Father Figures? (Until There’s Blood, It’s OK)
Does the best father figure exist? Maybe not – but this shouldn’t stop dads from doing their best to be there for their children. Proud dad and Philippine Star columnist Philip Cu Unjieng shares his personal parenting tips.
While there’s a lot of literature and material about “father figures” and the broad consensus on the importance of children having them in their lives, the jury still seems to be out on what exactly the best “father figure” should be. The concept may shine like some beacon of idealized parenting, but what to actually do to reach this standard is a hazy, oscillating image, with different schools of thought.
Quality Time vs. Social Media Accessory
It’s uniformly written that Quality over Quantity should be the overriding factor when fathers apportion time with their children, even on workdays. But even the idea of Quality needs to be defined and spelled out. Too often, I see Dads dragging their kids to the things they (the Dads) want to do, with the children as mere appendages.
For instance, how responsible is it to bring a toddler to the gym? It may have been Instagram-worthy, but that’s asking for an accident to happen. Cute to have him on your back while you push-up or plank, but I’m sorry, when you’re seriously doing your reps of other exercises, where is the child?
More important would be learning what the child’s interests are and doing those activities with them, and not leaving that to the Mom. Let’s be brutally frank – until the child hits the age of four or five, the true attention span of fathers with their toddlers can be short, and it is a challenge we have to face.
Call me a Natural Born Cynic, but I get wary when Dads post too many photos of themselves with their very young kids on a daily basis. Like, wait – is this more for show, for validation, and the thumbs up of your social media community? Right after the pic is taken, is it a case of ‘Yaya, kunin mo na’?
For me, this is one of the drawbacks of our social media frenzy: how so much generated activity and content is done for that proverbial pat on the back. The only true approval and validation you need should be coming from your child. You shouldn’t care about how many friends will post “Way to go”, or ‘”Awww”, or how many Moms will see your post and ask why their husbands aren’t more like you. Your true reward should be the smile on your child’s face or the hug they give you. Just saying, and tell me if I’m wrong.
Parenting Laissez Faire
I have three sons, and if you had to describe our early parenting style, I would draw as a parallel the economic theory of laissez faire. While we were strict about etiquette, manners, and right and wrong behavior, the rules were broad and loose enough so that the boys had room to create, interpret, and manoeuvre within those parameters to forge their own personalities.
Their mother was the primary caregiver, and this became more pronounced when we separated. The boys were then 12, 9, and 3. I recall how when they grew older, we enrolled them in Taekwondo at Monsour del Rosario’s Academy. When they would practice and grapple at home, the basic dictum was “until there’s blood, it’s OK, and let them be.”
And that did characterize my attitude of how, as boys, “no harm, no foul” would be the path for them to get used to making their own decisions and living by them. It’s not a philosophy I’ll claim as original, or the right and best one; but given the circumstances, it is what we chose to adopt.
When they became teenagers and started going out with friends or on dates, we gave them a 4 a.m. curfew. Why? Because I didn’t want some whiny excuse about a car breaking down, or “Why does this other friend get to stay out later?” As long as they were ready to be responsible for their actions, they were free to party. But I didn’t want to hear about them coming home stupidly drunk (which has happened), or wanting to stretch that curfew (if you could even call it that), or finding their grades were suffering. Then, they would face consequences.
Dads and daily childcare
ScienceDaily talks about how a Dad helping on child-care related tasks, even on workdays, improves the relationship between the father and the child. But more often than not, the Philippine reality is anchored on the presence of a yaya. So, it’s how to bridge that reality that becomes an issue here. That’s doubly complicated if
it’s a double-income household with the wife working as well. In fact, on this count, I’ll salute the working Mom who, without batting an eyelash, will often be the primary caregiver while holding down a job.
The Father Effect
Nowadays, you even have dedicated sites such as Fatherly.com talking about the “Father Effect” and how there are varying ways of maintaining and/or nurturing this Effect. And while a number of the articles focus on puberty, and how strong Father/Daughter relationships impact on the dangerous sex-risk relationships the daughter may enter into, the one more interesting observation I took from the article is to remember that no matter at what age, the kids are always watching.
As parents, and until they reach their teenage years, you are the center of their universe. So whether you’re an engaged father, and to what degree, is going to be something that they will be contemplating on. They will often keep their opinion and judgment to themselves – and let’s not forget that as they get older, that gap between observing and judging becomes smaller and smaller.
The father can often be the inspiration, the guiding light, that voice from the mountaintop. In the past, that was the role fathers would emulate, leaving Mom to be the primary parent raising the children. And that probably works best, especially during the first three years of the child’s life. Mothers are just wired differently, more patient and devoted – but as the child grows older, a father’s presence becomes more important and relevant to the child’s development and value formation.
What works best is something most parents have to decide by themselves. I don’t believe there is one true tried and tested method or pathway. Each child is different, and what worked with one may not even necessarily work with the next. It’s all about discovery, and that comes from both sides of the equation – from parents and from the children.
About The Writer
Philip Cu Unjieng
Philip Cu Unjieng is a Philippine Star columnist and regular contributor; his articles are also found on Metro.Style of ABS. An aged ‘warrior’ in the parenting arena; he’s happy to say his three boys are now more mature than him.