I write this on Father’s Day and am both pleased and proud to say that I am the father of three kids and grandfather to three more. As such I have some experience in the grand art of fatherhood, and though I am reluctant to make any assertions as to excellence in that role, I would hope that I have achieved at least a modicum of success in guiding my young ones along the perilous road from helpless infancy to responsible adulthood.
In my view, it is to our shame as a society and civilization that we invest very little time and effort at formally educating and preparing our young men to be fathers. It is generally assumed that when faced with that challenge, we somehow will be able to sort out what to do, either instinctively or by emulating our own fathers and grandfathers. I would posit that both those strategies are exercises in wishful thinking.
I have no complaints about my own father. He worked very hard to provide me, as well as my brother and sister, with all the basic necessities of life. He loved us in his own old-world Ukrainian way, and his priority in life was always the well-being of his wife and children. Yet, he had been brought up in Ukraine with a fairly limited perspective on what a father should be. In the standard Ukrainian traditional model of family life, raising children was almost exclusively the domain of the mother. Fathers worked hard at putting bread on the table, defending their home and country from external enemies, and most importantly imposing discipline, usually involving corporal punishment, on children when necessary. The overt demonstration of love or affection was not usually part of the agenda, nor was playing with one’s kids or getting involved in the child’s emotional, psychological or social development. The environment within which our immigrant fathers were raised provided them with very limited and constrained role models.
When I first learned that I was going to be a father, I took a serious look back upon my own upbringing and decided that I was going to try to be a different kind of father than what my own had been. I made a conscious decision to be more involved in the day-to-day life of my kids, and in particular with their educational, social and emotional development. Some of this was in response to my own experience as a child, but I also had the advantage that, at that point in time in the twentieth century, there was no shortage of helpful research and literature on child-rearing. Between Dr. Spock and many of his contemporaries, I was able to capitalize on much useful advice and strategies on how to successfully raise well-adjusted and happy children. Needless to say, not everything worked as I would have liked, but on balance, I think I did OK.
In retrospect, I realize I didn’t have much choice, since I had no real alternative role models to pattern myself after. I knew very little of either of my grandfathers. They were just names I learned from my parents, and they were either already dead by the time I was born or lived in another universe far across the ocean. Most of the fathers of my childhood friends had the same limited and archaic ideas about fatherhood as did my dad. It takes generations to change deep-rooted cultural patterns of behaviour.
So, what advice and lessons learned can I provide based on my own experience as a father and a grandfather?
First of all, the most important thing is to spend as much time as possible with your child as you can. Play with them, read to them, talk to them, explore the world with them and teach them how to do things that are necessary in day-to-day life.
Secondly, refrain from applying any form of corporal or physical punishment. Spanking a kid may teach them a lesson, but long term, it may be a lesson that you will likely regret. The use of force is seldom the best answer to resolving any issue.
Do not be afraid or reluctant to show affection. Praise your kids, encourage them, hug them and kiss them, show them that they are loved and important in your life.
Lastly, teach them the importance of balance. Be generous with them, but don’t spoil them. Show them that life is not just about play, but that one should also appreciate the value of work and the importance of being responsible. Engender in them a proper appreciation of nature and the world around them, that they should be used constructively and not just exploited and abused.
Do all this, and perhaps you too will live to enjoy the benefits of Father’s Day basking in the love and affection of your children and grandchildren.