One of the most important tricks I have learned being a father is that who I am doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that I am my children’s father. This is something many men struggle with – my father was one of them. He never really understood the difference between how he saw himself and how my sister and I saw him. One of the most important elements of being a father is understanding that having a child (or twins in my case) is like stepping into an incredibly unique role, separate from ourselves. Many men struggle with a lack of confidence as fathers. But those that understand that the role of a father is bigger than themselves end up having a stronger, healthier relationship with their children.
In the beginning, when my children were babies, I felt extremely inadequate as a father. I felt this way for a number of reasons, but in the end none of them really mattered. I didn’t feel comfortable as a father and thus struggled to be the kind of father I wanted to be. I am certain this is how my own father felt. His lack of confidence and comfort in the role of father was only made worse by the fact that he was the primary breadwinner. His job took him away from the house and he had little practice being a father. Soon he began to believe that since his children were getting along just fine without him, we didn’t need him, that he had nothing to contribute. He never was comfortable with the father role, because he was never all that comfortable with himself.
“What can I give them that their mother can’t give?” I can picture him thinking. “Why would what I say really matter to them?”
I felt the same way. In fact, I still do sometimes. But one of the biggest differences between myself and my father is I understood the power of parents better than he ever did. I didn’t have much more confidence than my dad did, but I was able to shift my perspective. I was able to see that what my children’s father did was important to them. That is the key.
When I leave for work in the morning, it is easy to believe my children won’t care. But do children care when their father leaves for work? Of course they do.
When they want to show me something, sure, they may very well be doing it because their mother asked them to. But do children care whether their father admires their drawings? Absolutely.
When I am sitting next to them and they are completely absorbed in the television, it is easy to believe it doesn’t really matter whether I sit next to them or not, whether I put my arm around them or not. But don’t children want and need love and affection from their Daddy? They certainly do.
I am their Daddy. Their Daddy is me.
In this new family math, whether I feel like my attention, my love, my time has real value or worth, the fact that I am their Daddy makes all that I do and say extremely important to my children. You know what? That is awfully scary–the power of parenting. But it has helped me do things I never thought I could do. It has helped me be more than myself; because in the end it is not about me, it is about my children and trying to help them be as healthy and happy as humanly possible.
One of the reasons I was able to shift my perspective, to realize this new math, was that I kept thinking about what I wanted, but never got, from my father when I was growing up. When I would ask him to play catch, he often did not have time. He probably thought it wasn’t a big deal, he probably thought he wasn’t that much fun anyway. I felt he didn’t want to be with me, to play with me, to spend time with me. I don’t want my children feeling that way – especially since it isn’t true. When I am feeling drained, overwhelmed or even depressed, I try to remember that when my kids ask me to do something with them. I can’t do everything, of course, but it helps me to remember their feelings – even if I can’t do what they want, I can at least give them a good explanation and help them see it has nothing to do with them or how I feel about them at all.
The times I have the most trouble being able to maintain this perspective are the “All About Mommy” moments: times when my children are fighting each other to climb on top of Mommy, to spend every moment with her, to both hold her hand while I stand there feeling like an idiot. I hate these times and I immediately begin to forget my role and begin to believe what I say and do doesn’t matter. It’s hard to remember my “parental power” when they don’t want to hold my hand or sit with me on the train because they would rather be with Mommy. Usually, it is my wife who helps pull me out of it, reminding me that this is only temporary and really has nothing to do with me at all. Often I end up just needing a little time to myself, or one of my children will all of a sudden remember that they like me, too, and that helps.
But being able to understand my role as a father, as Daddy to my children, has given me the freedom to stretch beyond the confines of my personality, beyond my upbringing, beyond myself, to better be what my children need me to be. This in turn has made me feel more comfortable not only with being a father, but with myself, as well, so that I have become the role, the Daddy, instead of just pretending.