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Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Daddy Factor

I had two hours between appointments last Wednesday, so I decided to pop back home for a quick lunch and a short rest. Just as I had entered the room and was preparing to lie on the bed for a brief respite, I heard a little voice with a huge request.

“Daddy, I want to cook with you now.”

“Hi E. How was your day? You want to cook with me now?”

“Yes.”

“E, Daddy’s tired. I just got back from work and I have to attend class soon. Can I cook with you tonight?”

“No. Now.”

“But E, Aunty M’s cooking lunch for us. She should be ready soon.”

“Only Daddy….. Please?”

And with that request, I yanked myself out of bed and into the kitchen, even though our domestic helper was in the midst of preparing her lunch of spaghetti bolognese. Our little 3-year-old had already taken his stool and was standing over the stove, peering into the contents of the frying pan.

“Here E. Take this ladle. I want you to watch what Daddy is doing and follow after me. OK?”

The young boy stole a glance at his Daddy and beamed. I felt I was the king of the world!
It is no secret that the younger son loves to cook. Here he is cooking with
his older brother, as Daddy supervises.
I have not always felt wanted as a father. Most of the time my two sons would say “I want Mummy!” Whether it is after a fall or whether they want a cup of milk before bedtime, they would always turn to their mother as the first line of help. And even if Daddy was around, the boys would still look for their Mummy to attend to them for the most basic of needs. In the deepest recesses of my heart, I had always felt jealous of my wife, and wished that my sons would look for me instead when they needed me. Perhaps, I reasoned, it was because I was too strict with them and that they only associated me with discipline and not tenderness and affection.

There have, however, been a number of instances lately when I realised that my sons are actually seeking my affections, and that they are looking up to me for guidance and affirmation. Our younger son, for instance, has been twirling his noodles “just like Daddy”. He has also been holding his fork and spoon, and using his knife to cut the food “just like Daddy”. Our older son had initially been having problems with dressing and clothes. But recently he surprised us by buttoning his shirt all by himself, and when Sue tried to help him, he turned her away, indicating that he wanted to do it by himself “just like Daddy”. Then this morning the older son pranced in front of me with the clothes that he had chosen and worn himself. “Are these "going out" clothes Daddy?” he asked. And he beamed the broadest of smiles when I said that they were, and that he looked wonderful in them.
All children long to be "just like their Daddy"; it begins from the clothes
they wear to the things they do. And it is essential that a father affirms
his children to provide the security that they need.
Attachment theory postulates that securely attached children will seek comfort from their primary caregiver (in most cases the mother) during the times when they experience discomfort or fear. This is as they know their mother will be there to provide the emotional support that they need. (I wrote a more detailed blog entry on attachment theory in a previous post.) In our case the above is most certainly true. Our sons do go to Sue to receive the hugging and kissing and emotional support that they need. This made me wonder whether I was too hard on the boys, and that perhaps the only association they had with me was that of discipline and strictness. But my recent experiences with my children have convinced me that it is not only the case - my sons also seem to associate their relationship with me in terms of the life skills that I teach them; from cooking and learning about music to fashion and how to button your shirt. These experiences concur with attachment theory, which suggests that children need an "alternative caregiver" to develop securely. That is where fathers come in; and I am glad that I am playing that role for them.
This picture encapsulates best the Daddy-Son relationship. The father
is seen here guiding the son and helping him navigate past
the obstacles of life.
I did not quite have such a privileged childhood. Following my parents' separation at the age of 3, I ambled for a good part of those growing up years without a father figure in my life. Thankfully my paternal grandfather took on that role, spending many hours with me at coffee shops and buying presents for me on a regular basis to make me smile. I will always remember how Grandpa used to buy a board game for me each week, leaving my Mama to play the game with me. These childhood memories bring a smile to my face; and I have realised that my grandfather's influence on me is stronger than I imagined - I know that my love of board games and my preference of coffee shops over food courts and restaurants is probably due to him. But it was only recently that I realised that without the presence of both my Grandpa and my Mama during my childhood, that I might not have developed as securely as I did. (I share more about my Grandpa and the role of grandparents in this post.)  
One of the most precious memories with my Grandpa - it is a powerful
symbolism that he stood by my side and supported me throughout
my childhood years and to my graduation from university.
It is so important to have a father figure in our life. I agree with the recent body of research that the presence of a father has a direct impact on a child's secure development. In fact, attachment theory attests to the importance of the "alternative caregiver" - the father. He completes the triad relationship of child, mother and father. While the mother is the "safe haven" for the child to find refuge and security, the father contributes in the area of exploration, modelling and play. This familial triad is not only important in early childhood, but all throughout the childhood years, and especially during the turbulent teenage years, when adolescents struggle with the confusion of identity formation and when they either establish a secure sense of self, or become swept away by the numerous voices of society as a collective.
The father completes the familial triad that comprises the child and the mother.
That is the building block of a family, which cements the child's sense of self
through emotional experiences such as memories.
I am thankful that despite the absence of a father figure in my life, that I was still able to develop in a healthy manner. In this light, I am thankful for the precious mentors whom God has placed in my life, and these special people have modelled to me what it means to live a life worth living. For instance I will always remember my dear friend Patrick, whom God brought into my life during my university years. As a mentor, Patrick modelling what it meant to have a strong marriage and family life. Then during the days when Sue and I were dating, we were blessed to have a lovely couple, Ben and Claire, who shared with us many valuable principles about relationships, marriage and parenting. And in recent years, we have had the privilege of a dear couple, Lawrence and Regina, who have mentored us in the area of parenting, finances and life in general.

As I write this blog entry, I am reminded that none of us fathers are perfect. Each of us has our own struggles even as we are faced with the various facets of parenting; not to mention our own internal childhood fears and concerns, which we bring with us into our marriages and into our parenting. Each of us wants to be the best father we can be; yet there are so many times when we look at the way we parent, and we feel so terrible  and inadequate about the way things turned out. We wish we could have done things differently; or we postulate that we would be a better parent if only we did things just like how this other person we know did them.

During my university years I was struggling with the concept of what it means to be a "father" - I had no one to model for me what a father should be, and as such I was very confused about this concept. What I learnt then was that there is only one perfect Father. And God is always there for us no matter how far we turn from Him. 
There is no perfect father; there is no perfect family. But this is what it could look like if God is the Head of the family.
The father turns to his 5-year-old son after a time of discipline.

"Z, do you know why I punished you? You know you were wrong?"

The young boy nods his head.

"Do you know I love you?"

He nods his head again.

"Do you know that I love you; and that's why I need to punish you when you do wrong?"

The child turns to his father, and nods his head yet again; even as the father takes his son into his arms and hugs him dearly.

We love because He first loved us.

2 comments:

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    This discusses how modern parenting can hinder brain development. Enjoy!

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