Written by Jason Williams
I’ve been a dad for about six years now. In that time, I’ve been peed on, pooped on, puked on, drooled on, cried on, spit on, sneezed on, and even bled on (nobody told me the cord would squirt when I cut it). I’ve been slapped, kicked, sat on, jumped on, bitten, tackled, poked in the eye, and pinched, and I’ve had hair pulled out of my legs, arms, head, armpit, and face. I’ve endured sleepless nights, screaming fits, vengeful rampages, and contagious diseases. And do you know what? I don’t regret a moment of it (with the possible exception of one especially vicious stomach bug) because each of those experiences means that I was there with and for my kids.
Not long after I became a father, I learned something interesting. As recently as the previous generation (my dad and his ilk), dads took a general “hands off” approach to child care, leaving the less enjoyable duties to the mother. Fathers were fine with some play time, and maybe the occasional wet diaper or feeding, but when it came to dirties, baths, and just about everything else, Mommy was the go-to gal. I have a friend who told me his dad never changed a single one of his diapers. I’m sure some of that buck-passing still goes on today, but I like to think it’s less prevalent.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not accusing yesterday’s fathers of not caring as much about their children as the fathers of today. Rather, I think it’s a difference in priority. Take my dad, for example; determined to give me a better, more comfortable life than he had growing up, he worked hard to create a successful business that allowed him to provide me with a nice house, a car (two, actually, but I totaled the first one), and even a college education—things he didn’t have when he was young. The tradeoff, though, was that we didn’t get much time together. Sure, we did the little league thing, we went fishing a few times, and there was the occasional project I now consider to have been informative (though at the time seemed more like forced labor), but on typical days and weekends he was working or otherwise involved.
Now that I have my own family, I better understand and appreciate his sacrifices, and I’ve come to realize that my dad’s involvement in my life was more significant than I thought it was. But by the same token I’m trying hard not to repeat his mistakes. After working all day, I don’t always feel like wrestling on the floor, coloring, or helping my kids destroy and then clean up their rooms (especially that second part), but more often than not I do, and I’m always glad I did.
Study after study has shown that there are innumerable positive benefits for kids who have actively involved dads, directly and indirectly. The direct impacts are greater cognitive ability, emotional security, social connectivity, and health. Specifically, involved fathers have sons with better behavior and daughters with higher self-esteem.
The indirect impact, which is possibly the most important, is through the relationship with the mother. I’ve found this to be true personally, having won my wife’s undying adoration for volunteering as her overnight “hush” assistant and on-call one-man hazmat clean-up crew. I do these things because I know that anything I can do to reduce her stress level will help her be the great mother she is. Aside from helping their mother feel supported, children also benefit from watching their parents interact in healthy ways. Research has shown that fathers who model good behavior with mothers have sons who know how to respect women and daughters who know how they deserve to be treated. Children also benefit greatly from the security they feel when their parents are in a committed, loving relationship, especially marriage.
As parents, it is our responsibility to provide for the material needs of our children. However, it is just as important for a father to provide his children with emotional stability and security, and the best way to do that is to take time with them even when it isn’t convenient. So don’t bemoan the bags under your eyes, the stains on what used to be your favorite shirt, or even the bare patches on your legs; they are battle scars any dad can be proud of.