"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 job or career in that it stems from a moral obligation to meet children's needs and actively build a caring and supportive father-child relationship. To perform these critical duties, fathers can focus on seven specific categories of work: ethical work, stewardship work, development work, rrecreation work, spiritual work, relationship work, and mentoring work. (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997). This part of our home page is related to mentoring work.
Mentoring work consists of the fathers ability and responsibility to consult (to impart ideas and stories when asked) and to contribute (sustain and support generative work of one's children). The desired result of mentoring work is generative fathers and generative children.
StoriesAs children become adults, their fathers can have an important impact on their adjustment and management of adult obligations and complexity. Mentoring work is especially valuable as fathers care for their adult children. The first story is about how a father contributed (gave assistance) to his adult son.
"They give it back. As much as you give your parents, they find ways to give it back. Seven years ago I was in a partnership in construction and it went sour. The company got into a bad situation and, without going into a lot of detail, the bottom line was that I left. All I had known was construction for five or six years, since I'd been home from my mission [for his church]. I didn't know anything else, and construction was gone. There were no homes being built, no job opportunities, and I'd soured on it from what had happened. Basically, I ended up losing a home and becoming unemployed with no money. I'd learned from my family how to survive tough times: You face situations, nothing is ever critical, there's always a tomorrow, you're not going to die, etc.
"Yes, it might be important or a sticky situation, but you'll face it and tomorrow you'll go on. However, for the first time in my life, I didn't feel like there was a tomorrow. I had no money. I had bill collectors coming to the door. It really got to me when I realized that I didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread to feed my wife and my one child. When you are put into situations like that, you lose all self-confidence and all feelings of self-worth. I was devastated. My father could sense that something was wrong. My parents didn't know what the situation was or how bad it was, but they just showed up with some groceries. It was as if they were saying, "We don't know what you need, but we have some extra and here it is." It's probably one of the few times that I've cried in front of my father."
The following story tells of a father imparting insights and wisdom to his adult daughter, and how much this conveyance meant to her.
"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. I was surrounded by those whom I loved and was able to share a special moment in my life with them. In all the excitement my parents gave me a card that I did not open for some time. 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. 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 me. 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."
The following story is about a father who respects his son's opinions. By listening and not passing judgement, he allows his son to make mistakes, and to learn and grown on his own.
"One of the best parts of our relationship is that for as long as I can remember, my dad has always treated me like an equal to him. He has always valued my opinions and my input on everything imaginable. As I get older and more educated, my opinions are beginning to become more defined. This has recently led to some heated debates between me and my dad. Luckily, we have a solid relationship that isn't affected negatively beause of some conflicts we have.
"The time that I recall the most as an example of our relationship was when I came home for Thanksgiving from my first semester of college. I thought I knew it all, and I began to argue with my dad about something to do with politics. I was being so rude and arrogant in my argument. My dad could only sit and listen to my overnight political thesis on how I was the only one who really knew what was going on in the world. My dad didn't laugh in my face, but rather, listened to me and took it in, then let it slide. Some time after that, my dad and I both laughed about it. This showed me that for the good or bad, my father was going to be there to listen and treat me with respect."
Fathers also convey values, concerns, and meaning in life through telling their children binding stories about life, such as the fathers in these two stories.
"On a Sunday afternoon, shortly after the beginning of the year, my Dad called me and said, 'Son, do you have time for me to share something with you?' I said,'Sure.' Dad explained that he had never been big on New Year's resolutions but that he had adopted his own tradition of sitting down alone after Christmas and making a list of blessings God had given him throughout the previous year. He said that this year he had taken some extra time and read through lists from years passed and had felt the desire to write a 'psalm' about his own life. My Dad then read me his psalm . . . it spoke of deathly illnesses from which he recovered and a safe return from service in Vietnam . . . but mostly it expressed his gratitude to God for his wife and children and for the rich joy they had brought him.
"His gratitude and deep love for God and his family seemed to take hold of me and shake me to a realization of my blessings. I'm grateful to God for giving me my Dad and I'm grateful to my Dad for helping to give me God."
"I was older and married. It's been really interesting because, like I said, my Dad's been really quiet and my Mom is very demonstrative. I remember coming home after I came back from the war in Vietnam, and he said something to me. I can't even remember exactly what he said, but it was really interesting. For the first time I think that I heard him verbalize that he loved me, and it just kind of stopped me in my tracks.
