The womanly figure is synonymous with child care. We see it everywhere we go – adverts on television show mothers wiping the spills of a child’s beaker, changing babies’ nappies and giving children the healthiest and tastiest yoghurts. One question comes to my mind when I watch these acts – where is the father? While it’s true, fathers have only recently (within the last 100 years or so) started to take a greater interest in the upbringing of children, I think that a father has certain privileges, nay, responsibilities which are distinct from a mother’s relationship with a child.
I am raising a little boy and, like my father did with me, I would like him to grow up having gained some knowledge and experience from his dear old dad. My son is two years old and seems to soak up everything around him like a sponge. He is beginning to notice what daddy does with him and what mummy does. He will take this new knowledge and put the pieces together in his little mind as to what the roles of mummy and daddy are.
One thing that I do with my son, that my wife just couldn’t do properly, is rough housing. Not to say a mother couldn’t rough house with their child, but a father will be less inclined to make a fuss if he bumps his head or scratches his elbow. We’ll tell him to “get up, brush it off,” which I think builds self confidence and resilience. Not to mention, playing rough gives the dad a special connection with his children that usually only a mother will have: the release of Oxytocin. Oxytocin, known as the cuddle chemical, is usually released when a mother nurses her baby, but rough housing also releases this chemical giving the dad the ability to share that connection. Thinking about it now, could this be the reason some friends like to fight, and then go to the pub for a pint, forgetting the whole altercation? When I rough house with my son, we play a game that usually involves me being a tiger or dragon or whatever growly animal is his flavour of the month; then I chase him around the room, grabbing him and dangling him upside down, while “eating” his tummy until he can’t breathe for laughter. Mummy can play monster with him as well, but she can’t really “fling” him around as easily as I can; and, let’s face it, most of us have fond memories of being flung around in a loving way by our daddies.
I like to take my son hiking through our local trails (we have the privilege of living in the country so there are plenty of nice hikes) and I let him run ahead, fall down and get bruised. I do worry about him, but I let him get on with it so he can make his own mistakes and learn. His mother, my wife, will usually shout for him to return if he goes more than five feet ahead of us, and is overly paranoid about thistles and nettles. He needs both sides of this, but I feel letting a child get hurt, so long as it’s not serious, is a good way for them to learn from their own mistakes. I also feel that allowing a child to run ahead helps them to start building an understanding of independence, while still having the security that mummy and daddy are nearby.
Sometimes I like to build things with my son, such as makeshift costumes or tents. Recently, I got together an old cardboard box, cut a window and a door and suddenly Jude had a house/submarine/whatever he wanted it to be. He would work side by side with me by telling me what he wanted. Eventually, I had to add a steering wheel for his submarine. My wife tries to do this as well, but for some reason he only wants daddy to do these types of projects with him. I haven’t quite figured out why yet, but it might have something to do with the fact that I like to go ‘all out’ and make it as cool as possible. (Am I building the cardboard house for him or me?) I try to put myself in his shoes and make it as fun as possible.
Finally, although a mother can teach her son how to be a gentleman, how to treat women and how to be noble a father can show his son these qualities. In fact, perhaps the most important thing a dad should do for their children, is to love their mother. This love will not go unnoticed, and it could be the best life lesson a child will ever learn. A mother’s love is, of course, needed in a child’s life, but everyone needs a good male role model. Studies have shown that the influence of a positive male role model for a child, whether male or female, can affect how that child grows into an adult. It can affect factors such as happiness in later life, confidence in adulthood and even how they interact with members of the opposite sex; a young boy will treat women how they see their dad treat their mum. Likewise, little girls may grow up to find a possible suitor with traits of her father. As Jude develops into adulthood, I only hope that my influence gives him a positive starting point for the man he will become. As far as why these particular factors from daddy influence him more than mommy, I can’t say. His mother, and all mothers, can interact with their children and do the same things a daddy can do, so what is different? Is he aware of the two genders and so relates to me in a certain way because of that? Or is it a personality factor he acknowledges, where mummy is better at some things and daddy at others? Being two years old, I’m not sure there really is a difference at the moment for him, but one thing is certain, whatever the reason, I will enjoy spending quality time together in his chosen ‘daddy’ activities for as long as I can.