Daddies Should Develop Relationships with Children, says Dr. Michael O’Donnell
ASSOCIATED PRESS: Involvement, consistency, awareness and nurturance are the keys to better family life for today’s dads, says Michael O’Donnell, [former] director of the Southwest Center for Fathering at Abilene Christian University.
One of the center’s goals is to champion the role of fathering in America, O’Donnell said. Many men who grew up in the 1960s – himself included – “grew up without fathers – either they were absent or they were `phantom’ fathers, not really involved,” he said. “So now we are seeking help and clues on how to get this job done.”- Dads need to be involved. Involvement can be defined as playing or working with your children and attending to their daily routines, O’Donnell said.
If mom always helps preschoolers with their baths or assists older children with their homework, “the child acquires a role differentiation based on sex,” he said. “The child begins to believe only mothers can be nurturing.”
Dad should also be involved in the milestones in his child’s life – the first day of school, baptisms, confirmations, school graduation and so on.
While it is often easier for fathers to be involved with their sons and their athletic activities, fathers should also take time to be with their daughters, he said. For example, by helping with homework, Dad gives his daughter the subtle message that she is capable and not inferior to her brothers.
– Dads need to be consistent. Dads need to be predictable, O’Donnell said, so that when the child’s peer group says, “let’s do this,” the child can reply, “No, that would really get my father angry.”
Fathers must also decide which rules are important and unbendable. For example: Will you absolutely forbid your son to wear an earring or your daughter to dye her hair green?
– Dads need to be aware. Most fathers can name last year’s Super Bowl winner and the current prime interest rate, but those things aren’t important to a child. Fathers need to know what goes on in their children’s world. “Communicate and ask them how they feel and what’s important to them,” O’Donnell said.
– Dads need to be nurturing. Nurturing fathers show affection and intimacy for their children in spontaneous ways that do not make their children self-conscious, O’Donnell said. Nurturing fathers support and protect their children, both physically and emotionally, and they gratify their children’s needs, whether it’s bringing them a warm blanket at night or taking special care of them when they’re sick.
Dads can even be nurturing when they’re away on a business trip, or when their children are away at school.
“Children love cards, letters and phone calls,” he said. “The father can be gone physically but maintain a presence. Put a note from Dad in their school lunch box or between the pages of a textbook you know they’ll be opening that day. Imagine how loved they’ll feel when they find a note in their math book with a smiley face from Dad saying, `I know you can do this!’ ”