I have to admit to being a ‘bit of a hugger’ with my boys - even though they are in their late teens! Open affection is a natural part of our relationship.
Growing up in the 1930s and 40s (‘Silent Generation’) and even the 50s (‘Baby Boomers’) when our fathers were born and were children, fatherhood was very different.
The ominous clouds of The Great Depression and World War 2 swept over the world, and their destructive storms smashed family life. Many fathers struggled with poverty and unemployment, many were deployed to far away battlefields to fight, die or become ‘battle scarred’ for the rest of their days.
Family life was more formal (but not less precious) and relationships more reserved (but not less loving). See below my great grandfather with his son (my grandfather).
They were the days when…
“Children should be seen but not heard!”
“Brave boys don't cry!”
“Speak only when you're spoken to!”
Thankfully things have changed, the constraints have been eased, but respect is still essential.
As a father in the 21st Century, there’s more scope than ever before to be more emotionally involved in your children’s lives and thereby enjoy a potentially deeper and more fulfilling relationship with them. In doing so, we can contribute to their growth and development, and also positively influence generations to come.
Today, we know from brain-mapping, that positive fathering – interacting with your child with warmth and involvement – affects the chemistry of their brain. It builds up neural networks that will help them socially, at school and in the world.
We must not underestimate the power of such interaction.
“There's been a really big change. We, as fathers now, have a lot more permission to see ourselves in an emotional way, in an emotional relationship with our children. We’re not just expected to pay for things, earn the money and be the disciplinarian. I think we’ve got more permission now to be emotionally involved.” Professor Richard Fletcher
Many of the benefits of fathering come from dads being nurturing, loving and engaged in all aspects of parenting. Fatherhood is broadly defined as including biological as well as non-biological father figures (eg. relatives, stepfathers, foster fathers and even unrelated mentors).
When fathers provide emotional support and act affectionately toward their children, the effects go well beyond growth, development, good health and solid grades. Research shows the benefits also include having children who value emotional intelligence, gender equality and healthy competition. They are better regulated emotionally, more resilient and more open-minded when their fathers are involved in their education and socialisation.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
Boys, for better or worse, often mirror the habits, interests and values of their own fathers. They don’t just learn what they say to them, they learn by watching them and modelling them.
"In all arenas of life, a father’s actions speak more loudly than his words, and a boy is listening carefully to both." ('Raising Cain' by Dr. Dan Kindlon)
What can fathers do?
The way a father behaves during play or shared experiences teaches his son how to manage his emotions. Dads have to show real care in expressing feelings around their children. However, if a father can be emotionally honest, candid, thoughtful, and flexible in his responses, then a son’s respect will follow. The lesson about emotional honesty that a father teaches through his response to his own shortcomings and failures, is more important than him actually being an expert in every endeavour.
A father who engages in ‘rough and tumble’ play with his son teaches him to manage emotions like excitement, frustration and aggression. Boys learn the vital lesson of self-control - being able to have fun, be noisy, even get angry, and at the same time, know when to stop.
A father who listens, accepts and assists his son in distress helps him grow stronger emotionally. Gently support your son with the task of growing through hard situations rather than trying to ‘toughen him’ to match a tough world. Provide opportunities to practise strength through emotional vulnerability. Vulnerability is the key to good mental health, because without it, we can’t be close to others, or grow and learn.
Fathers who role model and gently encourage their sons to open up and seek support are vital in changing young men’s ideas about, and attitudes to, their own mental health and wellbeing. Help your son to use words to express and deal with events in their lives. Words are how we think and connect, and that is what helps us make good choices. The more your son expresses himself, the more he’ll feel empowered to make safer and more constructive decisions that will benefit him for the rest of his life.
“You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.” Walter M. Schirra Jr.
When fathers look after themselves, they have greater patience and can offer a more considered approach to helping their son. One of the most effective ways to support a healthy headspace for your son, is to model healthy behaviours yourself. Remember your own needs and know where to get information and support if needed.
Fathering is the best thing you are likely to ever do - for your own satisfaction and joy, and for its effect on the future of your son, family and community. All men who support and care for children have a critical role to play in instilling positive social values in future generations.
Peter Grimes | Headmaster
Professor Richard Fletcher, Father, Author, Speaker, Head of the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle
Raising Cain - (2000) Dan Kindlon & Michael Thompson
Raising Boys in the 21st Century - (2018) Steve Biddulph
The Father Hood - https://www.the-father-hood.co...
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