Today is Father's Day in Australia. I thought it might be an opportune time to commit to text some thoughts about fatherhood that have been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. Thoughts that have spurred me to action to ensure I can be the father my daughters deserve.
Not that long ago I read an article that really challenged me. It presented the notion that children have a time in their lives when they still highly regard and respect their parents, are old enough to start to understand adult concepts and are still pliable in their thinking. As they get older, and the teenage years set in, they become less likely to listen to their parents, with their values and beliefs beginning to crystallise into life-long shapes. This precious window of influence varies from child to child but generally exists between mid-primary to early high school. My own children are either in or entering this time.
This led me to think long and hard about what influence I was having on my own daughters. What example am I setting them? What will their views of fathers, husbands and men in general be as a result of my influence? The honest answers to these questions were hard. I spent most of my time at work. When I was home, I was too stressed, tired and emotionally exhausted to really engage with my wife or my daughters. Practically; rarely around. Emotionally; unavailable. Physically; too weary to be involved. What a terrible example! So I made changes and set about reconnecting with my family. Here's the results after a few short weeks, even with a broken shoulder.
Firstly, I made a conscious effort to support my wife with discipline. Now, when people say "discipline" what they often mean is "punishment"; this isn't what I'm referring to. Punishment can be a tool for achieving discipline, but isn't in and of itself discipline. Doing what is expected of you, even when you may not want to, or when you aren't being supervised; this is discipline! Now I am far more involved in making sure the girls do exactly this. Oddly enough, it doesn't need a lot shouting, threatening or waving a big stick. In actuality, I find if I gently and assertively make certain the girls are operating and behaving in a way we deem appropriate, they are far more likely to continue in that pattern even when we aren't watching. I give them lots of positive reinforcement, reward them when they do the right thing and be very generous with hugs. The bonus is, I am setting a standard I hope they hold their future husbands to. I hope they see the absence of violence, aggression and emotional manipulation as a hard necessity in the way any man treats them, but especially their future children (not too soon though!)
The other aspect I have noticed is with my relationship with my (long suffering) wife. The extra support I can provide her with the domestic duties, is allowing her to relax more in the freedom of knowing and seeing this is a team effort, again. I'd almost forgotten what quiet, relaxed evenings at home felt like! The added emotional energy we both have is obviously beneficial, but as a father I hope my daughters watch the way I interact with my wife. I hope they learn how a man treats his wife; with tenderness, respect, support and genuine affection. Again, harshness, aggression, manipulation and competitiveness have no place between my wife and I. Now I am by no means "husband of the century" and I fail. Often. It's just as important to show my children that humility and contrition are just as important. When we say sorry, if the situation is appropriate, I let my children see that men can be wrong and when I am, how I make up. Learning how to say sorry, be forgiven and restore a relationship is such a crucial skill in any relationship and sorely lacking in modern society.
While there have been some fairly radical changes in the Gray house recently, the early signs are overwhelmingly positive. I'm committed to ensure my girls learn the value of family, learn from my example how real men behave toward and around women. If I want my girls to find a life long partnership that allows them to fulfil their dreams in a healthy and vibrant relationship, I need to hold myself to the standards I want them to expect from that partner. I need to lead by example, love until it hurts, always put my family first and be the Dad and husband they deserve! Being a father and husband is huge honour and massive responsibility. I hope and pray I can be the father my daughters need and deserve. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there - it's a tough job but the rewards are immense!