- - Sunday, June 9, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture challenge of the week: Casting dads as clueless and inept

As Father's Day approaches, I’ve got a special message for all dads: Your children need you.

In the 2003 movie “Daddy Day Care,” Eddie Murphy stars as Charlie Hinton, an out-of-work dad who starts a day care business as a last-ditch attempt to make ends meet. With two longtime friends, Hinton bumbles his way, eventually turning the day care into a wildly successful enterprise where children experience new-found freedom. Despite the happy ending, “Daddy Day Care” captures much about how modern media culture portrays fathers: well-intentioned, but dense, clueless and mostly inept.

I’m pretty sick of the characterization, and want to remind fathers that despite the barrage of negative messages about dads and men in general, the truth is that both sons and daughters crave your wisdom, attention and love. And when you give them freely, you are guaranteed to become a personal hero to those who need you most.

Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician, parenting specialist and best-selling author of some truly excellent books on fatherhood, observes that our culture teaches men “to be afraid of their beliefs, feelings, and intuition when it comes to their kids.” Men learn (too often from their wives) that they should “doubt everything because they are men and, well, there are some things that they should simply be quiet about — especially when it comes to child-rearing.”

Some fathers have believed the lies so completely that they are satisfied with merely not messing things up. Men prove society right by believing in their own ineptitude, furthering the stereotype of the dad whose instincts are all wrong. So many dads hold themselves back, Dr. Meeker observes, doubting their beliefs, dreams and expectations for their children.

Making the problem worse is the growing cultural lie that there’s nothing wrong with Dad’s absence in the parenting role — after all, Mom gives birth and nurses the babies, so clearly she’s got the basics covered. In addition, our culture steps gingerly around the skyrocketing numbers of children being born into single-parent homes. No one wants to criticize hardworking single moms, but that sensitivity has mushroomed into a cultural silence on the critical importance of fathers being present and active in their children’s lives.

How to save your family: Dads, step out in confidence

The truth is that study after study tells us that fathers have an irreplaceable role, and that when they are involved in the lives of their sons and daughters, their children reap huge rewards. They demonstrate greater intellectual curiosity and problem-solving abilities, do better in school, are happier and healthier, and have fewer behavioral problems. One might expect that sons are the primary beneficiaries of thoughtful fathering, but the impact on daughters is also tremendous.

Research reveals that when fathers are active in their daughters’ lives, the girls are more confident, more likely to do better in school, and less likely to get into all kinds of trouble. In short, girls need to experience their fathers’ affirmation, interest and involvement. If you need help in this area, dads, order a copy of Dr. Meeker’s book, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: The 30-Day Challenge.” It is chock full of terrific, practical ways for one to build a successful relationship with his daughter.

Dads, nowhere is it written that a father must be perfect to be a successful parent. Dr. Meeker encourages dads to step out in confidence. “Your kids need you to push away your fears of doing things wrong and move toward — not away — from them.” Trust your instincts. It’s making the connection that matters most, whether by your presence, physical affection, a smile or simply listening. Don’t be afraid to have plain old fun with your children — the deep conversations typically aren’t the beginning of a strong relationship; they are the fruit of a strong relationship built one moment at a time.

Every father will make mistakes, but every son and daughter benefits when dads dare to show active and unconditional love.

If you’ve been too absent or too silent in your children’s lives, pledge to make this Father's Day one you will both look back on and cherish as a day of new beginnings.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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