“In family life, be completely present,” is a saying of Lao Tzu from 600 BC. Here we are now, 2600 years later, and we are still struggling to learn this simple but profound piece of advice. This advice is all the more critical for fathers, and even more critical for fathers living in the twenty-first century.
Dr Justin Coulson has written a book on parenting titled: “What your child needs from you — creating a connected family”. His thesis is simple. If you want to create a connected family, you must be committed to connecting yourself. Justin’s New Dads article gives us a good insight into connection.
Phil Costar, the volunteer who was running the annual Dads4Kids camp, rang me in a panic on the Thursday before, in light of the shocking weather forecast, and asked, “Should we cancel the camp?”
Being a bit of a weather buff from my surfing years of trying to predict swell size, I said, “Let me check the BOM website.” I could see from the charts we were going to get some rain on the weekend, but not all weekend, and I thought of that famous saying by the English postie: “Rain, hail or shine, the mail must go through.”
So, I rang Phil back and told him, “Rain, hail or shine, our kids must have fun with their dads”. As dads, if it was a work deadline, we would make it happen.
I have been guilty of this double standard myself. Many years ago, when my daughter was still at school, my wife told me that our daughter was going to sing one of her own songs at the school assembly, only 5 minutes by car from my office.
It was Friday, and I think I was putting together the weekly Dads4Kids newsletter, which at the time I thought was more important than hearing my daughter sing at her School Assembly in her last year of school. (How wrong was that?)
So being a wise man, I appointed my wife to represent me. So in this area, I am definitely a hypocrite, a classic case of the blind leading the blind, although I am sure you are a better father than I am.
If you want the scales of parental blindness removed from your eyes, go to Justin Coulson’s website Happy Families and buy a copy of his book, “What your child needs from you – creating a connected family” — definitely cheaper than buying a seeing-eye dog.
Let me finish with a story from Justin Coulson, which I will title “Being There”.
Kids don’t need fancy treats, holidays and piles of toys. They respond poorly when they are indulged. Instead, they need parents to be there for them, and to love them like crazy; to be emotionally available. That is the foundation of building a relationship with your child. It really is that simple, Trevor’s story illustrates this point.
After saving enough money, Trevor sat down with his children and told them he was taking them on a holiday to America. They would go to Disneyland, and a whole bunch of other places that the children promptly forgot — who can remember anything when you are being told you are going to Disneyland?
The two-week holiday was frenetic. The children and their dad did everything they had planned to do. They arrived home in Australia exhausted. The day before school resumed, Trevor decided to use his last day off work with his children and travelled around his city on one of the free buses that operated.
The bus took a thirty-minute loop around the city, through the CBD, past the beaches, out to the university and back in the city. Given that his budget was obliterated after his overseas holiday, a free bus ride with the kids seemed a perfectly-priced entertainment option.
The following day, as Trevor took his children to the school gate, the family was stopped by a teacher. Knowing how excited the children had been about their overseas holiday, she asked the children how their trip had been. The children excitedly responded that it had been wonderful.
“What was the best part of the holidays?”, the teacher asked.
“My favourite thing was going on the bus with my Dad yesterday. We just sat on the bus and watched everything and talked.” Trevor’s jaw dropped!
In his own words, the day before school had started, Trevor had done nothing. He had given his children a free ride on a bus, and his undivided attention for a little over thirty minutes. But the impact it had on his daughter was dramatic. That single experience had been a better, bigger highlight than a trip to Disneyland just a week earlier.
It may be true that the bus ride was simply the first thing his daughter thought of. After all, it had only happened yesterday.
Disneyland did come up in the conversation and was also appreciated, but on reflection, Trevor recognised that the entire time they spent in the United States, he was rushing and stressed. He was worried about keeping his children safe and close; worried about food, sleep, accommodation and money. Directions and being lost plagued his experience and increased his stress levels. He spent a lot of time with his children, but he wasn’t present. There was too much pressure.
Comparatively, the bus ride was simple, quiet, and he was really there.
Be there for your children, and have fun doing it.
Yours for more connections,
[Photo by August de Richelieu