Over the last several decades, men have taken on a stronger role in the home. Gone are the days of “good ‘ol dad” waiting on his newborn son with other men while they smoke cigars in the hospital waiting area. These days, dad is right there in the mix, changing diapers, feeding and playing with his child as much as mom. In fact, on the cover of this month’s issue of Parents is celebrity dad Nick Lachey pictured with his son — a rare instance of a dad being featured on the cover of a parenting magazine. I’m excited about these changes and I know there are many other dads, stepdads, and grandfathers who feel the same.
Balance is so necessary for kids, and I believe that if parents focus on their talents and work to pass those on to their children, kids will benefit tremendously.
Unfortunately, there are still many dads who fail to see the important role they play in the lives of their children. Here are three areas where we really need men to step up their game:
1. I believe a dad must teach his son to love and respect his mother. Whether it’s a marriage of 20 years or a divorce situation, studies show that boys learn how to treat their mothers and other women in their lives by what they observe from their fathers. (Books like That’s My Son and Strong Mothers, Strong Sons give good advice on how single-moms can raise a man of character, and they also suggest placing strong men in a boy’s life.)
Dr. Meg Meeker suggests that boys learn how to be men from watching other men, specifically their fathers. And how their father treats women, specifically the boy’s mother, teaches volumes and affects him in so many areas of his life, including at home with his sisters, at school with his female teachers, socially with his female friends and with his wife if he decides to marry.
2. Dads teach their daughters how men should behave toward women. Similarly, girls looks to their fathers for what a man should be. Ever wonder why girls gravitate to alcoholic boyfriends when their father was an alcoholic? Shouldn’t she look for something better, especially if her home life was dysfunctional? It’s inherent in humans to gravitate to what we know and understand, even when that something is not in our best interests. (According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, well-thought-out decisions are actually quite rare. We typically operate on habit, plodding through life doing what we’ve always done.)
A little girl’s father is her first and largest example of how a man should act. He might be one of the few males in her young life, because often her teachers and possibly her coaches are all female, too. It’s by her father’s example that all future men will be judged. If she chooses brave, caring men to date, it will be in large part because she had a strong father who showed her how men should respect and treat women.
3. Dads teach their children about courage. I also believe a dad can teach his child about courage. When I was a child, my vivid imagination ran wild with thoughts of monsters lurking in the shadows at night. Small, ghastly beasts that lived inside my walls and only ventured out when the lights were turned off haunted my nightmares. Who did I yell for when I heard the little patter of claw-toed feet in my room? You guessed it–Dad. If there was something that he couldn’t defeat, it was certainly beyond my scope of consciousness!
Dads can teach their kids how to swing off a rope into a river, how to stand up for what they believe in, and that strength comes from within. All of these lessons will translate into an adult who believes in him- or herself. Dad is the voice that urges kids to go higher and says, “I know you can do it. Why don’t you get up and try again?”
Give me a team of dads and we can change diapers, go on high adventures and even have the occasional tea party—because that’s what dads are for.