"Then he hugged me. That had never happened all my growing up years that I could remember. I was thirty-four. We had gone home for Christmas, I think, and it might have been the first time that he had met my wife. I remember what he said. He said, "You treat her good, because that is the woman you need." He told me, because we were thinking about moving back to Kansas City, "There is nothing for you here. Absolutely nothing." It was interesting because it was like he was having a father-and-son talk with me. I was thinking that I was thirty-four and married, and this was almost the birds-and-the-bees type of thing. That was really touching, as he opened up and fumbled through it. And then he felt more comfortable. I sat there and let him do it."
Although much of mentoring work occurs with adult children, fathers can begin this process of teaching children to deal with life obligations before their children reach adulthood. The first story tells how a young boy learned from his father how to deal with increasing insecurity and burdens in his life. The second story is about a father who prepares his daughter to handle complex problems in life such as racism.
"We would put up hay in that field. Dad and a five year old. But the field was off-limits to me when dad was not around. Off-limits, not because of any mandate from dad, but because it was the home of a very large gander--a very mean gander. The field was his territory and he protected it jealously from all comers except dad, from whom he would flee. On the occasions when I would try to cross the field, thinking that he was not there, he would surely arrive and chase me as fast as he could go, until I crossed the fence. He was mean. He would peck at me. He would screech at me. One day dad saw me crossing the field, when the gander attacked me as I fled across the field. Upon returning to Dad, he was upset.
"He told me that I should act like a man--that I should not let any goose chase me. He instructed me to give the gander no quarter. He instructed me to take a big stick with me the next time that I crossed the field. Armed with the stick, I began to cross the field. Not long thereafter, I heard the gander in pursuit. I turned, and as he arrived I swung the stick, striking him in the head. He seemed startled. Confused. He was not knocked out, but was clearly disoriented. From his perspective, there was clearly something new--something that he had not counted on. The next time I crossed the field, he screeched, but did not pursue. I was now in charge, not him. Following one little instruction from dad had changed my life and my perspective. I could control things that happened to me."
"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."
The next few stories illustrate how fathers balance and combine the different kinds of generative work in their own lives--showing their children how to do the same. This first story is about a father that combined yard-work in a melon patch with caring for his children. Notice how many types of generative work are integrated by the father in this story (stewardship, relationship, recreation, and development work).
"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. 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 next father integrates spiritual, ethical, and development work through helping his child handle the insecurity and burdens that come with moving.
"I was having a very difficult time accepting the fact that I had to leave all my friends and school activities in Huntington Beach and move to Washington. I still had two years left in high school, and I was feeling very cheated that I had to leave behind all that I loved and start over again. One night I was particularly upset--more than usual. I was crying almost uncontrollably and went to my mom and sister for consolation. I pleaded with them and tried to tell them that I just couldn't move. I did not know how I could handle it. I felt as though I was in the depths of despair. They could offer no sympathy for me because they saw my display as childish and selfish. I wasn't the only one moving, but I seemed to be only concerned with my own problems.
"I felt even more desperate and just sort-of collapsed on the couch in my sobbing. I didn't remember falling asleep but I remembered being awakened much later by my father. He was gentle and soothing. I didn't say anything and he simply had compassion on me. He said that if there were any other way they could make it easier on me they would. Then he asked if we could say a prayer together. He said a sweet prayer that I might be okay through the move. Then I went back to sleep. From that time on my attitude began to change 180 degrees."
The final story is about an adult son who learned how to deal with some of the complexities of life through the example of his father. His father exemplified the balance that is necessary for a father to care for the next generation.
"It takes continual effort, and there are these two poles that are tugging at you. You've got family, and you've got your profession and your education, and you can't abandon either one. It's very easy to fall into the profession. My Dad had seven children and a job that didn't pay all that much, and so he was repairing violins and restringing bows, working in the Navy Reserve, etc. I remember him having three or four different jobs at one point, in which he would do something. But he needed that. It wasn't easy for him keeping the family fed. So, he had to spend a lot of time. He recognized this and he sent us to college, and paid our tuition for those of us who didn't have scholarships.
"He gave us a stipend every month to live so we wouldn't have to work, so that we could study, so that we could get out and get good jobs. It boggled my mind when I graduated with my master's degree and found out that my starting salary was about equivalent to what my Dad was earning right then, and it's doubled since then. He had to struggle hard, and he wasn't able to take the time."More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: