Robert J. Doman Jr.
Minute for minute, the single strongest influence on a child’s development is that of his or her father. Whether that influence be positive or negative, constructive or destructive, helpful or unhelpful, is largely determined by the father’s knowledge, awareness, and true involvement.
Through my work with children and families, the status of fathers has been spelled out over and over again. The unfortunate truth is that most fathers have only a peripheral involvement with their children. Another truth is that in those families where the father is actively involved with his wife and children, the dynamics are dramatically different. The results are easily observable in the children’s self-images, rate of development and behavior. Unfortunately, it often appears that the greater the need for the father’s involvement, the less of it there is. If the child is well, happy, succeeding in school, sports, etc., the involvement tends to be high. In families with handicapped children, children with learning or behavioral problems where the need for paternal involvement is high, the involvement is often conspicuously low.
It is tragic that so many fathers miss what is potentially the most rewarding experience of their lives because of such excuses as “It’s a woman’s job to take care of the children. I’m too busy. It’s all I can do just to earn a living and pay bills. My wife and I just don’t agree, so I just stay out of it. I don’t know how.”
My goal is not to blame or add fuel to an existing family feud, but to assist the father in determining where he is, where he can be, to provide some very specific means with which to become a positive influence upon their children, that is, to identify the “process. ”
Because of the apparent complexities of the issues, many aspects of our lives appear to be beyond our abilities to make significant changes. Being unable to identify the specifics, we are unable to approach the problem in an orderly, logical manner. We make an effort, generally one lacking in focus, fail and back away from the problem. As with most issues, there are a few basics which, if identified and adhered to, greatly simplify the problems. In dealing with our families and children, we bring to the problem all of our childhood training and experiences, our cultural bias, thousands upon thousands of previous discussions and thoughts, as well as a plethora of conflicting ideas and approaches which we have heard or been exposed to in the past. Attempting to sift through the mess often only leaves us with confusion.
One of the world’s greatest minds, R. Buckminster Fuller, defined thinking as the dismissal of irrelevancies. In defining the various processes interacting in our homes and schools, I have attempted to identify steps involved in producing a positive change. It is important to look at the “process” objectively and as a whole before attacking the “what ifs, but ifs, and but I’s.”
Process Father Step 1. AGREEMENT BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE.
Agreement between husbands and wives is often difficult, particularly when it comes to how to handle the children. I would suggest to the wife who is looking for her husband’s support and involvement that she does not attempt to get it by taking an inflexible stand on “her” way of handling things. No one “knows” when it comes to children, we only “think.” When one only thinks and doesn’t really know, it is wise to be flexible. Many different approaches can work if parents work together and are reasonably consistent. Both parents should be openminded, agree upon a game plan, and try it for a specific length of time. Later they should evaluate the results and either continue with what appears to be a winning plan or go to plan B, C, or D. The important thing is to do it together. Share the effort and the responsibility and be patient. Fathers often become impatient because their homes do not run as their offices. Unlike homes, offices are very single-minded. We should neither expect our homes to run like our offices, nor want them to do so.
Step 2. ONE TO ONE TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN.
Many fathers never establish a relationship with their children. In the work world, pecking orders are established in groups but relationships are only established one to one. If you want to get to know someone you work with, you have lunch together, meet socially, etc. You get together on a one to one basis. The same factors are true of our home. Every child in the family needs to spend one to one time with his or her father. The one to one time can come while running out to the store, playing catch, “helping” with homework, etc. Relationships are established with quality time not by quantity of exposure. It is important to structure time preferably on a daily basis but at least weekly with each of your children, and make it positive.
Step 3. POSITIVE FAMILY UNIT TIME.
You want your home to be a good place to be, a place your children want to be. You want family outings and activities to be positive experiences. If possible, family projects and activities should involve every member of the family. Family unit activities can range from church attendance and participation to family fishing trips, raising animals, skiing, etc. Whatever the activity, you must make it positive. A family outing with the dictator getting on everyone’s case is not a positive family experience. Structure weekly activities.
Step 4. POSITIVE INTENSITY.
To mothers, fathers often appear to have an unfair advantage. Mother can tell the child something a thousand times without apparent effect. The father, however, can say it once and produce an immediate response. Such is a father’s intensity. That intensity can be utilized to help eliminate negative behaviors but, more importantly, to build new positive behaviors. Father’s influence can encourage a child to do anything from liking spelling to enjoying taking out the garbage. Those things which elicit a strong positive response from fathers motivate children. The father who is actively involved with his child, who can identify when that intense positive influence is necessary, can dramatically effect his child’s development, education, and values.
Step 5. ASSUME A SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITY.
Fathers should assume the primary responsibility for some specific activity of the child. The specific activity could be homework, a specific aspect of a home rehabilitation program, an outside activity such as scouts, etc. The assumption of such a responsibility affords the father the opportunity to understand the ongoing responsibilities that his wife faces as well as helps create the opportunity for the one to one involvement with the child.
Step 6. MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT.
The final, but in many ways most important, part of the process is to maintain a positive balance of responses within the home. Simply stated, this means that more positive strokes than negative strokes must be given. Keep it positive!
Reprinted from the Journal of The NACD Foundation (formerly The National Academy for Child Development)