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Friday, August 1, 2014

The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers: A Book Review

Over the past couple of months, I have been enjoying a lovely book as part of my time of reflection and refreshment. I normally take time to sink my teeth into good books, reading only one chapter at a time, and then allowing the essence of the writing to permeate into my being. Sometimes I take notes; and sometimes I try to see how I can apply the insights to areas of my life. Ken Canfield's The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers is one such good book which I savoured in my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop over a sumptuous breakfast of roti prata and kopi bing over several fruitful mornings. 
Morning sustenance at my favourite coffee shop.
Written after 10,000 fathers were surveyed by the US-based Center for Fathering, Canfield shared seven distinctive things that effective fathers do differently from other dads. These, he shared, are the secrets of effective fathering - commitment, knowing your child, consistency, protecting and providing, loving their mother, active listening and spiritual equipping.
Canfield notes that commitment to the family is key to effective fathering. A man must make a conscious decision to commit to his wife and children. He has to resolve to act as the child's father and make this commitment daily. Canfield shared that if dads do not commit to acting as their child's father, society will readily take on that role - this not only includes the TV and social media, but even the public school system. It's all about the inculcation of values and helping children to be secure in their identity. What struck me particularly was the emphasis on the word "daily". In my current busy work environment, it has been especially easy to allow my kids to run around me when I get back from work, responding in a monosyllabic manner to their excited narrations of how the day was for them. What I was reminded about was to actively decide to be present with my children despite how tired I am. Easier said than done. But nobody said the parenting journey was easy!
Choosing to be "present" with our children. This is our
first selfie taken while Mummy was away at a seminar.
By knowing your child, Canfield refers to an understanding of the developmental phases of childhood as well as the specific needs of the child. I admit that while I have some knowledge about a toddler's world, there is still so much that I need to learn before I can say that I know them. What I am trying to discern is each of my two boys' specific needs. I wrote in a previous post that my younger son loves to cook, and it's easy for me to bond with him as this is an area that I'm also interested in. As for my older son, his specific needs are evolving as he grows from a 3-year-old to the 4-year-old that he will be in just a very short while. In the past I had a special bond with him playing blocks. And I suppose that is still something that we still share, but I know that as little Z grows older, his interests will change and perhaps diversify; and I know that I need to be there with him every step of the way.
Taking our younger son E for a baking class on his birthday.
Our older son Z loves the outdoors and I am learning
to seek out new ways to connect with him.
Consistent fathers are an essential cornerstone of effective fathering. Canfield narrates the analogy of a geometrical compass used in the drawing of a circle. The fixed leg of the compass is analogous to the father. He is the reference point from which the child (depicted as the pencil drawing the circle) can explore from. As long as the compass leg remains fixed, the pencil will be able to draw a lovely perfect circle. But if the compass leg constantly shifts its position, the pencil will be unable to complete its task, and the result will be several unfinished circle arcs. Fathering is like that. As fathers, we have to always maintain consistency in our moods, in our keeping of promises, our morality and ethics; we have to be a consistent presence in the family that our children can count on at all times. Without any reference points to draw from, children develop inadequacies that have a severe impact on their self worth and identity. I can particularly identify with this as I never had a father who was consistently present in my life; and this has had a negative impact on my own sense of self worth during my growing up years, and even till today.
Learning to be a consistent presence in my children's lives. One who will
be there for them during moments both happy and sad.
Protecting and providing for our children are the often considered to be the traditional roles of fathers. Canfield maintains that fathers need to provide a secure environment for their kids, and also provide them with a roof over their heads. He re-tells the story written in a poem, about a 13-year-old boy who saved his brother's life by driving to the hospital despite never having driven a car before. When asked how he did that, the boy replied "I just did what I saw my father do." This emphasises the importance of fathers being role models for their children so that they would know the right thing to do in times of crisis.
The role of the father - to protect and to provide.
By loving the mother of your child, Canfield argues that a strong marital relationship deepens the father-child bond. In fact, he even goes so far as to warn readers to be suspicious of any fathering books that neglect to mention the importance of the husband-wife bond. Husbands not only have to make an extra effort to love their wives, but they also have to be comfortable with showing affection in front of their children. This would help their kids to feel secure and also teach them how to relate to their significant others in the future.
Daddy and Mummy make it a point to go away during their
wedding anniversary to rekindle the marital relationship.
Time away from the kids is crucial towards helping us preserve our sanity!
Active listening refers to the act of being physically and mentally present for your children. It's not just about being around your kids as they share with you first-hand the happenings in their day. It also refers to giving your children undivided attention as you listen to their stories. As I shared earlier, I have recently been very busy with my work, sometimes going to my Mac the moment I reach home; even as my 4-year-old son starts narrating the almost unending account of his day. I can see the unsaid sadness in his eyes as I vaguely respond to him and provide non-commital answers to his questions. I know that my busyness is only for a season, but yet it tears at me from the inside to hear the poor child's enthusiastic voice diminish to an almost complete silence as he shifts his attention from me and proceeds to play with his toys independently. We need to learn to listen to the hearts of our children; for I know that these moments, once lost, can never be reclaimed.

The final secret towards becoming an effective father is that of spiritual equipping - both in terms of equipping ourselves as well as equipping our children. In the study conducted by the Center for Fathering, it was observed that spiritual equipping was the second most prevalent trait that effective fathers had, just slightly less practiced than that of commitment. Despite such research findings, Canfield laments that secular media has chosen to blatantly ignore this information, negating the impact of spiritual equipping on the lives of children. On the contrary, fathers were encouraged to seek spiritual equipping alongside other dads. They were also advised to team up with mothers, working as a spiritual team to equip the children.
Sharing communion with the boys as part of our learning on Good Friday and Easter.
In closing, The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers shares one last secret - the eighth. Canfield paints a beautiful analogy of a farmer growing his crops, likening the process to that of effective fathering. He observes that if no seeds are sown, then any farmer will be able to tell you that there is no way that crops will grow in that field. Conversely, even the most astute farmer would not be able to predict how a field, carefully sown, watered and weeded, can produce a gleaming crop at harvest time. There is always a mysterious unknown which governs the entire process. Fathering is like that. If we don't even try to become an effective father, it is a given that we will never become one. However, even if we try our best and incorporate all seven secrets of effective fathering, there is still no guarantee that our children will grow up in the exact way that we desire them to. The mysterious unknown in life is what makes the entire process of fathering so special and so unique for each individual child.
What seeds are we sowing?

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