s role in caring for his child.
Dad play: You make the best playmates for your children. They find your spontaneous antics and physical agility to be most stimulating and relaxing. Get ready to hear oodles of giggles and laughter.
Share if you care: Habits form early in childhood. When you help their mother at home, your children learn to help her too. Besides making you sensitive to mundane home routines, your girls will learn to expect the same in their future homes. Your boys will want to join the home team too.
Man–to–man: Teach your boys the art of growing up to be men. Your boys are watching your every move – how you conduct yourself with different people, your language, your opinions and ideas, likes and dislikes, your respect for people or the lack of it, particularly for women. Watching how you treat their mother prepares your boys for their future partner relationships.
Man power: Teach your girls about relationships with males. By watching how you relate to their mother, your girls learn that it’s not right for boys and men to be aggressive with them. So, they will stay clear of those who indulge in power control and bullying.
Heart–to–heart: Take your children for walks and outings. Have long chats with them about their interests, friends and experiences at school. Share your own growing up stories with them. Let them see your realistic, soft, and vulnerable side. Although you are their hero, they will also understand and forgive your shortcomings.
Perspire to inspire: Your hard work and effort help provide for a stable home. Your children will learn the values of grit and perseverance. Help them with their lessons and guide them in their projects. They will learn the skills of planning and problem-solving from you.
Teen talk: As your children enter teenage, you also step into a new parenting phase. Talk to your boys about growing up – the physical changes, the infatuations and so on. Be patient with their physical awkwardness and reassure them of your support during times of distress and disappointment. Talk to them about your world of work. It will help them explore their own dreams and ambitions. Accept that your girls will share a lot with their mother, but you will still be their hero.
Moments, not hours: You may not have the luxury of time to spend with your children. Remember that it’s the small, unforgettable moments that build your relationship. It could be an attentive glance, a warm smile, a reassuring touch, an appreciative gesture, or a deed of trust. So, make every moment count.
Dad and children only: Take your children on an outdoor trip. Let mom stay home and enjoy her well-earned ‘me’ time. This is a wonderful time for you to show your children how you can take care of them and have fun. Simple adventure activities strengthen the bond between you and your children and teach them useful life skills. You can tune into their feelings of fears and doubts, and hopes and wishes.
So far, yet near: When you need to be away from home, ease the stress of separation for yourself and your children. Leave a keepsake—for example, make albums and videos that your children can see and soothe themselves. Keep the connection alive—remember to take a keepsake from the children. You can send each other crazy photos with keepsakes.
So there, you have it! Daddy dearest, you have an incredible journey ahead with your children. You will help build their self-confidence, prepare them for warm and respectful relationships, teach them to problem solve, and set them on a trajectory of progress and success. Again, research informs us that children do better at school when dads support them at home.
We must take a moment though, to empathise with all the committed dads who are struggling to cope with issues like disharmony, divorce, work-related mobility, remarriage and blended families. Unfortunately, in such cases, the father’s role is often vague and undefined. You will always be your children’s dad, so give them most, what you can give best. Let’s make more room for dads to co-parent. We need to break fixed attitudes and move on!
And dads, remember that children today are looking up to dads who are kind, caring, compassionate and fun. So, choose the father you want to be! Revise your parenting agenda to include learning new knowledge and skills in parenting, along with your spouse of course! If you need to rebuild connections, keep in mind that your key tools will be forgiveness, healing and connection.
Let’s raise a toast to dads!
Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.
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