When I was a child, my dad seemed omnipotent. When he walked into a room, he was larger than life. He was someone who always knew how to fix a problem or find the right person to help if he couldn’t do it himself — which was rare. Over the years, I developed a lot of the same skills that I had always admired in my dad: an ease with public speaking, a practical approach to finances, self-confidence, and a keen sense of time management. Would I be the same woman today if I had not had my dad as a role model? Probably not.
A father’s influence lasts a lifetime. Children look to their fathers for strength, encouragement, and support. Both sons and daughters mimic their dads from a very young age. Picture a small boy pretending to dress up for work like his dad (crooked, oversized tie and all) or a little girl struggling to reach a booming baritone while pretending to give a speech to a captivated audience. It’s true that someone might find it’s more natural to tell a young boy, “You remind me of your dad when he was little,” than a young girl. However, dads have just as much influence on their daughters — despite the gender difference — and daughters often grow up to be reflective images of their dads. Fathers are role models for both genders in many profound ways. Children learn about honesty, relationships, compassion, and self-love from their dads.
“Men, in general, tend to construct, maintain, and build intimacy through activity, whereas women tend to develop bonds through talking,” says Dr. Mark Morman, professor of communication studies and director of graduate studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Morman has conducted years of research in social learning and communication.
“A father is the single most important model for how a child will father in the future. Those children who grow up with [dysfunctional or neglectful fathers] have a hard time breaking the cycle and need to make a strong effort to father differently.”
Morman explains that fathers use a masculine approach to developing relationships. This means “doing” things with their kids to form bonds. A father might coach his daughter’s softball team, take his son fishing, or sing in the church choir with his kids. This is a dad’s comfort zone — being immersed in activities with his children.
“One of the most important things I have learned as a dad is to be emotionally available to my kids. They have seen me emotionally vulnerable, and I believe this has been important to both my son and my daughters,” Dr. LeRoy E. Reese, a psychologist at Akoma Counseling and Consulting, Inc. in Decatur, Ga., stresses. Reese adds that he is not afraid to express physical affection to all of his kids, including his son. “Sons should understand the normalcy of males expressing affection for each other.”
Reese also likes to spend quality time “doing” things with his children.
“I recommend to parents, and especially fathers, to date their kids on a regular basis and to spend individual time with each child doing something that reflects his or her interests. I hike and do 5Ks with my oldest daughter, go to the symphony with my son, and draw with my youngest. It is around these events that I learn the most about my kids.”
Fathers often consider part of their role to be “family protector.” This does not entail using aggressive behavior to solve problems. Instead, fathers should remember that their duty is to demonstrate strength of character and convictions to solve problems.
Stevan Lynn (a.k.a. Coach Lynn), producer and host of the award-winning television program “Dare 2 Dream: A Father’s Guide to Success,” guest talk show host (WHCR 90.3 FM in New York), and founder of the Fatherhood Training Center in Bronx, has helped countless fathers succeed as caregivers.
“In teaching our children the formula to having ‘real strength,’ fathers must embrace the concept of leading by example. The strength he exhibits while overcoming challenges provides a visual guide for his children to draw upon when their own strength is tested.”
When a father solves a problem while holding it together both emotionally and physically, he teaches his children such values as civility, compromise, and ingenuity.
Reese asserts, “On the issue of defending oneself, I think being positively assertive is key, as is knowing when and how to ask for help and that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Fathers need to be cognizant of their words and their actions because their children will ultimately emulate them.
“Social learning is vital when it comes to parenting. We learn by watching others,” Morman stresses.
It depends on the father and individual situations, but Morman feels fathers should nurture and advise their sons and daughters the same.
“Fathers who instill confidence and competence in both sons and daughters end up with confident and self-motivated children.”
Lynn has a similar view.
“While there are no gender specific rules in a father becoming his kids’ role model, fathers must take into account that, as the kids grow, his understanding of their psyche must evolve. Fathers can serve as strong role models by exhibiting sacrifice on a consistent basis in regards to providing for their needs (not their wants) and encouraging their dreams. These simple acts resonate with kids.”
“It is ineffective and hypocritical to assume a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude. Kids are sponges and they absorb everything they see and hear, so fathers have to be very intentional about their words and actions,” Reese instructs. “Dads serve as role models by working to be their best selves and allowing their children to see their imperfections. Dads should also demonstrate loving predictability, consistency, discipline, and unconditional acceptance.”
On a personal level, Coach Lynn feels his guidance has helped to develop a strong character in his children.
“Being a role model to my children has been paramount in raising them to be confident and compassionate adults.” He believes his guiding principle was to lead by example. “Seasoned parents understand that while our children may listen to 10 percent of what we preach, they most certainly watch 100 percent of what we do. Therefore, it is imperative to give them a positive, consistent, and inspirational visual, coupled with lots of hugs and ‘I love yous,’ to shore up their belief in your words of wisdom.”
Both sons and daughters look to their father’s relationship with their mother as a guideline for what to expect in future relationships. It’s imperative that fathers model respect and understanding in all family relationships, such as with in-laws and grandparents.
Lynn states, “Developing healthy relationships is a lifelong process. Dads can help build a sense of what it takes by exhibiting a positive attitude and promoting the concepts of faith, sacrifice, patience, commitment, and unconditional love.” Lynn says that these characteristics are the cornerstones of healthy relationships.
Reese believes dads can help kids develop a healthy outlook on relationships by demonstrating one.
“All healthy relationships start with respect. One of the best ways dads can demonstrate this is by having a healthy relationship with their wife, partner, or mother of their child.”
Morman reports, “Some research suggests that, in general, women fall in love with a man similar to their dad, because he is the first man she has loved and has had as a role model.” This poses a problem if a daughter has grown up with someone who has not taught her that she is worthy of respect — the result can be a string of bad relationships. “Daughters who don’t get approval from their dads growing up might seek approval from another man,” Morman warns.
Sometimes dads cannot always be physically available, because they are not living with their children full-time due to divorce, military service, or other types of job relocations and family situations. Dads can still have a strong relationship with their children, even if circumstances sometimes keep them physically separated.
“Fathers must make a strong effort to maintain an ongoing presence with their kids, even when they can’t be physically present,” Morman explains. “I travel a lot, but I always text my son. I send him lots of pictures, too.” If there is ongoing contact, your “presence” never goes away.
“Fathering from afar adds another dimension to the list of responsibilities and challenges. However, Dad can still have a profound influence through consistent and constant communication and by immersing himself in his kids’ lives,” Lynn points out.
“In summary, fatherhood is a gift, a privilege, and a responsibility. I am not perfect as a father, but without question, I am a better man because I take being a dad seriously,” Reese shares.
Myrna Beth Haskell is an award-winning author, columnist, and feature writer (www.myrna
Thoughts, memories, and inspiration about fatherhood and how fathers have touched our lives:
“My dad stressed to both me and my brother to always respect and treat women well. Life is much easier if you follow this advice.”
— Dave Blackwell
“I was considering working my senior year in high school instead of rowing on a crew team. My father told me, ‘You’ll be working the rest of your life. Shut up and row.’ ”
— Tom Gannon
“My papa has Alzheimer’s, and he has become so Zen. He is sweet, emotional, patient, sentimental, and calm — traits I knew were in him but rarely saw. This disease has been a curse and yet a blessing for our profound love.”
— Maria Hoskins
“To know my dad was to love him. I never heard him say an unkind thing about anyone, which always amazed me. A favorite memory I have is that he chose to write on the blue page of my eighth-grade yearbook, ‘Never be like this page.’ ”
— Myrna K. King
“My husband deals with my daughter better than I do sometimes. He knows how to really listen to her. If she’s having a problem, he doesn’t fly off the handle like I tend to do. Instead, he listens and waits until she’s ready for his advice.”
— Anita Mittelstaedt
“Wherever you are, be there for your kids! The older my kids got, the smarter I got.”
— Jim Turnbull
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