"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
OverviewFathering teenagers often seems hazardous to one's health, but it can also be rewarding and enjoyable. This is a time of life when teenagers are searching for an identity and a group to associate with. They are seeking answers to questions such as,"Who am I? What is my place in life?" and they are starting to think more for themselves.
Fathering is important for today's youth. Teenagers need someone to look to as an example for advice and support and who will listen and try to understand. Fathers can help their teenagers develop a commitment to a chosen value system and a stable identity that will protect them as they mature towards adult lives.
A father's support during these tumultuous times can be especially important in not only giving his son or daughter a sense of security in dealing with various peer and cultural pressures, but also in developing the self-discipline and moral judgement to rise above that peer pressure (Biller, 1993, p. 71, 181).
StoriesMany fathers mention time as an important aspect of fathering adolescents, not just time spent with their teenagers but time made available for them by their children. One father notes that one of the most meaningful areas in his relationship with his daughter is his availability to sit down and communicate with her about whatever she wants to talk about.
Snarey (1993, p. 161) suggests that nurturant father-daughter relationships facilitate healthy social and emotional development of the daughter. These stories illustrate how Chris and his daughter Elizabeth have become emotionally close during these times, demonstrating the need for relationship work during adolescence.
"There have been times when she has had some problems. It would take her a long while to get around to talking to me, but sometimes she did sit down and we would talk--not that I came to any conclusions. I think she came to more of the conclusions on her own regarding the problems that she had. But I was there just to talk with her and listen. Again, those seem to be the special times that she and I have had.
"Now when she wants to know something, it's mainly about boys. My two older daughters want to know why boys are the way they are. I ask, "What do you mean?" And so they bring up a particular instance, and so I have to sit down with both of them and say, "Well, they come from a different background than I do. The way they're feeling about things might be entirely different.
"But, here are some of the things that I went through at that age." I let them come up with their own conclusions at that point because I don't know what he's thinking! Every once in a while she still has problems and will come and talk, and we talk them through. Those are special times. They are also very personal times. I would say that those are the times I really feel close to my daughters."
Snarey (1993, p. 277) suggests that men who had active fathers are more likely to be active with their own children. One father told about his experience of having a dad that was always there for him.
"He's always been there. I'll just always remember him as being there, no matter what. We were in a state championship game in football and it came down to a last-second field goal. I was the field goal kicker and I missed it. I went home and was going to go with some friends somewhere. Dad was out cutting wood and feeding the horses, and I went and talked to him. He just said, "Well, sometimes you do and sometimes you don't." I could always talk to Dad and tell him anything, no matter what I did, whether it was wrong or right. I could always tell Dad, and he always stood behind me.
Trust is very important in a relationship, especially a parent-child relationship. The following is a story about a man who was not trusted by his father and what that meant to him:
"We were cleaning up in the back yard, a Saturday activity for everyone (or else), and I walked toward the garbage can. The garbage can was on the corner of the garage and at the garbage can I saw a dime. I got it and was happy to see it, and the next thing I knew [my father] was there questioning me where I got it. I said, "I found it out on the garbage can." I don't remeber exactly what he said, but it was basically, "You're a liar. Tell me the truth--where did you come up with this?" I guess that hurt quite a bit....Painful things stand out. I think it's disbelief. Why doesn't a parent believe what a child is saying? I hear it in myself.
Biller (1993, p.76) suggests that if the father has a warm relationship with his children, they will be more likely to respond positively to many dimensions of his behavior, such as his moral tenets and patterns of relating to others. Adolescents who are searching for an identity will pattern their lives after those whom they trust. Teenagers watch their parents closely in looking for values and standards. Jeff, a father in New Zealand, recalls his father's example to him and his brothers. This story illustrates mentoring work, as the father passes to his children morals he holds to be important.
"He always taught us to be honest. One time I remember that there was someone that he was working for that wanted a bunch of extra things done, so my dad did the work. Later, when Dad charged him for it, the guy said that he wouldn't pay--and then his wife got in on it. She said no, that my dad had quoted a different price, but she didn't take into account all of this other work, so they didn't pay. That guy was a mechanic. My dad had some of his cars being worked on in his shop.
"After the guy had worked on them, this lady from the shop called and said that they hadn't charged us enough and it would be an extra forty or so dollars. My brother and I were really brassed off [upset] because we thought that, well, he wasn't paying his bill--why should we pay them? My dad said no, that it was up to us to be the honest ones and pay. I think we went down there and paid the money. That guy never did pay us back for the extra work. And yet, my dad said that it was not for us to judge that guy and that, if we pay, the Lord would help us."
Snarey (1993, p.157) suggests that fathers continue to be models for their adolescent children even though these children are trying to become independent of their parents. When both the father and the mother are actively involved parents, their child is much more likely to develop into a socially and morally mature adult (Biller, 1993, p.76). Being active in the lives of children is an important element of relationship work, as these next three stories show. Shawn, a father of two, shares an experience when his father helped him see the importance of telling the truth.
"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."
The following is a story of a father who learned how he wished to discipline his children by an experience he had with his own father:
"He slapped me once. I can't even remember what I said, but we were in the car and I mouthed something back at him. He slapped me in the face. What I remember is how awful that was. It was more devastating than any ten spankings he'd ever given me in my life. It was very personal, being in my face, and he had never done that before. I guess I must have just pushed him right over the edge, but I learned something from that which you didn't have to draw out of me....It is not worth what it does.
"I'm not faulting him for doing it either. There have been times that I've wanted to slap my kids. I don't think that he was really being a bad father, but I understood something about what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that which made me not want to do it to mine."
Fathers can be an emotional support to their teenagers by being there in those times when they are needed most. Some fathers recall times when they needed their fathers' support and it wasn't there.
"I remember a time when I felt emotionally distant from my father. . . I'm not sure if he was aware that I knew of the situation. It was a case, because of the things that I was involved in, that somebody had the audacity to go to my father and tell him that I was gay. My father did nothing. He didn't say anything. He never said anything to me, but he didn't say anything to the guy, and that made me feel like he didn't really care one way or the other what people said about me, and didn't really know me at all. In those times if you were into drama, dancing and those things you had to be gay.
"Something had to be wrong with you. So something was definitely wrong and you had to get a little hassled. The thing was that the man had the nerve to say it to my father, not to someone else on the side but directly to him, and then sit there and laugh about it. And my father did nothing. I remember that particular thing because it hurt me and it made me feel like maybe I was adopted, or maybe he just didn't care for me. And the other thing is maybe he believed it."
One father, Shawn, tells of an experience when his father was there to support him and how he felt about it. This story illustrates the power of recreation work, as Shawn's father took time to support him outside of his father's daily routine.
"The one (experience) that sticks out was when I was wrestling in high school. I was going for the state championship. He and all my brothers were there-- there are six boys in the family, so there were five boys there with dad. You wrestle with all these other guys all year round, but he was there when I won. I didn't care about everybody else-- dad was there."
One of the most challenging things about fathering a teenager is dealing with their growing desire for independence. Fathers often provide support for a child's developing autonomy (Parke, 1996, p.144). A father shares his experience when his 16-year-old daughter decided it was time for her to leave home. This story illustrates development work, as the father adapts to the changing needs of his daughter.
"Parenting adolescents has been a challenge for me, but that hardly makes me unique. A couple of years ago my daughter Kathy, our oldest child, began chafing against parental monitoring and guidance. Nothing too unusual here. She was 15. Over time we gave her more and more "slack, " eventually getting down to a couple of basic rules: let us know where you are and who you are with, let us know when we can expect you back, call if you're going to be late, and "be good."
"We thought these were very minimal and reasonable rules, but it wasn't enough for her; she needed to be on her own, completely unfettered by parental ties. We asked her if she thought other parents were more lenient than hers. She said all that she knew were stricter, but she still needed to have her freedom. She just had to be on her own.
"The summer after her sophomore year in high school, she moved out and into a home with an adult friend and her husband (they have no children). We didn't approve, but we could see that saying no would really sour our relationship with her. It was hard to say good-bye, even though she still lives close; we had thought we would have more time with her. It's been especially hard on her mother, who grew up in much more challenging circumstances and didn't get much parenting or have many of the advantages Kathy enjoyed.
"I've learned first-hand about the process of adolescent autonomy, parental separation, and an emptying nest. I've learned that the timing of this process isn't necessarily predictable and can be sooner than you think, leaving you unprepared. I think we made a good decision, and Kathy seems to be doing well, although it's harder to know all that's going on in her life now.
"I guess I've learned that children grow up on different timetables and with different needs and desires. Parents need to respect them. Although we wish we had more time with her, we now realize that parents shouldn't assume a fixed amount of time (18 years) to rear their children before launching. We hope letting her go will preserve a good relationship so that she will still come to us, physically and emotionally, in the future. That seems to be happening somewhat already."
Sometimes a little humor can be the best way to work with teenagers.
"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."
Many times fathers do things they regret later. The following is a story of a father who learned from what he felt was a mistake:
"I know that self esteem is our most fragile commodity. So much of what we do as parents destroys self esteem "--clean up your room, it's such a mess." "--why did you only get a C in your math?" - etc. I will never forget when we were going to Philmont Scout Ranch to participate in the LDS scouter training. We had six of our children in the car with us. Mike (15) had bought a cowboy hat. He was pleased with himself in the hat. I thought he looked dumb--perhaps I was embarrassed. Well, I put him down over it, multiple times. I very much regret this....Now I deal so differently with the gang in similar situations. I try to be sensitive as to how I act over clothes or things that are important to them."
ConclusionFatherWork can be especially challenging when it involves teenage children who are stretching their wings towards greater independence. During these years, generative fathers can be the wind beneath the wings of their adolescent children as they fly farther and farther from the nest exploring a world full of opportunities and dangers. As teenagers search for a stable identity and choose a personal value system, fathers may feel unnoticed and distant from their teenagers. But as fathers work to build a strong and trusting relationship through the early years and continue to tell their maturing youth they love them, their teenagers will sense that quiet wind lifting their youthful wings and appreciate its strength and guidance. Although fathers walk a step behind their teenages during these years, their children can still recognize their dads as one of the true heroes in their lives.