Dad’s the word
Three-quarters of men think society values a child’s relationship with the mother over that with the father. We talk to three dads and a single mum to find the facts on fatherhood…
The changing face of the modern-day family has not only turned the idea of a core nuclear family on its head, but the role each parent plays, too. With women now sporting more financial autonomy than ever before, the stereotype of ‘father as breadwinner’ has been pulled apart. As the child psychologist, Laverne Antrobus explains: ‘In some ways, parenting has been merged. Dads have been invited to be like mums rather than to be like dads – the idea of everything being about nurture.’
From hands-on dads to absent fathers and single mums, we speak to four individuals about how fatherhood is defined within their family dynamic, and ultimately what parenthood means to them.
The hands-on dad
Alex Maric, 42, from Hertfordshire, works part-time hours so that he doesn’t miss out on anything with one-year-old son, Max, and four-year-old daughter, Saskia.
‘I chose to work part-time to ensure I could be actively involved in family life, from infancy through each step of childhood. For me, a male figure is important in a child’s life because the parent-infant relationship is the first time a child will connect with someone.
‘The bond between the child and each parent will differ, as women and men are contrasting role models. This balance is important. As it stands, my daughter Saskia has connected with my wife, Georgina, while Max and I already have a special male bond, despite his young age.
‘For me, being a father is about love, guidance and interaction, no matter what happens. The appearance of Max and Saskia, these little people in my life, has meant my focus is now centralised on the home. Going to the pub on a Friday and Saturday night isn’t important any more, as I’d much rather spend my time focusing on my family, and getting my friends involved with this.
‘Helping out at Saskia’s school as a classroom assistant when required allows me to interact in her learning environment, keeping me involved in her education and friendship groups. As I only work in the afternoons, my normal morning routine is spent making sure Saskia is ready for school and then playing with Max. When I had to cover a work colleague’s morning shift one time and missed Saskia’s Easter assembly, I was absolutely gutted and luckily this has only happened once. I always want to be there to hug and support my kids whenever they need me.’
Alex’s tips: Don’t panic! Go with the flow, sleep when they do and take good care of yourself, too.
The half-and-half dad
Conrad Holding, 41, from Essex, shares parental responsibility of 12-year-old son Cameron with his ex-wife, on a week-on, week-off basis.
‘Joint custody was an ideal situation when I got divorced after my six-year marriage, as I felt my son needed both myself and his mother in his life. Whereas many couples stay together for the sake of the child, for me, all that was important was that Cameron knew his mum and dad loved him very much. Alternating weeks works well, as Cameron knows the routine. Until the age of four, when he started nursery, his mother and I alternated days which was terrible logistically and, more importantly, not stable for Cameron. A change in schedule or organising holidays is not too much of a problem as long as it’s all discussed in good time, and not sprung on Cameron. The most important thing for me is I remain an integral part of his life, whether it’s his health, schooling or general happiness.
‘The weeks I’m not with Cameron I miss him terribly, but I make sure we enjoy the time we spend together and make a big fuss of him when he lives with me. Being a father means everything to me and I do feel a father figure should always be there in a child’s life. Almost every child grows up seeing their peers with a mother and father, so a child may be left feeling lost or confused about the loss of a father figure in their own life.
‘Being a dad gives me a sense of pride and love. Divorce has perhaps made me more protective of Cameron, and I do have a tendency to smother him, but it’s in my nature to be like that. As long as Cameron has the support and love he needs, that’s all that matters.’
Conrad’s tips: Be patient. Being a dad can be fraught with stress, but love and support means it’ll all be worth it in the end.
The absent father
Stuart Bowley, 46, from Nottingham, sees his sons, 12-year-old Oliver and 14-year-old George, on a sporadic basis due to his career.
‘My work means I travel abroad a lot. As this can be in fits and starts, my time at home is never constant. My boys have grown used to me being away and have their own circle of friends and activities that means they don’t miss me too much – I think. From my own point of view, while I do think about the boys a lot, I tend not to dwell on my feelings for them, as I am very confident my wife Sam will take fantastic care of them.
‘I always make sure I stay a key part in my sons’ lives by creating some sort of activity for us to do together on a regular basis. Fortunately for me, when I’m at home I never have to work weekends, and we have an unwritten rule that on Sundays we don’t allow anyone to be on their computers or video games. My own father had to work weekends in order to support the family, and I can’t recall him being there at my local football matches. While I don’t resent this, I make sure I’m there to support my two boys in whatever they wish to do.
‘I definitely think a male figure is important in a child’s life to give a balanced view of the world in general. Speaking from my own experience, mothers tend to take care of the day-to-day parenting tasks and this can lead to them being taken for granted by the kids. Having a father figure, or someone who is not necessarily involved on a daily basis, sometimes enables things to be put into perspective.’
Stuart’s tips: Get involved! Feeding, changing, reading at bedtime… it’s all part of being a father.
The single mum
Jo Money, 54, from Cheshire, raised 15-year-old daughter Kaya alone after separating from her father early on in Kaya’s childhood.
‘I separated from Kaya’s father when she was three, and have worked hard to make sure Kaya understood the situation from a young age. It was important for me that she acknowledged her father, so the choice of building a father-daughter relationship was then up to her. His relocation to Ireland has meant that contact has been difficult, however, and for Kaya’s life so far it has been predominantly just the two of us.
‘For me, raising a child is not necessarily about having a father figure present. It is about having good role models in general. I developed my own support network of friends to give Kaya a happy and supportive atmosphere in which to grow and develop, making it hard to know whether the absence of a father has affected her or not. I also think the benefit of having a father around depends on what kind of role model that man is. Since Kaya was born I have centred my working life around her life. I have always been self-employed or worked part-time so the hours would suit both of us. The absence of a full-time income has obviously had a financial impact, however, being there for Kaya was more important than money or the career aspect of my own life.
‘Speaking to other single parents, they also feel their parent-child relationship is more intense than children with two parents. Kaya and I are so close because we depend on each other. It’s important for me that she can trust me as a friend and for me to not just act as a parental figure in her life.’
Jo’s tips: Help and understand your children, and try not to nag!
Five ways to be a great dad
- Be a role model. The saying ‘Like father, like son’ exists for a reason. Whether you realise it or not, your children look to you as a guiding figure all the time.
- Get book smart. Reading helps build up a child’s vocabulary, stimulates imagination and improves communication skills. Babies whose parents spoke to them a lot (an average of 2,100 words an hour) scored higher on standard tests when they reached age three than children whose parents hadn’t been as verbal, according to Babycenter.com.
- Let them play. ‘When done well, taking part in rough play teaches children about boundaries, how to be sensitive to others and when to pull back and regain self-control,’ notes child expert Jane Barry.
- Keep calm and carry on. If your child is testing your patience and playing up, the best thing to do is count to 10 before reacting to their actions. Losing your temper is never worth it.
- Day-to-day daddy. Being a parent means getting involved in every aspect of your child’s life, morning routines, chores, helping with homework, the lot. Don’t let work commitments act as an excuse.
This article was first published in at home’s ’Parenting with Jo Frost’ July 2011. [Read the digital edition here]