"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
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, recreation work, spiritual work, relationship work, and mentoring work (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997). This part of our home page is related to recreation work.
Recreation work consists of the father's ability and responsibility to cooperate (to relax and play together on the child's level) and to challenge (to extend the child's skills and coping abilities). The desired result of recreation work is playful fathers and joyful children who enjoy life and know how to relieve stress through recreation, and who have been challenged to develop competencies that will help them face the demands of life.
StoriesRecreation work allows children to relax and play with their father, which gives fathers the ability to be themselves, or to "loosen the collar," as we see in the next couple of stories.
"Recently, I was with my family at the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, changing planes as we were moving from Austin, Texas to New York. I was holding my six-year-old daughter's hand as we walked down the terminal, when she suddenly looked up at me with a big smile and said, with complete anticipation, 'Dad, let's skip.' "A number of things flashed through my mind at that moment. Among them was the fact that in dozens of trips through D/FW I couldn't recall having ever seen a 38-year-old businessman skipping merrily through the terminal.
"Granted, that wasn't a scientific survey, and I may have just missed the peak businessman skipping times, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be breaking new ground. As far as earth-shattering, high-impact, moral dilemmas go, this was a relatively modest one, but I was struck by the level of discomfort this simple, little request instilled in me. I knew the generally accepted informal rules of airport behavior didn't include grown men skipping, and I wasn't anxious to be a trend-setter.
"Nevertheless, the thought dawned on me that there was a higher value at work here than my need not to look conspicuous and silly in public. Perhaps my need to make a little girl happy, who was somewhat melancholy about moving, should have been enough to make me change my conventional airport behavior. (And it was.) Oh, by the way, if anyone ever tells you about the crazy guy they saw skipping down the terminal at D/FW, just remember it made a six-year-old girl happy."
"Today I was building paper airplanes for my son Jake and some little cousins, and my older kids got to talking about the paper planes we used to make and fly. Mom happened to be gone to a women's church meeting, so we decided to have some fun. "We had been watching a Star Wars movie and that inspired us to make paper bag helmets with cellophane windows as eye shields. Then we put duct tape on our thumbs and shot rubber bands at each other for hours.
"We had a ball! We shot about a thousand rubber bands all over the house. Mom was mad at us--but we had a LOT of fun. Anyway, we decided we'd do it again this week when Mom is away. We now have a ton of rubber bands stockpiled because of all the paper routes we do. It should be fun. I need to find the clear cellophane and we'll be in business. I think this 'mother of all battles' will be one of those memories that my kids will always remember."
"My father loves the mountains and looked to them often for a place of peace, calmness, and solitude. When ever he was upset, angry, or had a large decision to make, I would see him go to the mountains above Holden to relax and gather his emotions. When I was about sixteen years old, my father started taking me on horseback up into those beautiful mountains. He taught me the how of the mountains and also expressed many of his feelings about his life to me. I learned a lot about my father that day that I will never forget. There was something about the mountains that helped my father and me open up to each other and understand how each other felt.
Recreation work can sometimes get out-of-hand if fathers get too competitive. If fathers can also use these opportunities to teach, it gives the father the chance to teach his children important lessons, as we will see from the following story.
My son Jeffrey is just getting to the age where he is proficient athletically. A few weeks back we were playing racquetball, and I was being generous to keep the game close. After one particularly obvious feigned miss he turned to me and said, "Dad, why do you keep giving me points? Why don't you just play your best?" Apparently he didn't like my patronizing play. Then a thought came to me: Jeffrey is a Southpaw. I said, "Okay, but we both have to use our left hands." He smiled and I switched hands with the racquet. We both played our hearts out. He won two games to one and we were both enthusiastic about playing again. The competition was exhilarating, but it didn't really matter who won. I think that sometimes Dads and sons get too competitive in games and sports. Losing can be devastating to spirit and relationship. I am trying to teach my children to enjoy the game for its own sake, and not for its outcome. When asked, "Did you win?" I am teaching them to always say, "Yes, I won. If you have fun, you win. I had fun, so I won."
Recreation work entails not only doing an activity with a child, but also watching an activity. From these opportunities, fathers can grow closer to their children in ways not thought possible. The following story shows how a daughter and father bonded in watching her brothers play together.
"When we got up the canyon, it was a beautiful day; 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 and walked around to the driver side. The look on my dad's face told me that he was in pain. I handed him the crutches and he thanked me. He used his arms to slide his body to the edge of the seat; again his face revealed his 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 he loved so much, and I was glad that he brought me along. Second, I felt like he needed me to be there so 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.
The importance of recreation work can be found when fathers aren't there for their children. These situations can play as a wake up call for the fathers to be more involved as we will see in the following story.
"Last month I felt in my gut what happens when you don't put family first. My son Steven recently had his first-ever swim meet. He loves to compete and show off for Dad. I know he was counting on me to be there. As the hour approached, I had a little last-minute research request at work, and I opted to complete the request before I left. As a result, I ended up leaving just a few minutes later than I had planned. The wind storm made the commute home just a little longer than usual, and I arrived just in time to see Steven getting out of the water after his very first race.
"I missed it! It is an experience that can never be recreated! When he's an Olympic swimmer I'll never be able to say I saw his first competitive race. And I missed it so I could finish an unimportant task at work. The really ironic thing is that the next day we ended up not even needing the research I had done. I learned very clearly that my place at that moment in time was at the pool with my son, not at the office with my computer! I vow not to miss other important firsts in my son's life.
Sometimes recreation work helps bring out some of the most simple joys in life for the father. The following story illustrates how simple recreation work can bring sweet joy.
"Even though Amanda is our eighth baby, the wondrous magic of her first smiles continues to amaze me. For six weeks I have burped her, talked to her, changed her, loved her, and cared for her. About all she had returned to me was a little spit up, some hungry cries that I couldn't do anything about, and a few contented stares. But now, with a jiggle and a joggle and a wiggle and waggle, there erupts from her mouth a bouncy jouncy smile! This grin sets off a feeling of pure joy within me. It completely melts any anger or rancor; I could have had the worst day at work and dealt with all kinds of meanness, but holding Amanda and seeing her beaming from ear to ear makes life wonderful. There is nothing so precious as a smiling infant.
"Because she can smile, I now know a lot more about what she likes. She likes for me to roll her over and over. She likes me to click my mouth and make crazy loud-pitched noises. She likes me to swing her arms back and forth in time with the music. She likes me to give her the vitamins that doctor gave us. As for me, I'm not particular. So long as she will smile at me, that's all I ask.
Recreation work does not have to be something that is planned out. This next father tells a story about a time when spontaneous play brought a memorable experience with his children.
"One day I was sitting in the living room with my two-year-old, Spencer, reading a book to him. I was about to get up and leave for a meeting when my daughters, Camilla (7) and Kathryn (5), along with two of their little friends, came running in and asked if they could go and find some boys to come play with them. When I asked what they wanted to play, Cami said, 'Oh, we want to have a dance downstairs.' It was not absolutely essential that I attend the meeting I was planning to go to, and I couldn't pass up a chance to have a dance with my little daughters. So I said, 'Well, could Spencer and I be the boys?' They all squealed with delight at that suggestion and grabbed us by the hands to bring us down.
"When we got downstairs, the playroom was all cleaned up (an unusual site) and there was a table with plastic refreshments and several plastic musical instruments. The girls told us that they would take turns playing the music and dancing, but that we had to dance every dance since there were only two boys and four girls. So the two neighbor girls played and Spencer and I danced with Cami and Katy. Then we switched and danced with the neighbor kids while Cami and Katy played. After we had danced for a while, we sat on the floor in a circle and enjoyed the 'refreshments.' Then I suggested we play a short game our kids like to play where one person begins a make up story and, after telling a little bit, points to someone else, who picks makes up the next part and then points to someone else, and so on. We did a couple of stories until all the refreshments were gone. Then we danced some more, this time with Spencer being much more enthusiastically involved. It was one of those time that are hard to plan, but essential to have as often as possible. I don't know if my daughters will remember that day, but I know I'll never forget it.
Recreation work can be an occasion to help children grow in confidence and esteem, as illustrated in this next, lengthy story.
A small castle wall rose up from the steep banks of the Rhine River. The castle continued upward from where I stood, but all my focus and energy remained on the thirty foot precipice between me and the ground. My dad had planned a rappelling trip for his Boy Scout troop and, even though I was barely old enough to be a Cub Scout, my dad was always willing to let me squeeze into the van and join them on their trips.
Several men from the nearby air base had come to teach the basics of rappelling. I had been allowed to stand in the back to listen and watch. A rope was affixed to a tree set back several paces from the ledge's edge. One by one the Boy Scouts adorned harnesses and helmets and--some more bravely than others--disappeared over the lip of the cliff and descended to the riverbank below. I stood by anxiously. I knew that once all the others had gone I would have an opportunity to put on the macho harness and helmet and manfully follow in the foot steps of those triumphant Boy Scouts. The moment did come.
I geared up. The air men reinstructed me on how to maneuver the ropes, and then I took my stance overlooking the sheer wall in front of me. The wind blew my hair upward as it ascended from the river. My hands gripped the ropes and and began to turn my back to the cliff. In the instant that my weight should have shifted off my feet and onto the rope, nothing happened. I froze. I looked down at the hiking boots my mom had let me borrow and my mind raced. What if the rope breaks? What if I slip? What if can't stop myself? A frantic and panicky array of morbid thoughts raced through my little helmet covered head. My hands began to sweat inside my gloves. I didn't move.
My dad saw one of the staff sergeants moving toward me and, with his hand, indicated for him to wait. My dad came over to me and asked me to step down from the ledge. We took a few steps away from the edge and began a conversation in hushed tones. "I'm proud of you, son. This is a scary and difficult thing. I want you to know that you don't have to do this. I know that you will be safe and that nothing will happen to you if you decide to do it. But it's up to you. What ever you decide will be fine with me." Everyone stood as silent as the castle walls. I played it out in my mind. Everyone had done it safely. My dad wouldn't lie to me. But what if I fell? What if I peed my pants? How would I feel if I didn't do it? For some arbitrary reason I stood close to my dad and whispered, "I'll do it."
I resumed my position on the ledge. I turned my back to the empty air. Clinging to the lifeline in front of me I lowered my self into the nothingness behind and below me. As a fumbled down the face of the cliff my confidence grew. I planted my feet, leaned back and began a gentle walk, perpendicular to the cliff. Suddenly a strange sensation shifted everything. My knees buckled, the rope suddenly went slack and I fell backward. I had reached the bottom. My father looked down smiling and proud, but I knew he would have loved me regardless.
As I reflect on this event I can see how this experience helped me grow into manhood. My father did many things that can be categorized as healthy family behaviors; all of which helped me reach the potential of the given moment. First, I knew my father's love was unconditional . No matter whether I decided to rappel or not, I knew my dad would love me. Second, he telescoped his trust in me. If I had not perceived his confidence in me, I might not have perceived the ability within myself to successfully rappel the castle cliff. Third, my dad communicated in a cooperative way . He was not interested in proving to all the other Air Force officers present that his son was just as tough as any other kid, nor was he trying to force me to be what he wanted to be. Rather, he offered encouragement and comfort, all of which helped me to rise to the occasion.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: