What Does It Mean To Be A Father?

Fathers today are more involved in raising children than before, but there’s always room for improvement. So, can you hone your parenting abilities to take on a bigger role in your child's life?

By Gemmarie Venkataramani

What Does It Mean To Be A Father?
“Fatherhood has structured my life”

Like many other children, I saw little of my father during those growing-up years. He was an engineer with a private company and travelled considerably. I cherished those weekends when he was in town, when we played board games together, went jogging or watched basketball cheering for our favourite teams. This bonding led to happy memories and was more than enough to compensate for his absence. Fathers have their own individual and invaluable style of raising children. Many often go the extra mile, partnering with their spouse to bring out the best in children — physically, socially, emotionally, academically and spiritually.

A different societal norm

Despite the prevailing societal mindset that dads should go to work and bring in the money while mothers take care of their children’s needs, there are some parents breaking this norm. S Vaideeswaran is an involved father who prefers to work from home, while his wife is out at work. This allows him to attend to his two children’s (ages six and eight) needs at home and school. “Professional achievements can wait. I don’t want to miss my children growing up,” he says. “Fatherhood has structured my life,” he affirms.

Spending quality time

IT professional Roshan Thomas admits that during the week, he only catches glimpses of Anne, his 12-year-old. Roshan works on UK timings; he is usually sleeping when Anne leaves for school. Likewise, upon his return at midnight, Anne is fast asleep. Weekends are a different story. Music bonds them like glue. Be it playing the guitar, tapping the keyboard or, simply listening to the latest songs downloaded from the Internet, this father-daughter duo certainly make up for the days when they missed each other. “I see a lot of myself in my daughter. I was exactly like her when I was her age, tantrums included,” says Roshan. He understands Anne’s growing-up predicaments. “Being an only child, there is a natural tendency in us to pamper her, but we try to instill discipline. She knows that I still have the last say!” he affirms.

Canadian psychiatrist and author Dr Michael Rayel, an involved father of four, says that he is both a disciplinarian and a ‘cool’ dad. "We frequently laugh together but they know the family rules and boundaries," he says. According to Dr Rayel, a father must commit four selfless acts so that children can reach their full potential. 

Four selfless acts

Set house rules

If you want peacefulness and camaraderie to reign in your household, establish house rules right away. Let your children know the Do’s and Don’ts when they’re old enough to understand. Instill discipline. Be consistent and firm. Do not change your rules simply because they are inconvenient. Avoid favouritism by letting one child get away with breaking some rules. Encourage responsibility and accountability by showing that infractions have corresponding consequences.

Show your love

Shower your children with love. Laughter, hugs, and kisses should be part of your daily routine. Provide advice. Give comfort and security. Let excitement and surprises abound. Let them laugh.

Instill hope

Let your children feel important. Let them express their opinions, concerns, emotional hurts, excitement and goals. Let them feel good not only about the present but also about tomorrow. Instill optimism by focusing on uplifting developments rather than on discouraging ones. Cultivate a positive attitude by focusing on their skills, talents and victories instead of their weaknesses and defeats.

Create a mission

Your mission is not just to feed, shelter and clothe your children. You have to create opportunities and guide them to find their passion. Teach them so that they can gain wisdom and build character. Your mission is to show them the right path and help them find their wings, so that they can thrive and...fly!

Connect

Reaching out to your children and establishing a connection is not complicated. Here are a few ways to break the ice:

What is the most important thing that happened today? Hardly a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ kind of question. This will give you a glimpse of your child’s daily life.

How are you and your friends getting along? Get to know your child’s social circle. This would convey a message that you care about him.

What should we celebrate today? Find some reason to go out together. Take her out for an ice cream treat just because she finished her meal without a fuss.

What should be our plan for the weekend? This will make your child feel included in the planning and decision-making. You also get to bond with him doing things he enjoys.

Can you teach me how to use this programme? Children know many things that parents do not, especially related to computers and other gadgets. Learning from them also promotes closeness and builds their self-confidence.

Not just the other half

Duraivel Gopal cannot stop with just playing the role of a father. He had to take on the mother’s role as well after his wife’s death, three years ago. Faced with the challenges of raising eight-year-old Karthikeyan and eight-month-old Jasmitha, Duraivel had to make a lot of changes in his personal and professional life. A school event holds the same weight as meeting with important clients. 

He had to come back from England where his family was based for almost five years, to settle down in Chennai. According to him, it is not easy, but also not impossible, for a man to take care of his children. “Just as I learnt how to help my son put on his shirt, I learnt how to braid my daughter’s hair,” he adds. 

Duraivel sees to it that weekends are entirely devoted to the children. They travel, eat out, shop, play, study and have fun together. His job at an IT company entails travelling, but Duraivel reduces this to the bare minimum. Within India, he finishes work during the day so that he is back at night with his children. The itinerary for overseas travel is kept tight to minimise time away from the children. Duraivel’s attitude to life is admirable. “Never have I looked at my situation as a problem, only as a challenge,” he says.

Be friendly, yet build respect

The vice-president of an IT company and father of two, Naveen Narayanan believes that fathers need to find ways to bond with the kids, from day one. “We do not have the power of the umbilical connection. I have always started from that point,’’ he says. He allows his children the space to think, emote and share their thoughts. He also spends exclusive time with each child. He says “I prefer to inspire trust in them and be a role model rather than an instructor. Respect is the bedrock of bonding between fathers and their children”.

There is more to fatherhood

Fathers teach children self-control and social rules; they have their own style of raising children. Studies have shown that when fathers are involved in child-rearing, children have less violent tendencies, better control over their impulses, better mental health and higher IQs.

Researchers at the University of Maryland have determined that children who have fathers in their lives learn better, have higher self-esteem and show fewer signs of depression than children without fathers.

Active fatherhood

Here are a few ways to slowly edge your way into active fatherhood:

Be observant: When your wife changes nappies, prepares breakfast and packs lunchboxes or takes out the children’s uniform, watch carefully. This will give you an edge when you volunteer to do it yourself.

Be available: Mothers do a lot of things apart from mothering. Lend help whenever she needs you. This will give her the confidence that she can rely on you to take care of the children when she is not around.

Be focused: When taking care of children, avoid things that do not interest them. Switch off the television, keep mobile phones on silent mode, do not invite your friends over.

Remember: It is not that mothers do not want your help in taking care of the children (they do so very much!). They are just anxious about whether you can deliver on the job! Reveal the caring dad in you...

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