"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."
-Harold B. Lee
OverviewFathering is not just a social role; it is the work fathers do every day. This work is different from a routine job or career in that it comes from a moral obligation to meet children's needs and actively build a caring and supportive father-child relationship. In order to do these important things, fathers should focus on seven specific categories of work: ethical work, stewardship work, development work, recreation work, spiritual work, relationship work, and mentoring work (Dollahite, Hawkins, Brotherson, 1997).The stories that follow exemplify the development work fathers do to care for their children and the next generation.
Development work consists of the father's ability and responsibility to care (to respond to their child's needs and wants) and to change (to adapt in response to their child's needs). The desired result of development work is responsive fathers and purposeful children who believe they will be able to continue to receive attention and initiate desired changes in their world.
StoriesAs Erik Erikson suggested, in adulthood one learns how, and for whom one can care (Snarey, 1993). This caring involves sensitivity and responsiveness to the developmental needs of the children. The following stories illustrate the significance of the fathers' capacity to care for their families.
"I feel like I know Trina. I sense Trina, so that I know when she's having a problem and is trying to get through it on her own. I can sense when I need to delve into that and when I need to back off and let her handle it. . . . In August we were at church and she was coming down the hall and going to Sunday School. . . . I looked at her and knew that something was wrong. I said, "Trina, come here. What's wrong?" "Oh, nothing," she said. I repeated, "Trina, what's wrong?" And then the tears.
"It had to do with one of those kid things, her friends not wanting to talk to her, doing this and that. We walked around the chapel and talked about it. I said, "That doesn't mean it's your problem. You've got to remember that kids are mean to each other sometimes." I helped her put it in perspective. We walked around a little bit more until she could get herself together, then she went back to class and was fine.
"My mother's father, whom I'm very close to, died in September. I went home and I stopped by my Dad's for about ten minutes. He didn't want to hog the time, because I felt like I needed to be with my Grandma (my mother's mother). Later he came down to my Grandma's, which was his mother-in-law, and cared for her. It means a lot to me, because he is remarried, and he doesn't have to do that type of stuff, but he does. I think my father knows me better than I know myself. For one thing, my grandmother has been my idol.
"She was a woman who had taught herself to read. She buried each one of her five children and a husband, and is now alone with a bad heart. All she has is us grandkids. The fact that my father knows I worry, and that he would take time to invite her to his home for dinner and drop by to see and check on her when he's in the area makes me feel good that he cares enough about the other part of me. I have to put myself in a position to do the same thing for my kids.
"I should try to develop the same type of relationship to nurture my kids with their in-laws, and support my grandkids with their other set of grandparents, not just my family.
This next story shows a father's willingness to change his parenting style to nurture his child's development.
Megan was probably between one and two at the time. She had done something to disobey, and I was sending her to her room. She refused to go, and I decided that she was going to go whether she wanted to or not, so I reached out and whacked her bottom. She walked away about two steps, just out of my reach, and turned and faced me again and stuck her lip out. I said, "Go," and she wouldn't move, so I whacked her bottom again and she backed up two feet and looked at me. This happened three times, and I could see that I would never be able to spank her into her room. If she was going to go into that room, it was going to be because I picked her up and put her there. . . . After that experience I came to believe that I should never hit her. It did not do any good for one thing. Ignoring all the other possibilities, it wasn't going to get me anywhere I wanted to go.
Adjusting to the growing demands for independence that teenagers express can be a real challenge for fathers. In this next story, Alex tells of his experience when his 16-year-old daughter decided it was time to leave home.
Parenting adolescents has been a challenge for me, but that hardly makes me unique. A couple of years ago my daughter Kathy, our oldest child, began chafing against parental monitoring and guidance. Nothing too unusual here. She was 15. Over time we gave her more and more "slack, " eventually getting down to a couple of basic rules: let us know where you are and who you are with, let us know when we can expect you back, call if you're going to be late, and "be good."
"We thought these were very minimal and reasonable rules, but it wasn't enough for her; she needed to be on her own, completely unfettered by parental ties. We asked her if she thought other parents were more lenient than hers. She said all that she knew were stricter, but she still needed to have her freedom. She just had to be on her own.
"The summer after her sophomore year in high school, she moved out and into a home with an adult friend and her husband (they have no children). We didn't approve, but we could see that saying no would really sour our relationship with her. It was hard to say good-bye, even though she still lives close; we had thought we would have more time with her. It's been especially hard on her mother, who grew up in much more challenging circumstances and didn't get much parenting or have many of the advantages Kathy enjoyed. I've learned first-hand about the process of adolescent autonomy, parental separation, and an emptying nest.
"I've learned that the timing of this process isn't necessarily predictable and can be sooner than you think, leaving you unprepared. I think we made a good decision, and Kathy seems to be doing well, although it's harder to know all that's going on in her life now. I guess I've learned that children grow up on different timetables and with different needs and desires. Parents need to respect them. Although we wish we had more time with her, we now realize that parents shouldn't assume a fixed amount of time (18 years) to rear their children before launching. We hope letting her go will preserve a good relationship so that she will still come to us, physically and emotionally, in the future. That seems to be happening somewhat already.
ConclusionFatherWork involves adapting creatively to change in children, fathers, and the circumstances in which they live. Developing children need their fathers' care and fathers need to give that care for their own healthy development. But the universal constant of change, predictable or un-, in children, in adults, in circumstances, quickly outdates yesterday's caring response and demands new, adaptive, and creative responses to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Development work calls fathers to provide supportive conditions, resources, guidance, and love as children journey towards maturity. Generative fathers should be a treasured traveling companion for their children on this long and challenging trek, at times standing close together, working side-by-side, at other times observing and encouraging from a safe distance behind, but always a constant hand nearby to gently assist in holding the rudder when the course of life is uncertain, and an anchor of security in a sheltered bay when children need a rest from the strong winds and high waves of change.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: