The Essence of Fathering
"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
OverviewWhat is fathering? Fathering is committed action to care for children that spans the life cycle and consists of countless experiences. The following stories are a response from an invitation to share experiences that capture the essence of a relationship with one's father.
StoriesAs fathers spend time doing work with thier children, these children learn how to work hard and in the process develop a sense of productivity or usefulness (Snarey, 1993, p.17). In this story of Recreation work, a father was able to use yard work as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with his children.
"When my father came home from work at approximately six every evening, we thought he would want to quit for the evening, but he would always round us up to go pick cantaloupe. When we picked melons with Dad, he would carry the bags for the melons while we would hunt for the ripe melons. I would get so excited when I found a ripe melon on the vine that I would jump up and down, pick it, and throw it to Dad. Although I'm sure that he had seen a million of these melons just like the one I had picked, he would be almost as excited as I was and compliment me on the nice melon that I had picked. No matter how many melons that I became excited about, my Dad was always just as excited as I was. It was not only picking the melons that was important. My dad made me feel he couldn't get by without my help. Dad would always thank us and let us know that what we did was appreciated. Probably the best thing that Dad did while we were in the melon patch was to talk with us. He would ask us how our day had been and what we had accomplished. I always felt when we were in the melon patch I could tell Dad anything. I had more heart to heart talks with my father while in the melon patch then at any other time I can remember."
The child's social development can be greatly facilitated by a caring, accessible and dependable father who fosters a sense of closeness, sharing and trust (Biller, 1993, p. 190) As examples of Relationship work, these next three stories show that spending one-on-one time with a child is a great opportunity to strengthen a relationship.
"When I was five years old, my dad took me aside after dinner one night and asked if I would like to go on a date with him that Friday night. I, of course, said yes. I wanted to know where we were going, but he wouldn't tell me. He just smiled and told me it was a secret. The week went so slow! I was so excited to spend some time alone with my dad. He had been the bishop [position of leadership in the Mormon church] for five years and had just recently been called into the Stake Presidency [another leadership position]. I hadn't ever had a lot of time with dad, and especially not time alone. Finally, Friday came. After dinner, my mom had me change into my red shirt and I left on our 'date'. We went to a basketball game at 'the Pit.' To be honest, I can hardly remember the game and if I know myself, I probably never really watched the game. Mostly, I remember that it was very loud, but amidst all the noise, my dad kept smiling at me, showing me the players and trying to explain why everyone was either cheering or booing. I don't remember if the Lobos won or lost that night, but after the game, my dad took me to get ice cream and then we went home. It was probably the first time I ever stayed up past 11:00. On the way home, I recall asking my dad why he had brought me. I think it surprised me that he had chosen to take me, instead of my 7-year-old brother who surely would've understood and enjoyed the game much more than I had. He answered, 'Because you are such a good girl and such a joy to our family. And because I love you.'"
"Sun poured into my bedroom as I awoke. The day that I had been looking forward to for weeks had finally arrived. It was the day that my father and I were going on our daddy-daughter date. To the envy of my brothers, my father and I loaded up the car with a picnic lunch and fishing equipment. It was our day to bond, to talk, and to just be together. As we drove up the mountain we talked about the fish that we should catch, and laughed at funny stories that each of us told. Excitement filled the car as we pondered the events to come. After about forty minutes we arrived at our destination, a secluded spot with a deep pool of water, and huge rocks to sit on while we fished and talked. We fished for hours but we did not catch anything. Some how during lunch one of the fishing poles fell into the water. In disbelief we watched as it sank to the bottom of the river. After lunch my father lowered me into the water to get the fishing pole. I remember how strong the grip of my fathers hands were as they held on to mine. His face had the look of worry and support as he watched me swim to the bottom of the river to get the fishing pole. As I swam to the top and handed him the pole, joy spread across his face. He was relieved that I made the journey safely. The grasp that pulled me out of the water was stronger than the one that let me go. In that instant I knew that my father loved me."
Generative fathering involves showing interest in a child's life. Biller (1993, p. 130) found children with involved and available fathers generally experienced much more success in school and increased academic performance than those who did not have a constructive relationship with both of their father and mother. The following story tells how a father shows concern and interest in his daughter's high school life.
