learning to be a father
In life, there are some lessons one can only learn after experiencing them. Parenthood is a good example. As a father of two grown-up daughters, I have learned precious lessons on what it means to be a father through the years. Like my daughters have gone through different stages of development, I too, have also gone through various phases of fatherhood. There are essentially five stages in my relationship with my children. The lessons learnt through the years have helped me understand fatherhood better and I hope these lessons will be helpful to some of you.
First Stage: Parent-Child Relationship
When my first daughter was born, I assumed the role of a father with much enthusiasm though I did not know much about how to be one and the awesome responsibilities of being a father. When my second daughter was born five years later, I presumed that I was better prepared but I did not realize then that Michelle and Cheryl were very different individuals and I need to relate to them differently.
Though I wanted to do my utmost for my children, I fell short in many ways. Looking back, I have learnt some valuable lessons about the responsibilities of fatherhood. For example, it is important for me to be there for my children, especially when they needed me rather than to spend time with them as and when it is convenient to me. In order to understand and be able to help, guide and counsel our children in their times of need and difficulties we have to be more involved in what they do, and do it together with them. What our children need most from us are our time, support and attention and nothing can substitute that. I have also learnt that we should not discipline our children out of anger and frustrations. Instead, fathers need to encourage our children to communicate with us by affirming and believing in them.
Second Stage: Parent-Young Adult Relationship
Children grow up so quickly and before we realize it, they begin to behave like adults. My children began to assert themselves and express their opinions and insist on their rights when they reached their teens. At this stage, I have to learn to relinquish control over their lives and stop acting like the authoritative father.
Like all parents, I often worry that they would make mistakes, hence, I still want to run their lives and make decisions for them. But it is important that we accept them as adults and believe that our children are capable of making decisions on their own. We need to also let go and even let them make mistakes in order that they can learn from their mistakes. We must respect them and avoid lecturing them as if only ‘fathers know best.’
Third Stage: Adult-Adult Relationship
At this stage, our relationship with our children can only get better when we “let go” of our parental roles and adopt an adult-adult relationship with our children who have reached adulthood.
My daughter Michelle is married, and is now a parent herself. Cheryl has just finished her studies and will be facing the challenges of working life soon.
At this stage, it is important that I stop playing the parent who knows everything so that I can appreciate my children for who they really are; their strengths and weaknesses, their quirkiness and habits, their hopes and dreams, their achievements and failures. To enable them to stand on their own as adults, I have to guard against coming across as indispensable, that without my help and support they would not be able to succeed in life.
Fourth Stage: Adult-‘Parent’ Relationship
Recently, I’ve observed that my children have begun worrying about me more than before. They seemed to take on the ‘parent’ role and are concerned about my health, my safety, especially when I have to travel to Africa.
In this fourth stage as a father, I must be humble enough to allow my children to show their love for me in their own ways. I also need to appreciate their “nagging” as words of love rather than to see it as criticism of my shortcomings. I have also learned to be more tolerant when they disagree with me and not to see their differences in views as disrespectful.
Fifth Stage: ‘Child-Parent’ Relationship
My relationship with my children would have come full circle when this 5th stage is reached. They may adopt the ‘parent’ role when signs of my aging make them take a more proactive and protective role in providing for my needs.
When the time comes for me to take a back seat, it will be their turn to make decisions for me or advise me on what I should do and shouldn’t do. I believe it will be out of love and care for my well being that my children have to make decisions on my behalf. I need to appreciate also that when my children nag me to exercise regularly, to eat well and be careful about everything that I do, it is so that I can enjoy my retirement years healthily .
Throughout the last thirty years, I have tried to be as good a father as I can be to my daughters. The joys of parenthood are not without its challenges, struggles and heartaches. It would have been much harder if not for my wife who is an exemplary mother. Together, we strive in obedience to be the parents that God have wanted us to be.
I am a father, but above all, I am a Christian father. All Christian parents have a responsibility to bring up their children in the faith and God has given fathers very specific roles. Christian fathers are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, modeling the love of God in their relationship with their wives. Second, fathers are to care for their children as our Father in heaven cares for us. Third, fathers are to play a primary role in teaching their children the truth about God, about life and about the world. It is the father who should instruct his children to understand the world from a Christian worldview. It is the father who should send forth his children into the world with a biblical view of reality and faith in Jesus Christ. May God give us the wisdom and grace to be godly fathers and to raise up godly children. n
Author: Mr Francis Tan (Francis and his family worship at the 9 am Sunday Service.)
First published in The Courier, September 2012.
Photo taken in 2012 (from left): Francis with wife, Dinah, daughters, Cheryl and Michelle, granddaughter, Sofia and son-in-law, Ivan.