I never quite understood Father’s Day.
I know it’s supposed to be a day to celebrate fathers and their role in the family; how a father works hard and unceasingly to bring back the bacon; how he bears with the stress and challenges at work; and how in spite of his tiredness each day, he is still able to spend time with his kids.
I never understood Father’s Day because I grew up without a father in the home.
While other kids would long for their fathers to come home each day to play with them, I remember that as a child my only wish was for my dad to return to my family and never leave again.
But of course, this was an impossible wish, given my parents’ separation and eventual divorce during my childhood years. As a counsellor, I know this is a wish shared by many of my clients – all they want is for a complete and secure family once again. And what most people don’t realise is that when they grow up and become parents themselves, how they were parented will affect how they parent their own children.
What most people don’t realise is that when they grow up and become parents themselves, how they were parented will affect how they parent their own children.
I grew up with many insecurities. The root of these was my parents’ divorce and the absence of my father throughout most of my life. Growing up, I didn’t have a male role model – someone to show me how to do all the “daddy things” in life, such as repairing household items, attending soccer matches, and talking about cars and planes.
I remember being envious of a good friend whose father used to take him to breakfast regularly and talk to him about ordinary day-to-day things. This was the same dad who not only showered lots of love during the happy moments, but was also there for him during difficult times – like when my friend got into an undesirable dating relationship. His father told him that while he did not approve of the relationship, it was ultimately his choice and that he would love him no matter what he chose. The father’s wisdom eventually came through, and my friend chose to end the relationship.
I remember reading a book by Ken Canfield, The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers. Canfield shared the analogy of a geometrical compass used for drawing circles. The fixed leg of the compass is like a father. He is the reference point that keeps his child (depicted as the pencil drawing the circle) anchored and steady. As long as the compass leg remains fixed, the pencil will be able to draw a 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 arcs.
The fixed leg of the compass is like a father. He is the reference point that keeps his child (depicted as the pencil drawing the circle) anchored and steady.
Through my parenting journey, I have learnt three important lessons on how to overcome my own insecurities and be there for my children in spite of not having had a father to teach me these things personally.
Consistency in love
What I’ve learnt from my friend’s father is that we need to be consistent in demonstrating our love to our kids. This does not mean giving them expensive gifts or going out of our way to “win their love”. It simply means consistently loving our children in their preferred love language.
To this end, I take time out from my busyness to love my children in a way that they understand. For my older son it is by regularly spending quality time when I play board games with him; and for my younger son it is by snuggling with him on the bed, and by bestowing him with lots of hugs and massages.
Consistency in relationship
The principle of the compass is a principle of consistency in relationship. Fathers have to be the fixed leg of the compass, not swaying according to the winds, but relating to their children in a fairly predictable way.
For young children grappling with issues of identity and self-esteem, a father’s consistency in relating to his child sends a strong and affirming message of their self-worth. Children who grow up with an unstable paternal relationship are likely to experience greater insecurities. So we need to continually build and maintain a strong relationship with our children. Our presence will help them weather the storms of life.
So we need to continually build and maintain a strong relationship with our children. Our presence will help them weather the storms of life.
Consistency in values
Children need to learn what is right and what is wrong, and they need to learn these important values from their parents. As fathers, we have to be the point of reference for our kids.
If we are consistent in our values through our words and actions, they will be like guiding lamps for our children. As they grow, explore, and make mistakes, they are likely to find their way back again. My friend learnt this from his father. He told me that he is so glad his father has always served as the moral compass in his household; if not for his father, he cannot imagine how his life would have turned out.
It is hard to be a dad these days, especially when we ourselves grapple with so many insecurities. The natural thing for most insecure fathers would be to distance themselves from their children, in the hope that they never reveal how insecure they are. Unfortunately, this behaviour results in their children becoming unsure of themselves and perpetuates the cycle of insecurity.
Conversely, if we work hard to break the cycle of doubt, and to build that essential connection with our young, our kids will develop a deep sense of who they are, and have greater courage to become the people they are meant to be.
Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy company which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, counselling, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and 7.
Dear Dad, would you like to be more patient with your kids? Or wish they would trust you more? Figuring out how you can win their hearts?
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