"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 towrk, recreation work, spiritual work, relationship work, and mentoring work (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997). This part of our home page is related to relationship work.
Relationship work consists of the father's ability and responsibility to commune (to share love, thoughts, and feelings with their child) and to comfort (to express empathy and understanding with the child). The desired result of relational work is loving fathers and caring children. Relationship work involves not only maintaining loving relationship with the child but also facilitating the child's relationships with other family and community members, especially the child's mother, siblings, and grandparents.
StoriesThe teaching of a skill becomes generative when it is instilled with a sense of extending oneself into the apprentice role or attaching oneself to a lasting art. Fathers can find the opportunity to connect with their children by participating in activities together. This kind of relationship is depicted in these next two stories.
"Probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I had with Tim was when I built my mother-in-law's home, which is just across the street. He was only two or two-and-a-half at the time, and he had to be there with me the whole time. It wasn't enough for him to be there; he had to be doing the same thing that I was doing. I tried to appease him by getting him his own tools, but I didn't want him to get hurt, so I got him the plastic tools . . . No, it didn't work, so I had to go and get him smaller, but real tools. If I was pounding a nail, he had to pound a nail. Tim had some painful lessons!
"He had to learn that when you bring the hammer up you don't bring it up and hit your head before you take it back down. But at two and a half Tim could pound a sixteen-penny nail. I had to start it for him, but he'd sit there and do his little taps. It might have taken him half an hour, but he'd stay right there until he got that nail down.
"To this day Tim likes to work. As long as he can work with Dad, that's fine. . . . I still take him to work with me once in a while, although when there's snow and I'm working on a roof I can't do it. It really hurts because when I see Tim in the morning he'll say, "Going to work today, Dad?" I'll say, "Yeah, I am." "Do you need any help?" It's not "Can I come with you?" but "Do you need any help?" Can you tell a son who is asking if he can come and help you work in doing physical labor that you don't need any help? That's really hard. If I continually tell him, "No, I don't need any help," I don't want him to relate that with the idea, "Okay, I don't need to work."
"I don't want him to develop that type of attitude."
"When Steven was three months old, I laid him in the bottom of the tub and put in a washcloth so he wouldn't slide around. I slowly filled the tub with water until it was at his ear level, where I knew if he turned one way or the other he could at least be safe. As a baby, he didn't have very good motor movement, but once he got into the water his motor coordination improved. I don't know how to explain it, but he started kicking and moving his arms; he brightened up, and there was something almost transcendental about the moment of looking into his eyes while he was in the water, making a moment of progression in his body.
"Somehow he was on his own. It's very difficult to explain it, but I could see the water, his eyes and the sky in all that one moment. It was just an important moment for me. . . perhaps because you have moments when you look at people and there is a connection there which is inexplicable. I can't explain it. I looked into his eyes and saw something. It was a tie between father and child.
Meaningful communication plays a vital role in developing relationships and teaching children about the world. This story shows how a father's attempt to understand his son taught a valuable lesson about life.
"I remember coming home after being out with some friends; I'd had a little bit to drink. . . . Mother always waited up for me and Dad slept. If Mom ever mentioned anything bad, he'd wake right up. If Mom said, "Have you been doing this--?" then I'd hear, "What?" coming from Dad's side of the bed. Although I can't remember the details of that night very well, I do remember that I felt more tension than I ever had felt between Dad and me. Dad left for work at about 6:00 the next morning, as usual. As I was about to leave for school, Mom said, "Make sure you come home right after school because your Dad wants to talk to you." The worst thing about it was that at first, when they'd asked me the night before if I'd been drinking, I had said, "no." Then I'd started thinking about ways that I was going to get out of telling the truth, but I'd realized I couldn't, so I'd just decided to tell them what really happened. I remember the disappointment.
"When I got home from school that afternoon, he hadn't come home yet. It was the longest half-hour I've ever waited in my life. He came home, went in and gave Mom a kiss and talked to Mom, then said, "Mark, come in the room." He didn't ask me why I had been drinking; instead he simply said, "Why did you lie to me?" Those were his first words. "Why did you lie to me?" I wasn't ready for that question. That's all he wanted to know, and I felt like the biggest heel right then. It wasn't so much the drinking; it was that I had lied to him. That's probably the farthest away that I've ever felt from him, doing that--lying to him. I hope he taught me a lesson there--to always tell the truth, no matter what the circumstance may be. Hopefully, when my kids come to me and tell me the truth, I won't act in a way so that they won't want to tell their dad the truth."
This next account illustrates the important role communication plays in strengthening family bonds and love.
"I was doing research, probably when I was a freshman in college or senior in high school, writing a paper on regional medical programs. I chose an off-the-wall political topic. Fortunately, my father was involved in regional medical program planning for the federal government at the time. We rode up to Salt Lake City and I watched him transact business in some board-of-directors meeting. We talked about it on the way home and it was just kind-of nice. We talked about other things too, and we were just close. It's just that I had him all to myself and we were riding home together, and we were generally talking about the future and things that we were doing, lessons that we had learned, things that he had done as a kid, etc."
Snarey (1993, p. 278) found that men who did not have fathers as active as they would have wanted them to be often become highly active in their own children's lives. Kotre (1984, p. 169) also found that many kinds of emotional satisfaction are obtained from creating legacies of desired elements missing from one's own past. The following story shows how one father realized that he wanted to create a strong bond between him and his son through spending time together.
"I was always playing catch with my older brothers, but I kind-of wish [Dad] would have come and done that a little more....Probably just so that I could have said it was my Dad. I see now with Luke that is what I'm trying to do. Whether it's playing with the little football we got or something else. I always go out and do that with him instead of sending him with another kid."
Love and humor are combined to reinforce a good relationship between a teenage daughter and her father in this last story. Snarey's review of literature shows the fathers' impact on their daughters' social-emotional development to be significant (1993, p. 161).
"One day my Dad was working on the car I usually drove. He came inside wearing his work overalls, and I asked him how it was going. He said it was going fine, but he had to go to the store and get something to finish up. I said, "You're not going to the store looking like that...how embarrassing! You look like a geek. Don't tell anyone you're my Dad." I was kind of joking but I did think it would be embarrassing if he ran into someone I knew. A few minutes later he came out of his room with home-made signs taped to his front and back that said "I'm a geek" and "I'm Kimberlie's Dad." He got in the car and was leaving and I was laughing. I was a little embarrassed but it also made me realize how dumb it was to worry about my friends knowing he was my Dad, even when he looked like a geek. I'm glad I could have a good, fun relationship with my Dad.
ConclusionFatherWork is important in creating bonds between fathers and their children. Much like two people rowing a canoe, fathers and their children must learn how to work together. At times, the father will have to paddle stronger or lighter to compensate for their child's paddling capacity, adjusting to their child's social, emotions, and physical abilities. Just as those traveling the water in a canoe must communicate with each other to accomplish their goal, fathers and children must talk with one another in order for their relationship to take them across the waters of life.
There are times along the waters of life when you will encounter rough waters, but as you work together you will pass them by. As you talk with your children and establish good relationships with them, together you will enjoy your voyage and the many places which it takes you.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: