Imagine a little boy running around gleefully, and suddenly he falls and hurts himself. The mother rushes to him, tells him everything is alright and there is no need to keep crying, cleans the wound, puts some ointment, sticks a plaster on his knee and says, “Next time, don’t run.”
If it were the father rather than the mother who gets to the child first, the father probably tells the child that boys don’t cry, cleans the wound, puts some ointment, sticks a plaster on the knee, and says: “Now you can run again.”
Mothers and fathers are different. No doubt I am somewhat stereotyping here, and sometimes the roles are reversed. But most times the mother is the protector and comforter, while the father is the encourager and adventurer. This is because man and woman are by nature different.
I was showing my three older grandchildren an award-winning short film about a puma going after a bear cub. The puma got so close as to scratch the face of the cub with his front paw. But at the end of the film, the puma unexpectedly simply slinked away and left the cub alone. The next shot showed a huge bear behind the cub, which of course was the reason for the puma giving up his prey.
I asked my grandchildren whether the huge bear was a mama bear or a papa bear. All three said it was a mama bear.
- My oldest grandchild said in the animal world, the papa simply disappears and leaves the mama to take care of the babies.
- The middle grandchild said in the animal world, the mama is always the one fighting to protect her children.
- The youngest grandchild said it was a mama bear, because she licked the blood off the wound on the face of the bear cub.
The instincts of the three children were clear and immediate: Mothers protect and comfort their children! This is not the role of the father.
Human fathers have to go beyond animal fathers. This is because the human child needs to learn more things, and has to go beyond instincts to think rationally and act sensibly.
In the early years, from nursery through kindergarten to primary school, the child needs most of all to feel protected and cared for – the mother plays the major role here. But as the child enters into his or her teenage years, standing out from peers becomes awkward and it becomes much easier to follow the herd. These are the years where the child needs most of all to develop a sense of identity, self-confidence, and courage to be different at times, even though most times he or she will go along with others.
Fathers have the particular role to help grow his child’s personal identity, self-confidence and the courage to be different when necessary and appropriate.
This need for father leadership applies both to girls as well as boys – fathers teach their daughters how men should treat women, and fathers teach their boys how to be sons, husbands and fathers.
Fatherhood is less instinctive because the need is less obvious, and fathers can easily feel their responsibility is just to provide shelter, food on the table and pocket money.
In days gone by where the economy was basically agricultural, fatherhood could have been more instinctive: teach the children the importance of hard work and discipline, obey the parents, understand the times and the seasons. Today, where women choose both to work as well as raise a family, wives cry out for husbands to help in running the home, and fathers end up, if they are not conscious and deliberate about it, to be performing the role of mothers and forgetting their role as fathers.
The world today is seeing a failure of leadership, a shortage of ideas and of thinking, and the rise of relativism. It is a world where the child, if not carefully grounded to have the self confidence to think for themselves, will end up simply following the crowd, only to discover later in life that people are always only thinking of themselves and not catering or caring for others.
The responsibility for identity, self-confidence and the courage to be different lies primarily with fathers. And these qualities are absolutely critical for children to succeed in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Fathers: Your role as a dad is extremely important so be the best dad you can be!
Single men: you too have a role to be a positive male model for the children around you.
Single mothers: don’t be discouraged that the father of your child/ children does/ do not live with your child/children – just have to ensure that your children have positive male models in their lives.
Happy Father’s Day!