Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Dad Attitude

This essay first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Mother & Baby.

As the husband of a stay-at-home-mum, it is tempting to think that since she is 100% there for the kids, I should be 100% focused on putting food on the table. It is especially tempting because fathering is not something that comes naturally to me, unlike my wife whose lifelong ambition was to be a mother. But I am glad I did not succumb to that temptation, because my children need their father as well as their mother; and I might have missed out on some things I wouldn’t give up for the world now.

I’m told that girls will grow up looking for a man like their own father, for better or worse. I hope I have set the better example. I’m also told that if boys don’t get enough attention from their fathers, they are more likely to find affection in other men. But beyond theories about their long-term psychological well-being, I believe I have a part to play in providing them with a balanced childhood.

The role of a father and mother doesn’t have to fall into gender stereotypes. My wife and I are very different, and between us, we both try to provide a healthy range of experiences for our kids. For example, my wife hates heat, humidity and sweat. So it falls to me to introduce our children to the great outdoors. This could be as simple as bring them outside to the playground in the afternoon. Or to the botanical gardens to go cycling or walking.

One of the projects I am working on is to bring my son camping. The first day I bought the tent, I showed him how to assemble it. A couple weeks later, he was able to put all the tent poles together and thread them through the fabric, I only needed to help him erect the structure. That night, we slept together in the living room, and he was very excited to have Daddy as a tent mate. I was not so excited because he snores like thunder; the things we do as parents!

A few weeks later I asked him if he wanted to go camping again. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Daddy, the last time was not really camping. Outside the tent was the condo. For real camping the tent is on the grass. Then we bring in our pillows and blankies.” I guess he has formed a mostly accurate picture from whatever books or shows he has seen . I warned him that there would be mosquitos in the grass, to which he answered “we can close up the tent”. And when I told him it would be hot because there is no air con, he reassured me that it would be windy and when we got really tired we would sleep. I think he is ready for the real thing!

It’s also fun teaching them about insects. One afternoon they came home from my parents’ house proudly brandishing a plastic box containing a three-inch long grasshopper. We didn’t need their magnifying glass to examine all the parts of the giant anatomy, and at the end of the day we solemnly released it together. Another time, he got a caterpillar that came as a “free gift” with Mummy’s vegetables, just as I had many years before. And when a lizard found its way into one of their toy boxes, we caught it and had fun discussing the organs visible through its translucent skin.

I love rough-housing and tumbling with my kids. It always amuses our friends when my daughter comes up to me, stands with her head between her feet and says loudly “some-salt!” It is her invitation for me to tip her over in a somersault, but she hasn’t quite learned yet that it is better on a soft surface, and to make sure the coast is clear ahead. That is Daddy’s job.

Being a father is a lot more than doing my share of diaper duty. It includes the pain of disciplining, grabbing any opportunity to teach a valuable lesson on values, and lots of fun. And it’s all worthwhile when I get home from work and my daughter runs across the living room towards me, eyes bright, then stops midway and start twirling around in happiness until she loses her balance and topples over. My son … isn’t quite so expressive of his affections, but I know he loves me too.