"When I was in high school and dating different guys, my dad would always wait up for me when I came home from my dates. He waited up not only to make sure I got home safely, but he also wanted to hear about my dates. He was interested in my life. He became involved with me when I needed help with homework. Last semester, I was having a hard time in my math class. My dad sat down with me and showed me many things on his calculator and ways to use it that would help me for my final exam. He was willing to help any time I had a question. In fact, he was the one who offered to help me before I even asked him. This showed to me that my dad really wants to be involved with me."
Research states that fathers tend to be more arousing and stimulating in interacting with their children, engaging them in acitive, unstructured play (Biller, 1993, p.22). In this story, a father takes a unique moment to play with this children instead of reprimanding them. When fathers take the time to play with their children, they not only help thier children learn how to get along with other age-mates, but also develop a stronger bond with the father. (Parke, 1996, p. 124, 137). This is the essence of Recreation work.
"The extensive spring rains had flooded our pond and, to the delight of my sisters and I, sent the excess over the edge and gurgling through our front yard. We were pulling our 'handcart' (a beat-up plastic snow sled) across the muddy 'Iowa plains' (our flooded yard) complete with our 'supplies' and small child (suitcases, blankets, dolls and our young sister). In the process, the 'Indians' (harmless family dogs and cats) were chasing us down with fearsome bows and arrows . . . The rain had dampened our little sisters soft blond curls until they were pasted to her forehead. I noticed her lower lip quivering dangerously. 'Uh-oh. She's going to tell on us if we don't let her quit,' I said. . . The chubby five-year-old rolled out of the sled and into the muddy flow. We laughed! With a sniff she was on her feet and huffing up the hill toward the house . . . 'Hey girls, what are you doing?' called Daddy from the open garage . . . Before we knew it, he was trotting down the slippery hill toward our bedraggled forms. 'Get up girls. The Indians are coming!' he shouted. Our eyes widened as he climbed into the small, unstable sled . . . We picked up the ropes and began running, trying to lug his bulk through the water. Laughing uncontrollably and tripping over our skirts, we finally gave up. We spent the rest of that afternoon taking turns sitting in the sled as Daddy pulled us through the muddy stream. Laughing hysterically, Mama watched from the front porch. Daddy was always there for fun . . . He was our playmate and provider . . . It was not uncommon to see all six children in a 'rough-housing' tangle of arms and legs with Daddy in the center of the heap."
The next three stories are examples of Mentoring work. In the following story, a father sacrifices many hard hours of work to make his daughter's wedding reception wonderful. The father didn't just say he loved her, he showed his love for her through his actions.
"My older sister and I got engaged just a few nights apart. I had always hoped to have a backyard reception and it was decided that that would be most inexpensive. However, we had forgotten what a mess the backyard was. Still, my dad had a vision of what could be done with that jungle. He began to fix it up immediately, striving to meet the end of the summer deadline . . . He had the challenge of pulling out dead trees, weeds, bushes, dead grass, and planting new flowers and plants. He became absorbed in this activity, taking time off work and free time to create a heavenly backyard . . . There was not a day that went by that I did not see my father in his grungy clothes with dirt stained knees and sweat on his face. I was amazed at all he was doing to make my wedding wonderful . . . My greatest memory came, however, on the actual wedding day. The ceremony and luncheon were over and we were back at my house preparing for the reception. I had an hour or so before I needed to get back into my wedding dress, so I thought I'd go out back to see how the set up was coming. I walked out to the backyard and marveled at how beautiful everything looked. The tables were neatly set, flowers bloomed, the cake was gorgeous, and the sky was magnificently blue and orange. I sat down on the swing chair to sink in all I saw and felt. My dad followed shortly after and sat down next to me. We did not speak for a few moments but simply gazed at the wonder of the moment. My eyes began to burn as I thought of all my dad had done the past summer to make this the most special occasion of my life. In a choked up voice, and with tears streaming down my face I said, 'Dad, this is the happiest day of my life.' And I meant it with all my heart. He put his arm around me and pulled me close to him. I rested my head on his big, safe shoulder and smiled through my tears. I then told him I loved him and he returned with the same adding, 'It is beautiful, isn't it?' His way of showing us he loves us is by doing and sacrificing for us. I have always felt of importance to him because of that. I don't think my father needed to be at home full time in order for me to have understood that love. The backbreaking work he did all summer for that one, quick day said it better than a thousand words could have. In my case, it wasn't what my father said to express his love, but how he showed it."
In the following stories fathers teach values that impacted their child's lives.
"I was in the ninth grade and had some heavy duty math homework. Ninth grade math was not easy for me. I struggled with the problems and often looked to the back of the book for help. In the back of every math book the answers to all the odd numbered problems are found. These answers are to help students with the concepts and allow them to work the even-numbered problems on their own. One evening when dad was checking my homework, he noticed that I was getting half of the problems right and half of them wrong. Dad began to ask questions and I told him I didn't understand the concepts in the book. I told Dad I was looking in the back of the book for answers. Now before I tell you what Dad did, let me preface this by saying, I think there was a lot weighing on his mind that day and Dad was stressed about something besides me. I couldn't see this at the time and maybe that's why it affected me so much. After I explained to Dad what I did, he sat back in his chair and got the most disappointed look on his face and began to cry!! Can you believe it? He cried and cried and told me how disappointed he was in me and that I was lacking integrity when I cheated like that. It just about killed me. I really looked up to my dad and didn't want to hurt or disappoint him. After that incident I never 'cheated' from the back of the book again. Although I can't say my math grades improved much after that, my Dad taught me a lesson more valuable than math. Dad taught me personal integrity is more important than anything else. Dad lives by this rule and has more integrity than any man I know."
In the following story a young woman tells of the impact her father had when he was there to comfort her after she watched an upsetting movie.
"Just as the movie ended and I was starting to get myself under control, my dad drove in the driveway. He could tell that I had been crying and wanted to know what was wrong and if I was okay. I tried to tell him that nothing was wrong and that I was all right when my voice cracked and I started to sob hysterically. My dad couldn't figure out what was bothering me because I couldn't tell him what had happened. At that point he came over and picked me up in his arms and rocked me for over an hour while I tried to sort out my feelings enough to settle down. When I finally calmed down, we talked about the movie and why it may have caused me to react the way I did. My father was a key person in helping me to learn how to cope with the trials and tribulations that will come in this lifetime."
Part of teaching important values to children involves allowing them to choose for themselves and experience the consequences of those choices. The following story illustrates this point.
"He has taught me the proper way to live, and has helped me make right choices. One experience I had with my dad illustrates this perfectly. When I was 15 years old, I was with some friends who wanted to watch an R-rated movie. I called my dad from their house and asked him if I could watch the movie. He just replied, 'I shouldn't have to say anything to you. You can make the choice.' I quickly made the choice to go home, and I realized that my father had saved me from doing a wrong act, but he also let me make the choice myself."
Making mistakes is part of the learning process. An important part of Development work is allowing children to make those mistakes. When children make mistakes, fathers that are nurturant (helpful, kind, and praising) in their responses help their children to develop cognitively (Parke, 1996, p. 161). This story tells of a time when children made a mistake.
"As children we make some really stupid mistakes, and we learn a lot from these mistakes. The experience that stands out in my mind is a funny but sad one. My family was going camping, and my dad had pulled out the tents and sleeping bags a few days prior to our departure. My little brother and I were convinced that we could put the tent up by ourselves. We were going to sleep in it the night before we left. We proceeded to put the tent up in the back yard, and put the sleeping bags and pillows inside of it. We were so proud of ourselves that we had to tell someone. My mom and dad came out to see what we had accomplished. As we crawled inside and started to proclaim our intelligence the tent came crashing down. We didn't know what we had done wrong, all the poles were in the right places. My dad smiled and said, 'You forgot to put each pole in its pocket.' I am sure that we looked totally discouraged and confused. He showed us where we went wrong, and helped us re-put up the tent. I think that because he helped us and showed us the way to do things properly, after we had made a mistake, we learned a lot more."
The essence of fathering sometimes is as simple as love itself. In the next story, this father shows love and concern for his son.
"There is one event that occurred between my father and me that stands out more than any other event. It occurred the day that I left for the MTC [Missionary Training Center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints]. We lived in Nebraska so my parents were unable to drop me off at the MTC [located in Utah]. The morning that I was to leave [for two years] my father expressed some feelings that he rarely showed in the previous 19 years. He gave me a big hug, a kiss on the cheek, and told me that he loved me and was proud of the decision that I had made to go on a mission. It was no surprise to me that he loved me because his actions always expressed his love. What was surprising was that he opened up and expressed what he was feeling inside. My parents were both very good parents in many ways but they rarely expressed much outward affection. I think that I can count on one hand the number of times that my parents, especially my dad, told me that they loved me. I can still remember how much it meant to me to hear my dad tell me that he loved me."
Sometimes it is easier to write what is difficult to say. This father expresses his love and how proud he is of his daughter through a graduation card, illustrating the power of Relationship work.
"The day was filled with excitement as I put on my cap and gown in preparation for my graduation from Ricks College with my associate's degree. This was one more stepping stone in my life to reaching one of my goals. It was so exciting to see that my hard work was beginning to pay off. I was now half done with my college education. The day was great! My fiancee, at the time, and I were able to walk together, side by side, and to our luck we ended up in the seats right in front of my parents, who had come up from Colorado to see us graduate. The situation could not have been more perfect. I was surrounded by those whom I loved and was able to share a special moment in my life with them. I was especially happy to have my parents there to show them what my hard work had done. I was the first child to make significant progress towards a college degree and I sure wanted to make them proud, especially my dad. After the ceremony we took a lot of pictures and shared a few hugs. We were all celebrating Don's and my newly earned degrees. In all the excitement my parents gave me a card that I did not open for some time. I discarded it as a congratulations card my mother had picked out to tell me they were proud. Also, they were around and I always think it is kind of awkward to open cards and read them in front of whoever gives them to you. I always feel like I need to thank them with a hug or some sentimental gesture for a card. To me cards can be impersonal and they do not mean as much as a letter or something of that nature, so I just held on to it until a later moment when I could open it without a lot of attention. That moment came when we were in the gym waiting for something or someone, I cannot exactly recall. But I sat down on the edge of the stage and opened the card while my parents were in their own world off to the side. I had a little bit of privacy in the sense that no one was looking over my shoulder. It was a fairly large card in a blue envelope. My name had been written by my father which was a little unusual because my mother usually does stuff like this. The card was decorated with flowers and books and had a page inside that was made just of regular bluish gray paper and was glued to the card. Anyway, I read the greeting about dreams, new plans, and a wonderful life ahead of me, etc. At the bottom my mother had written I love you in capital letters and signed Mom and my dad had signed Dad. My feelings were confirmed about how I would feel. It was nice, but it was just a card. Then, I realized the glued paper found inside was not glued on the right side and there was writing on it. I turned the page and to my amazement I found a long message written by my father. My dad never writes in cards like this. It is always my mom. I just figured he had been the one to write from both of them as my mother dictated, but I looked down and saw it was signed only by my dad. I had to take a deep breath before reading because I was not sure what to expect. From the moment I read the words 'Dear Janet,' my eyes began swelling with tears. I was filled with total emotion as I read: 'Dear Janet, I know we don't talk much. Communication between you and your mother seems to be better than between you and I. However, I want you to know how extremely proud of you that I really am. The example you set for your brothers and sisters is very important to me, but more than that, the standards you have set for yourself, places you in a class by yourself. I know you will succeed in anything you do; you've proven that many times. You have chosen well: your schools, your course of study, your work, and of course your mate. Be proud of who you are, be strong in what you do, be faithful to your convictions. You are my daughter, I love you very much - Dad.' To many people this would be a normal letter that contains words heard by their fathers many times. But to me, the words are like gold, very rare and precious. My father has never expressed his feelings to me in such a manner. Tears just streamed down my face when I read the words. I wanted to go up and hug my dad to let him know how much they meant but I was restrained. To this day I do not know why, but this experience has been held dear to me and I have cherished this card with all my heart."
Children will remember how their parents treated them when they were very ill. The following three stories show how fathers took time to be with their daughters while they were sick.
"At a very young age, I knew my father loved me. In the middle of my fourth grade year, I started having intense migraine headaches. I had my eyes checked many times and found that I did need glasses, but my vision was changing so quickly that the doctors thought that possibly there were other problems. I was sent immediately to Primary Children's Hospital, to be checked for a brain tumor. On the day scheduled for my testing, my mom was unable to come to the hospital with me and so it was arranged for my dad to come. It was a scary time for our family, and I remember being very nervous and really not understanding what was going on. We went to the hospital, and I was given a lot of shots that go along with having a CAT scan. We were there for hours, but most of the time I was sleeping inside the big machine. I don't remember what happened most of the time, but I do remember waking up and seeing my dad, along with all the doctors, through the glass window. It was weird for me to have all those people looking at and studying me, but having my dad there was very comforting. After we left the hospital, we spent the rest of the day walking around the capital building and just spending time together. It was an experience I have never forgotten and know I will never forget. My father was showing me that day, how concerned and involved he was and still is, in my life. He showed me reverence and respect by being there for me when I was frightened and helping me through that new experience. I gained a lot of respect for him that day, and looking back to that time, I realize that he was not afraid to take on the role of caring for his children . . . This is what makes my relationship with my dad go great; I have no doubt that he loves me and is constantly concerned with my well-being."
"This is not much of a story in that it doesn't flow as nicely as most stories do, but it is a true experience with my father. In preparing to write this I have done a lot of reflecting on my relationship with my father. Many experiences have come to my mind, but none of them quite typifies our relationship like my twenty-fourth surgery, which I had when I was sixteen years old. It was summer so my dad, a French professor, did not have to worry about getting a substitute for his classes, or about work piling up as much as he would have in fall or winter. My parents spent from about nine in the morning to about eight at night with me every day at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake, then they left to drive back home to Provo so my father would not get too tired. The night before my surgery my father and my uncle gave me a healing blessing that gave me courage and comfort. It helped me know that I would be all right, that I was loved, and that I would be well cared for. As soon as I was in my own room after surgery, while I was still quite anesthetized, my father pulled out his camera and took a picture of me. When I groaned about it he said, "Well, at least I didn't make any 'cutting' remarks." I groaned again, my usual response to his really corny puns, and went to sleep. This joking is a very important part of our relationship and one of the ways we show caring for each other. Later, after the anesthesia had worn off, I was in a great deal of pain. They had discovered a few weeks earlier (after another surgery) that I am allergic to both codeine and morphine, which most strong pain medications are based on. Because of this, they had me on a high dosage of Extra-Strength Tylenol. It may have been 'extra-strength,' but it just was not 'extra-strength' enough for my pain. I spent most of the next few days trying to breathe deeply, and quivering and sobbing in pain. My father spent much of that time sitting next to me, holding my hand so I would have something to squeeze, and wiping my tears. This meant a great deal to me and was one of the ways that I can remember that my father showed me he loved me."
While many people remember the times their fathers cared for them during illness, this young woman remembers a time when the roles were reversed. An important part of Development work is allowing others to meet the changing needs of the father as well as the father meeting the needs of the child. Here she remembers most when she was able to help her father during his time of cancer.
"This particular Saturday afternoon, my brothers came up to East Canyon to play some sort of paint gun game, but my dad and I drove up together in our old tan Dodge van. When we got up the canyon, it was a beautiful day and I knew that my dad wished that he could play the game with my brothers, but this time he could only watch. When he stopped the van, the next few minutes in time were very meaningful for me. My dad's crutches were in the back of the van and he asked me to get them for him. I jumped out of the van and opened the side door, trying to hurry to show my dad that I could help him. I grabbed his crutches from the back and walked around to the driver's side. The look on my dad's face told me that he was in pain. I handed him the crutches and he thanked me. We used his arms to slide his body to the edge of the seat and again his face revealed some discomfort. I knew that this process wasn't easy for him. He took one crutch in each hand and supported himself as he slid down from the seat. Then, together, we walked over to the place where the game would start. My dad used to always hold my hand; actually he would hold my pinkie with his. Now he couldn't hold my hand at all because he had to hold onto his crutches. I felt safe with my dad and I was proud to be his daughter. I felt a special bond with my dad that day. First, I was in a place that he loved so much and I was glad that he brought me along. Second, I felt like he needed me to be there so that I could help him. Third, for the first time, I think I realized that my dad was imperfect and that even adults didn't always feel strong and secure. My own dad had need for a little eleven-year-old girl. It's funny that I remember this small and seemingly insignificant experience with my father, but I had a lot of strong emotions for my dad that day. I felt like he was so strong to be able to make it through all the things he had been through, and to have people look at him because he only had one leg. I felt so proud that he was my dad."
Death is a powerful motivation for change. It stimulates younger generations to take something in and older generations to leave something behind (Kotre, 1984, p. 115). In the following stories, tragic events help to redefine a father's relationship with his children.
"Two years after I left home to go to college, my 18-year-old brother committed suicide. It was very devastating for our whole family for a long time, but especially for my father. In the letter my dad says that after this event he realized what a negative effect his harsh, unfeeling attitude must have had on us children. He felt that he had killed my brother and that this could have been prevented had he expressed more of his love and feelings. Throughout all of the trials, my father has realized how important his family is to him. Since my brother's death, my 'new and improved' father has been able to reveal his weaknesses to us children and express his intimate feelings, allowing us to grow closer to him. Because of my brother's death, my dad is no longer a stranger to emotion and I think he has learned how to understand and show his feelings. I'm sure my dad felt hurt, sadness, fear, warmth, affection, closeness, and for the first time was able to claim and recognize these emotions for what they were."
"My parents had planned a trip to Oklahoma to visit my older sister, Lori, but a few weeks prior to their departure my father had an appointment with his doctor. The check-up went as usual, but the doctor told Dad about this new 'miracle drug' that would get him off insulin and encouraged Dad to try it. My father, excited about anything that would enable him not to take insulin, was willing and had the prescription filled. He started taking this new medication and soon thereafter left on their two week trip. Things were going well at first but by the time my parents reached Oklahoma, Dad was feeling quite ill and experiencing much fatigue. He often felt this way when his blood sugar was high so both my parents figured that's what was wrong. They spent the week helping my sister and her husband fix up their new house, but Dad got worse. Any physical activity what so ever left him out of breath; he could hardly tighten a screw without getting winded. Dad started experiencing serious chest pains and pain in his arms, and by this time everyone was worried. My mom and my sister took him to the emergency room. The doctor there told my parents that my father's heart was basically a time bomb just waiting to go off, and that he needed to get to a cardiologist as soon as they arrived home! My parents took the next flight out of Oklahoma headed home. They had an eight hour lay-over in Salt Lake on their way, so I went up and spent the day with them. Dad looked weaker than I had ever seen him before. He would have to stop and rest walking from the car into the store. It scared me to see him this way. I thought it would be the last time I'd see him, and I knew he thought that too. I spent the day driving my parents around Salt Lake as my Dad talked to me about everything from how to do my taxes to what to do when I buy my first house. He talked non-stop; he had so much to tell me and so much advice to give, knowing he would never have another chance. He told me how I needed to raise my kids and the do's and don'ts of parenting. He talked to me about marriage, religion and real estate. And as I listened to him, inside my heart was breaking as my daddy tried to combine counsel for the next twenty years into a few hours. We both knew that the end was surely near, and saying good-bye to him at the airport was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I thought that was it; I didn't think I would ever see my father again. I cried and cried as he hugged me and told me he loved me. I remember saying, 'Daddy, I love you' and then they left. I was sobbing so hard as I drove back to Provo that I had to stop on the shoulder of the freeway because I couldn't see, my eyes were so red and swollen. Soon after my parents arrived home, Dad went to see a cardiologist. They did all sorts of tests on him. A few days and several thousand dollars later the doctor still couldn't find anything wrong. He said that Dad's heart and lungs were in surprisingly good condition and that there was nothing wrong with them. While this was all going on my mom was starting to get a bad feeling about this medication that Dad had been taking. She did a little reading about it, and came to find out that one of it's many side effects was weakening of the heart. The risks of taking it were just too great so she convinced Dad to stop taking the medication and start up on his insulin again. Within a matter of days Dad's condition went from black to white. He was feeling a hundred percent better and was not having any problems at all. Soon after, Dad went in for an appointment with his regular doctor (the one who had prescribed this medication to him). He told my father that with the effect that this drug had on him in just the last three weeks, that if he had not stopped taking it Dad would have been dead in another week! Some 'miracle drug' it was. My relationship with my father has become even closer since this experience and that day we spent together. I doubt he even knows what that day meant to me, how hard it was yet still so very important to me. Even at his weakest moment, my father is the strongest man I know. He has been a teacher, an example and a best friend to me."
"After I had been in college for approximately a year, my grandfather (on my father's side) went into a coma. Previous to this time, my attitude toward my family was one of 'I am never going back.' For some reason, (which I discovered later) I felt that I should discontinue school and go to Dallas, Texas, where I could be of assistance to my grandmother. I proceeded to do so knowing that my father (who lived in Alabama) would be visiting. My hope was to be of comfort to my family, especially my father and grandmother, and also to see my grandfather once again before he passed away. With hardly any money and a bag full of food donated by roommates and friends, I boarded a bus to Dallas. Upon arrival, I went straight to the hospital where my family was gathered. I walked into the hospital room unprepared for what I was to see. There lay my once able grandfather with numerous tubes and apparatus surrounding him. His breathing was labored. I was told he was still in his coma and that he was paralyzed on his left-hand side . . . I took my grandfather's hand and told him how much I loved him. Previously, the family had been taking turns staying with my grandfather so he would never be alone. It was my father's 'shift.' It was night time and I was tired, but I chose to stay with my father realizing that this may be the only time that I had to share with him before he [my grandfather] died. Something magical happened that night as my father and I talked, each holding the hand of a dying member of our family. We talked about things we'd never discussed. I asked questions that I had never had answers for. I started to understand my father . . . My grandfather's slow, struggled breathing served as a mediator and peacemaker as we discussed topics that could have ignited with emotion . . . That night as we talked, I began the healing process. The next morning I woke up with a momentary start . . . I could tell that this time for my father was very precious and that I had been privileged to be there with him. I felt an emotional bond with my father that I had never felt before. I stood up, stretched, and walked to the window which overlooked the Dallas horizon. As I peacefully gazed out the window, the beauty of the morning sun reflected off the skyscrapers filling my view with the dazzling morning colors of pink and orange. It was beautiful. I thought of the occurrences of the previous night and my heart felt peace. This was a new peace. It was a peace I had never felt before. It was the peace that is felt by a daughter who realizes for the first time that she has a father who loves and cares about her."
In an example of Ethical work, this father doesn't allow his competitive nature get in the way of supporting his daughter run a race.
"Each year, the physical education department of my junior high school sponsored a 3 mile fun run, named the "Cougar Challenge." Students and parents were encouraged to enter the race. As members of the basketball team, my coach told us that we were required to run the race, which was to be held early on a Saturday morning. I decided to ask my father, who is a seasoned runner, to participate in the race. Since my father was always looking for a race to run in, he naturally accepted the invitation. We ran a couple of times before the race and he gave me pointers. We even went to the junior high and ran the course we would run for the race. The day of the Cougar Challenge arrived. We got to the school and stretched and warmed up together. Many people were there, including many of my friends and their fathers and/or mothers. Since many of these people were also our neighbors, my father knew them and acknowledged their presence. My dad joked around with them about placing bets on which one of them would win their division. The race began. We got a good start and established a pace that was faster than what I was used to running. We pulled ahead of my friends quickly. I expected my father to eventually pass me up and I even challenged him before the race to run hard and beat my physical education teachers. As we ran, though, he never left my side. My pace started to slow as the race progressed, which slowed him down a great deal. But he never pulled ahead, though it would have been so easy for him to do so. Gradually, my friends' fathers started to pass us up--the same ones that my father had jokingly challenged before the race. They had passed up their daughters, and they were competing fiercely among themselves. My dad kept by my side, though, encouraging me to push harder. As a result, I placed third out of all the girls in the school who ran it. My father didn't place. It was the hardest race I have ever ran, and I would not have done so well if he hadn't stayed by my side, prodding and encouraging me to do my best. Given the competitive nature of my father, what he did was an extremely unselfish act and typifies his character."
In this story, a daughter tells how her father coaxed her out of a slump by caring for her through doing little things. This illustrates the importance of Relationship work.
"My dad is a full-time father. His illness, though devastating at first, has proved to be a blessing in disguise many times. Having him at home turned out to be one of those camouflaged blessings. I have come to know him much better, and he has come to know me much better as well because he is around to see me in all my wonderful moods. Point in case: two weeks ago I was going through a minor burnout that, at the time, seemed like the end of the world. I cried over every little thing, and I wanted to establish a permanent home under my covers. Now as a female I am entitled to go through this pseudo-end-of-the-world crisis at least once a month; it's normal. But since I haven't lived at home for over two years, my dad was more than a little alarmed by my behavior. His concern for me turned into compassion, and I was quite touched. My dad isn't emotional very often, but I know that he does have a sensitive side to him. So getting back to my story, the morning after he had seen me burst into tears, he came into my room and, speaking to me as if I were five years old, asked me if I would like a nice warm bowl of cream of wheat. Now I know that it was cold outside, but I am not a huge cream of wheat fan no matter what the temperature maybe. Still, the way he peeked his head inside my door and asked me was so adorable that I just couldn't say no. He ran down the stairs like a boy on Christmas morning to start making breakfast. A few minutes later there was a knock on my door. It was my dad. By the look on his face, you would have thought that Old Yeller had died. He sadly informed me that we were out of cream of wheat, but that there was still some Malt-O-Meal left if I wanted that instead. I told him that would be fine. I was trying hard not to laugh. He was being so cute! About twenty minutes later, I came bolting down the stairs to eat breakfast. My dad was sitting at the table, reading the paper. To my surprise, there was only one serving of Malt-O-Meal in the pan. Puzzled, I asked my dad if anyone else was going to eat it. He looked at me, equally puzzled, and said, 'No, I just made it for you.' Perhaps you find it strange that I tell this story, but this experience I had with my dad had a huge impact on me. It truly is the little things in life that make a difference, and this was no exception. That chilly morning, a bowl of Malt-O-Meal may have warmed my body, but my dad warmed my heart."
Biller and Mark Reuter (1993, p. 77) found that fathers who had consistent and relatively warm contact with their children helped provide a good foundation for their child's later development. Sometimes the small things, the small bits of time fathers spend with their children leave impressions of a lifetime.
The beautiful little creek ran through the pasture. On each side the willow trees grew. One summer afternoon, Dad and I stopped by the willows. Dad was telling me stories about when he was young. He told me a story of whistles and how he and his brothers had made whistles out of willow branches. He reached into his pocket and removed his knife, the knife that was always there. We cut a stick of willow and carefully slid the bark off. The stick was so smooth. He cut a notch in the wood, then cut a flat place on the wood. Next the bark was inserted back on, with a notch cut in the bark. He handed it to me. I looked at it and could see a groove between the bark and the willow wood. He asked me to blow on the end, and as I did, it emitted a sharp whistle. Small things, small bits of time, leave impressions of a lifetime.
ConclusionFatherWork involves continually and adaptively being for one's child; the essence of fatherwork is constant, active responsiveness. Thus, generative fathering, like a great river, is both constant and moving. Children need to be able to flow along the river of growth that generative fathering provides. Children need the stability of the constant presence of a father in their lives combined with flexibility to meet children's changing needs. As a great river brings travelers along their journey, generative fathering provides opportunties for meaningful growth and assists a child move through life with confidence and joy; as a river provides sustenance on the journey, generative fathering provides a child sustenance and lifegiving love; as a river provides fun, excitement, and adventure, generative fathering nourishes a child through fun, humor, and adventure; as river-goers get on and off the river but always retain, in memory, the feel of quiet movement and exciting rapids, children of generative fathers depend on their fathers to both be a constant presence and yet to allow them to decide how often they avail themselves of their father's influence; as great rivers begin in mountains and end in oceans, generative fathering begins in the peaks of high principles and flows down until its journey is over; as great rivers are fed by smaller streams, generative fathering is nourished by other's efforts and encouragement. You, as a father, are called to be for your children what they most need for you to be as they move through a challenging and sometimes dangerous life.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: