"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 can 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). This part of our home page is related to ethical work.
Ethical work consists of the father's ability and responsibility to commit (to pledge to ensure the child's well-being) and to continue (to be an enduring presence in the child's life). The desired result of ethical work is involved fathers and secure children. Ethical work leading to involved fathers thus becomes the foundation and sine qua non of responsible fathering. Much research has found that frequently if a strong commitment to the child and early paternal involvement does not occur, fathers rarely sustain meaningful long-term involvement and support for the child (Doherty et al., 1996).
StoriesEthical work involves making tough, but important decisions for a child's welfare. In the two stories below, fathers ignored their own discomfort to help their children through painful experiences.
"Tara was old enough to talk (about two) when I had to take her to get her shots. She'd been there before and knew what would happen when the nurse told her to pull her pants down. . . I started taking Tara's pants down for the shot and she said, "Oh, Daddy, don't! No, Daddy." It just drove me nuts. I started bawling. Here was a 220-lb. guy walking out of this place, bawling, with two kids in his arms. I was trying to do everything I could for her, such as going for ice cream so that she wouldn't think, "My Dad took me to get these shots."
"I'll never forget that. It was the same with Luke, but for him it wasn't nearly as bad as Tara, because she knew it was coming and was pleading not to have it happen. . . . As long as Dad is always there, I'll do everything I can to help them out, but there are certain things they will have to go through. Yet as long as they know they can go to Dad, lean on him and get help, that is my main concern. Whether they're getting shots, hitting their head or just not having a good day, if they can always come and sit with their Dad and talk with him, that's all I want them to do."
"The most painful experience I've had with Trina is when she was about three or four. We were living in a neighborhood where kids would tell her that they could not play with her because she did not have a white face. They would spit on her even though I was standing there, because she was black. . . That hurt. It had nothing directly to do with her, but it hurt. It's painful for me because I thought I had marched, been spit on, kicked, beat up, jailed, called all kinds of names in the 1960s, and through the civil rights movement so that this should not be happening. . . .
"If it was said to me that would be fine, but not to my kids, not to my wife. I learned that I had to prepare my kids to deal with all kinds of people no matter where they are. Also, to understand that it's not their problem and they shouldn't take the other person's problem, who is bigoted or narrow-minded, away from them and put it on themselves."
This father tells how he made the decision to be at home more often because of his daughter.
"I drove a truck for a while, and I think that has contributed to our being distant. She felt like she didn't have a daddy. I came home and told her to clean something up and she said, "You can't tell me what to do. You're not my daddy." That ripped me apart. I think it was more of a twist and a little gouge on her part, I don't think it was really meant, but it hurt. I stopped driving a truck really fast and brought myself back home. She was more or less saying, "You should be home."
Another father talks about his commitment to caring for his daughter, Megan, when she was in pain.
"I've just about spent my life caring for and nurturing Megan, when I wasn't at work. Maybe the hospital is the part we like to forget but can't. When her pain got to the point that she couldn't go to the bathroom, I was the one that got to do her bedpans for her. She would only let me do it. It wasn't a thing for Mom, and she didn't want anybody else in the room. She kicked everybody out of the room--nurses, Mom--Mom had to be outside the door, and I would get the bedpan as best as I could under her bottom without hurting her.
"Moving the sheets hurt her. It was not a good thing. But she let me do that for her, and I was able to take care of her needs, and it helped me that I was the only one she'd let do it. That was kind of neat. You wouldn't expect bedpan shuffling to be a wonderful memory, but it was. She trusted me to do my best job to not hurt her, and that was special to me that she let me do that."
After having a painful experience when he disappointed his child, this father committed to taking the time for his children.
"He [his son] had something like a book and asked me to sit down with him. I didn't think I had the time. I don't know if it was something he was doing or something he said, but something let me know that was the moment he needed to practice his verbal skills or his interaction skills. I said to myself, "I'll never let a moment like that pass again," and I haven't. . . It has kind of been a stimulus to never let it happen again. I had a similar experience at the other place we lived.
"One of the kids was out trying to ride a bicycle and I came home. One of the kids asked me to come out and help them learn to ride or watch them, and I went out there in pain. I thought, " I don't know why I'm doing this," but something forced me to go out and suffer some more. She learned to ride the bike that day. . . You do learn things almost instantaneously when they do happen, and if you miss that moment then you've missed the moment. There is nothing else you can say. . . You have to do them or you miss them forever, and I mean forever. . . I don't want those moments to pass with me and my children"
Being the father of a sick child can be very difficult. The following story depicts how one father struggled with his daughter who had leukemia:
"That's one of the things that just frustrated me over and over again in my relationship with Megan, that she would say, "This is going to hurt," and I would say, "No, that's not going to hurt. That one's not going to be bad." And they always were. I was always wrong. I could never protect her from anything it seemed like, and that's one of the reasons why I really want her to be in Heavenly Father's care, because when He says something is going to be okay it is.
"It seemed like I was forever fouling up as a father, in a way, being unable to protect her from something. Even when I thought I was going to be able to, it seemed that more often than not I was wrong. That's another reason why that particular memory holds such pain for me; it was yet another case where I said, "No, that won't hurt Megan. You'll be okay." Mortal Daddy is wrong . . . it just kind of hurts."
Many fathers feel the need to discipline, but this can be very difficult, as the following story illustrates:
"[In] a recent experience, he and our other child were in a BYU play. One night my wife and I took them there and then I went to the BYU Library while my wife was with them. I was afraid that while I was there they might be very wild and my wife would not be able to control them, since kids never fear the mother but usually the father. The show was in progress and I wanted to make sure that they were quiet, so I told them, "You need to behave yourselves this time," because previously they had broken their promise to me several times. I said, "You need to behave this time and keep your promise. Otherwise, I am going to be very mean tonight." I wanted to make them remember.
I left and came back and my wife told me that they forgot everything I had said to them and were just very wild. People tried to stop them and they would not even listen. I felt very, very bad, because before that I had told them that I didn't like disciplining them. However, I could not tolerate it any more and told them that I had to teach them a lesson. Before that I made them listen to me and said, "I didn't want to do this, because it probably hurts me more than it hurts you, but I have to do this because this is what I promised you and what you chose to get. Now I have to do this to you." So I spanked them both, then later on I gathered them in my arms and asked, "Do you know why I had to do this?" They said, "Yes," and I told them, "You know that this hurts me more than it hurts you. It hurts you momentarily from the slap; it hurts me because I didn't want to slap you. You are not only my sons, you are Heavenly Father's children. It makes me feel like I am doing a very bad thing."
It was a painful experience, but I felt that because I promised them that I had to make sure that they understood that when I say something I mean it....Later on I said, "Come over here," and got one in my left arm and one in my right arm, and said, "Do you know why Daddy had to do this to you?" They said, "Yes, because we didn't listen to you. We broke our promise, etc."...There is an important teaching from the scriptures which says that after disciplining children you want to increase your love. You want to do this after a hard experience with them so that the children do not take you for an enemy, and so that they know that you love them."
Many fathers struggle with how to prepare their children for the world, especially when they have a disability. The following two stories are about fathers who knew they had to let their children experience some of the difficulties of life. In the first story, Luke has autistic tendencies:
"There are a lot of cousins his age and when he's trying to do something with them, it's painful to see a kid say, "How come Luke can't talk?" You want to jump in there and try to do everything so they don't have to question, but you can't. It's something that they are going to experience in life. That is probably the worst--to see him trying to do something but he can't tell you what to do. Then he just loses it or you can see him start to get frustrated, and want to say, "What do you want?" but you can't do anything because you don't really know what he needs.
"That is the worst regarding painful experiences. I don't like to see stuff like that. It's something they've got to go through, but you've got to sit back and let them do it....It's like teaching a child how to do addition and subtraction. When they're catching it, it's great, but if there's a child who can't comprehend how to do it or tell you how to help him, there's nothing that you can do to help him. You're helpless and so is he."
"[He] was down in the nursery in the hospital and I was walking down to see him. Some people were looking through the window. Three people walked past and then they saw Taylor, as he was right in front in the window. This guy started pointing at him and started laughing at him because of his hand. I really felt close to Taylor at the time, and I felt like just whaling on the guy! ...I realized that I can't over-protect Taylor as he's growing up, which isn't going to be easy, although now we don't look at him as having a handicap or anything."
This story tells of a father who expressed disappointment in his son's actions and how this expression of feelings increased the commitment of his son to never disappoint the father again.
"One evening when I was 15 I asked my father if I could go see a hockey game that night. He gave me permission to go, with the restriction to be home by 12 p.m. I agreed and left. At the hockey game I found a few of my friends and started to talk to a girl I really liked. To cut the story short, I ended up at her home talking to her on the porch until I was too cold. I was very happy inside, but I was also worried about what would happen at home since it was now 3:30 a.m. I thought everyone at home would be asleep, but as I approached my house, I noticed a light on in the living room. "Oh, no...I'm busted" I thought to myself.
"I began to think of possible forms of punishment I might receive. I slowly walked inside my house, not making a sound. I made it to my room, thinking I was safe. A few minutes later, my father knocked at my door and opened it a little. I quickly tried to make up a reason to explain my delay, but he just said, "I thought I could trust you." Ouch. Those simple words hurt me more than a thousand slaps in the face. I knew that my father meant what he said because of the tone of his voice. Since that day, I've struggled to do everything to appease this internal conflict. I guess it was good for me because I've never let my father down since, and I think it helped me to strive to be good. This is the moment I remember most about my father."
ConclusionFatherWork involves working to secure children's survival and development. Like the constant beating of the heart, a generative father's steady, committed, ethical work makes a child's abundant life possible and is the heartbeat of a healthy father-child relationship. Although these ethical choices can sometimes be uncomfortable, difficult, or require sacrifice, generative fathers make them because they believe it will benefit their children.
This undying commitment to meeting children's needs provides the strength necessary to continue the beat of fatherwork every day. With fathers' commitments to meeting children's needs followed by choices that reflect these commitments, the future of all children will be enhanced. As you choose to meet your child's needs, you will feel the pulse of that commitment and see the rich life that is now possible because of your committed work to care for your child.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: