The Daddy Difference
Back in the early ’70s, there was this cartoon show on TV that we watched all the time. Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (I can still hear the show’s jingle in my head) showcased a family where the repeated response of the mom, whenever the kids would get into scrapes, was – what else? – “Wait till your father gets home.”
Back then, that’s how things were, weren’t they? In my family, we’d mostly see our dad at the end of the day when he’d get back from work. We’d be lounging in our parents’ room with all our toys and doodads scattered on the floor. We’d hear the car horn of my dad, which was the stimulus for my mom to say, “Keep your stuff; Daddy’s home,” and that in turn was our signal to scramble and shove all our toys quickly under their bed, away from the unsuspecting eyes of our father, who’d walk into our home made spick and span in five minutes flat.
In that era, most kids were raised by their mothers while their fathers went out to work and brought home the bacon. Moms filled their kids’ hearts and tummies with warm hugs and food, and dads dealt out the allowance and disciplinary measures.
But even then times were already quietly a-changing, slowly moving dads’ out-of-the-house roles to a place closer within the walls of the home. Compared to other fathers of that generation, my dad probably had a head start, a sort of crash course introduction to the present involved-dad parenting style. You see, when my father was only 39 years old, my mom succumbed to her first heart attack. My dad had no choice. In an instant, he had to father six kids aged eight to 16 by his lonesome self in a way that he himself was never fathered. (None of us turned out too bad at all, so I think he did a pretty good job.)
Today, it’s easy to see that dads are much more involved in their kids’ day-to-day lives. And that’s a really good thing, because hundreds of studies have since been conducted; their findings attest that affectionate, supportive, and involved fathers contribute greatly to their children’s cognitive, language and social development, as well as academic achievement, resilience, sense of well-being, positive self-esteem, and future success (Dr. Gail Gross, The Important Role of Dad, June 2014). According to parenting and education expert Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D, Ed.D, M.Ed., the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives and his interaction with them are central to what their children turn out to be in later life: girls will likely look for his qualities in their future spouses and boys will likely model themselves after him.
Wow. Let’s take a minute to absorb that.
That’s a pretty powerful, all-encompassing, far-reaching effect for a man to have on his children’s lives, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you stop and think about just how much of your self has been affected by your father? Doesn’t it make you consider how much of your children’s father will be reflected in them as grown-ups – or, in case marriage and kids aren’t part of the equation yet, what kind of man you’d want to choose to be father to your children?
I may not have any parenting degree tucked under my belt nor can I lay claim to any parenting studies personally conducted. But I can tell you how 23 years of first-hand experience in tandem-parenting with my hubby have filled me with the conviction that fathers do play an essential, all-important part in molding the next generation. And as I sit here, filled with immense gratitude for the double-gift of an awesome husband and dad for my boys, I think: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how my sons perceive this guy who’s such a big part of who they are?
So, on a whim, I asked my 11-year-old boy beside me to describe his father. I ended up with delightful insights straight from the mouth of my babe. Allow me to share them with you, with the hope that we also end up sharing with each other this great desire to celebrate the men in our lives who have made such a profound impact on us and ours.
1. Dad as Hero – “He’s very fair. He won’t let unjust things just slide past. But he does it very kindly.”
Having a dad to play arbiter and referee to little arguments and big debates is like having your very own in-house Supreme Court Justice, only better. My kids have learned how to play fair and how to ensure that no one gets short-changed or left out. Even more importantly, they have learned the importance of tempering justice with mercy; that in the end, the most important thing is to make sure that the carrying out of rewards and consequences arises from a great deal of love and forgiveness.
2. Dad as Buddy Extraordinaire – “He’s so much fun to be with. He plays lots of games with us!”
Whether it’s football on the grassy field or foosball on a Lego gameboard, whether it’s a rousing competition on PS4 or a driving contest via Wii, whether it’s rough play by tickle-wrestling or a quiet game of chess, the hubby is the favorite playmate in our home. As I watch him play with them, I realize how he takes advantage of the most natural circumstances to teach by example so many important values. The importance of fair play and gracious sportsmanship, of perseverance and practice, of playing with equal amounts of passion, brainwork and laughter. It is greatly comforting to know that these are lessons our sons will carry into various aspects of their life as adults.
3. Dad as Teacher – “He’s a great teacher. He knows so much about the world. He even knows so much about the lessons we’re taking up.”
I am so thankful that he’s there to teach them all about the birds and the bees, and for that matter, the flowers and the trees, and the world and everything in it. Parents are a child’s first teacher in every life skill we can think of. Who else could do a better job? Dads have an uncanny ability to see the big picture; moms are gifted with attention to details. Combine both, and kids end up with a perfect blend of bird’s eye view and microscopic inspection. How can that kind of training not help kids arrive at a much clearer, objective picture of whatever they encounter later in life?
4. Dad as Finance Whiz – “He uses money wisely. He doesn’t just throw it around on useless things.”
Our kids know that resources are important, that they must be used wisely, that money doesn’t grow on trees but is a product of hard work and devotion. When they grow up and get themselves jobs, I am confident their father’s example will help them remember that money is never the end, that it is simply a means to procure what one needs to live and serve others, and that it must be used not just for their own good but also for the good of others.
5. Dad as Magician – “He knows so many neat tricks. He can do magic tricks and even tricks to help us memorize and learn things better.”
From sleight of hand to mnemonic devices, Pop’s got them all covered. Tricks for managing the difficulties with a more positive attitude, tricks that tell them “Don’t worry, you can do it; here’s something that will help you learn it better,” tricks that ensure that they never lose their sense of wonder and amazement with life. And that’s awesome, because everyone needs a little magic in their life now and then, right?
6. Dad as Handyman – “He knows how to fix everything that’s broken.”
Pop’s the run-to guy when anything needs fixing. He knows how to put together anything that’s fallen apart and make it work once more. And if ever it breaks again, he knows just how to mend it back. That ability to fix everything, from broken pipes to broken toys to broken hearts, reassures the kids that they have someone they can always depend on to be there, even when the rest of the world might turn its back on them. And from that arises a strong sense of faith, hope and peace.
7. Dad as Big Protector – “He always has my back. I know I’m always safe with him.”
When the kids know that they have their very own bodyguard and strongman who’s ready to do battle with all the real and imaginary monsters around them, they know they’re completely safe. And the comfort of that confidence is precious beyond words. Kids who grow up with this kind of quiet security are precisely those that will have the courage to venture into yet-unchartered roads as they strive to make the world a better place for all. And a safe one, too.
8. Dad as Love – “He loves us so much. Even if he doesn’t say it all the time in words, I know.”
The deep certainty with which my 11-year-old ended his description of his father rendered me speechless and filled with gratitude. My kids’ dad (like many men, I think) does not very often say those three words that women like to hear. But funnily, he doesn’t need to. Because in the simplest of everyday moments, we witness his constant acts of kind service, quiet sacrifices made for the sake of the family, and consistent proof of looking out for each one of us. When kids are afforded glimpses of this, day in and day out, they instinctively know they’ve got something more precious than three spoken words. Actions speak loudest, after all, and that voice takes root in the four chambers of the heart, ready to be passed on to others by each one who has been bestowed with that precious love.
There could be different words, different descriptions, different qualifications that might come up were I to ask another child of mine, or a child of yours, or a child of anyone else, to describe their father. But I believe, word differences aside, the essence and meat of the message would be the same: I’ve got the greatest dad who gives me so much in body, heart, and soul, and that has made all the difference. I am who I am today because of him.
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