This article originally appeared 8/19/2013
I’m convinced that a father’s influence expands as his children age. From birth, through the toddler years, well into elementary school the urgency and significance of motherhood cannot be over stated. The attention and devotion of a mother fills the space in a child’s soul as no father’s love could remotely satisfy.
Fatherhood was never crafted to be a nurturing enterprise. There’s jaggedness to masculinity that ill equips men to attend a child’s heart the way women can. This is a fact that must be recognized and as hard as progressive dads try otherwise, its truth can’t be ignored. Providence elected motherhood as the catalyst in the emotional and psychological evolution of a healthy, confident, and well-adjusted child.
I spend abundant time with my children, just the three of us; colossally more than the average American father. Being a divorced parent mandates an attentiveness few married parents realize. Single parents are sensitive the aftermath of divorce, we’re keen to any random side effect of co-parenting, and we are often more compliant to our child’s needs, if for no other reason than the lack of spousal interference. This unfettered access allows single parents to pick up on subtleties in our children that nuclear parents often miss.
My kids and I began our new life in early 2005, when my son was nine months old, my daughter two. During those early years there was a noticeable and perplexing element missing from our relationship – a faint note out of harmony. Our bond was less intimate than that shared with their mother. After our weekends, they were far more anxious to get back to her; by Sunday evening their behavior signaled an itch to be in the presence of their mother. This gap often made me feel less like a father and more like the fun uncle.
Looking back, I now understand what the ‘X’ factor had been. I wasn’t mentally or emotionally equipped to provide the same nurturing their mother possessed. I was able to supply all their material needs and I showed them a fatherly affection but this was inadequate. I wasn’t created to provide the same manner of sustenance, my responsiveness was sluggish, my tolerance limited, and intuition overly vague. They bore a thirst that could only be quenched with the nurturing waters of their mother. As much as this pains me to admit, the initial visitation prejudice in her favor was likely more beneficial to their early development.
But as my children have grown, my daughter now in middle school and my son in the fourth grade, I’ve noticed a marked shift in this compulsion. The wellspring of motherhood, the nurturing they so fiercely longed for as small children is becoming less appealing. Mothering, so vital to the success of a child’s early growth and formation of their self worth, becomes looked on as an annoyance and even embarrassment. The babying and coddling, once so desperately sought after when the child was young reverberates during the teenage years as disrespect, resentment, and rebellion. I’ve witnessed the stark contrast in how the average teenager talks to his mother and how he speaks to his father. This is natural. I still remember my own childhood, and as a twelve-year-old boy I’d have chosen a face full of acne over my mom’s indulgences. I noticed a similar about-face in my sister, a tearing away from the doting and coddling of the past – at flat rejection at being treated as a child.
It’s through this understanding that I’ve come to believe a father’s parenting sweet spot, the time in his child’s life where he will exact the most profound influence – good or bad – begins when his child rouses from their Barney and Wiggles stupor and wakes to a world of YouTube, smart phones, and same-sex marriage. At the age where seedlings of worldview are scattered and whose cultivation will not come by way of boo-boo kisses or crust-free bread, but in the crucible of a father’s love made up of faithful stubbornness, gentle tenacity, compassionate sternness, and a tolerant expectancy, all of which help forge an adult of resilient character and gracious spirit.
This shouldn’t imply that motherhood lacks the qualifications for such parenting; too often mothers are forced into the role, regardless of marital status. But while a man isn’t equipped to supply the intangible needs of a newborn the way a woman can, he is however more skilled at furnishing the same in a teenager. That masculine jaggedness so incompatible for the toddler is pertinent to the twelve-year-old girl. Only by way of honing are we made ready to cut through the coarseness of this life.
If the vast majority of people were to reflect on their own worldview; how they interpret happenings around them, what they respect or disregard in others, their feelings on fairness and honesty, I’ll wager their father was the greater influence in the formation of those beliefs. And it shouldn’t be surprising that while ‘mother wounds’ have exacted countless consequences, an entire industry has risen from the ashes of countless fathers’ failed attempts – through misunderstanding or ignorance – to properly exercise the power they yield over their children.
Fathers must embrace that the older our children become the more they will require from us to point them down the right path of life, to lay out a course that will direct them around the craggy reefs of adulthood. The heartfelt rawness of fatherhood, that severity and harshness of manhood, is fundamental to the emotional and psychological evolution of a healthy, confident, and well-adjusted adult.
The needs of our children evolve through time and circumstance, and it was never the Divine’s intent for one parent to meet them all. Instead it was the Creator’s plan that both guide the child – each according to their own gifts.