Dads play a vital role in family

'Team approach' to parenting is the best way, authors say

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Associated Press

NEW YORK If most mothers take on the job of nurturing feelings and emotions, fathers often shape their children's perception of the outside world and how the world perceives their children.

For busy bodies

With child obesity becoming a growing problem, there is a big push to get children moving in addition to improving their diets.

"The Busy Body Book: A Kid's Guide to Fitness" (Crown) by Lizzy Rockwell is a child-friendly picture book about the importance of exercise. It portrays both traditional sports and other activities, including flying a kite, walking the dog and even playing a trumpet in a marching band, as enjoyable ways to stay healthy.

Equally important, though, are the explanations of why children need to be physically fit.

One illustration details what each muscle does in terms kids will understand:

Facial muscles let you smile, blink, chew and talk.
Biceps help you lift heavy things.
Back and stomach muscles let you stand up straight.
Quadriceps lift your legs and bend your knees when you walk.
Triceps help you push open a door.

"When children know the remarkable potential of their bodies, they want to test it out," Rockwell said in a statement. "When they see others engaged in activities that look fun and stimulating, they want to join in."

A fabulous vocabulary

What's marvelous? What's splendid?

A book that encourages children to expand their vocabulary, and that's just what "The Boy Who Cried Fabulous" (Tricycle Press) does.

In the book by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Peter Ferguson, Roger is discouraged when his parents ban him from using his favorite word: fabulous.

But you can't hold this child down, and his enthusiasm for all things stunning, scrumptious and magnificent is contagious. By the end of the story, Roger's parents realize that he is, indeed, "the world's most fabulous son."

"The bottom line is, fathers matter. If (a father) really believes that, he'll behave and act differently and make different choices. Those will be reflected in the success of his children," said Stephan Poulter, author of "Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be" (McGraw-Hill).

"If the choices you've made send a message to your son that he's important in the world, he'll use that as a base. It's a healthy start for the rest of his life."

In the family hierarchy, it's dad who usually sets the limits, whether it's the curfew or emotional boundaries.

"Dad installs the inner thermostats to control anger and experimentation, and the internal gauge of what's right, what's acceptable and how to express feelings," Poulter said.

"Mom shows how to deal with emotions, and dad shows how to control them."

Both Poulter and Joe Kelly, who wrote "Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter When She's Growing Up So Fast" (Broadway Books), agree that the same general rules apply to parenting girls and boys.

"The model dad sets is what it means to be a man, which is hugely important to sons AND daughters," Kelly said.

The definition of "dad," however, can be very broad.

Having a father figure is important, said Kelly, but whether that man is a biological father, a stepfather or another friend or relative doesn't matter as long as he dedicates himself to raising healthy and happy children.

A "team approach" between a mother and father is the best approach. Many divorced parents do come together when it comes to their kids' well-being, Poulter noted. "Kids need bookends."

It's a girl's father who shapes her expectations of men, Kelly explained, since a daughter watches her dad's relationship with her mother and other women. "Anything you grow up with as a kid you think is 'normal.'

"The life partner a daughter chooses likely will have a lot of qualities similar to her dad," he added.

Meanwhile, a stoic father probably will raise a stoic son who will be equally reluctant to get involved in his children's lives, said 45-year-old Poulter.

"So many men ... raise their son with a male gag order, they send their boys out in the world emotionally illiterate," said the Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist.

Poulter encourages fathers to be involved before their babies are born. It's never too early or too late to forge a relationship, he said.

Too many dads pick and choose the ages that they'll be involved with their kids; usually it's between the ages of 5 and 10, when the children are old enough to communicate but too young to ask the tough questions, according to Poulter, who has three children of his own, two daughters, ages 13 and 10, and a 7-year-old son.

"At 11, sons start forming their own opinions and become more social. This is one of the most important ages for dads to stay close. They should drop them off at school, know the teachers, know the dads of his friends," he advised.

Poulter said when a father "disappears" during adolescence, tweens and teens find ways to get his attention: "They'll get arrested, kicked out of school or drive their mother crazy just to get dad in the room."

Kelly, who has 23-year-old identical twin daughters and is the founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Dads and Daughters, added, "Fathers don't realize how much they mean to their children."

He partly blames society for the diminished role of dads because Western culture simply puts a greater value on mothers when it comes to family life and children's development.

"Dads see themselves as second-class parents," Kelly said. This makes it easy to step away from sticky situations, leaving them to moms, he said, "but mom isn't the sole gatekeeper for taking care of children."

Bonding with their children doesn't mean fathers have to develop a sudden interest in rap music or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Sports or outdoor chores are easy "moments" but if those don't work out, helping with homework or taking a walk would do the trick, said Kelly, who lives in Duluth, Minn.

He also suggests fathers describe their own work and hobbies, and ask the kids about their thoughts and passions.

"What daughters hunger for from their fathers is dedicated time. You've got to make time when it's just the two of you. ... Make sacred time to pay attention. It's something we dads sometimes miss because we're concentrating on being providers."

But, Kelly, 49, said, the emergence of busy, dual-income families are an opportunity for fathers to get involved with the day-to-day doings of his family.

He pointed to Alonzo Mourning, a member of the U.S. basketball "dream team" in 2000, who made the 17-hour flight from the Olympics in Australia to be with his wife in Miami when she gave birth to their daughter. He made it back to Sydney for the quarterfinals.

"The attitude of younger fathers show a change. There is an increasing focus on family."


Ottawa Men's Centre is a dedicated support group whose primary goal is to stem the trend of suicide by fathers. We provide divorce resources, impartial attorney referrals and support for men or fathers who are victims of false allegations, parental alienation and or gender bias. Email 613-482-1112 or 613-247-9378