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Pointers for fathers

Despite their busy schedules, fathers can show their children that they care, that they are not far behind mothers when it comes to raising their children. How can they bring these traits to the fore?

Gulf News

Despite their busy schedules, fathers can show their children that they care, that they are not far behind mothers when it comes to raising their children. How can they bring these traits to the fore?

This may sound strange, but I truly became a Dad only after we got divorced," says Salman Bakr, father of two boys. "When we were married, I did not even know which class my sons studied in, or who their friends and teachers were! But now I am much more involved in their lives."

Salman is absolutely right, and his comment highlights rather sadly how sometimes the art of fathering is revived only after a marriage breaks up. But, it also highlights what most mothers have always known: the best way to get a husband to become a better father is to leave him alone with the children for a week!

In his widely acclaimed book, Speaking of Boys (Ballantine Publishing, 2000), author Michael Thompson points out: "There are two main reasons why fathers fall out of touch with their children. First, they think their wives are the experts in child-rearing and they feel they should not interfere. Second, the emotional complexity of raising children conflicts with their image of themselves as men (or what they learned from their own fathers about being a father)."

Thompson goes on to give some special tips to fathers on doing the one job that is really important - raising boys.

Making time between travel, work and Fridays

By the time a dad's day is done, the boys are usually in bed, and it is difficult to squeeze in time. "I am not making excuses, I really work very long hours and would love to spend more time with my 12-year-old if you could tell me how," writes Paul Jameson from Abu Dhabi.

Dropping your son off to school is a great way to know what's going on in his life. Volunteer to coach a game once a week. Send him e-mails from work; share some jokes (not just reminders "have you done your homework?"); identify a documentary or website he could use in his history project. Boys like to be tucked into bed as much as girls do.

If your son is too old to be read to, just sit by his bed, rub his back, and talk about how your day went. Let him know that you miss being with him but that he has been in your thoughts.

Why can't Dads be more like grandfathers?

Boys seem to enjoy a more comfortable and easy-going relationship with their grandfathers than with their own fathers. "The secret lies in the fact that the grandfather does not have frontline responsibilities for the sons," writes Michael Thompson. Grandfathers don't have to worry about school books, report cards and clean uniforms.

Why can't Dads be more like Mums?

Fathers, especially the young inexperienced ones, worry a lot about whether their sons are going to be productive and disciplined. The father of a ten-year-old lectures him constantly - "You will never get into a good college if you don't buck up" - because he worries about his son's future.

Fathers want their sons to do better in life and not have to struggle like they did. When boys feel they are not going to be successful in their father's eyes, they often start to resent their fathers or avoid being around them. Most fathers also lack the patience that mothers have developed over years of baby-sitting.

So, when they see their sons dawdling or acting disobedient, they start to worry: "My son cannot even find his boots. How is going to get into a good college?" And the son is thinking, "I can't find my boots and Dad's going to get mad at me, and it's not fair because he didn't put my boots out for me the way Mum does."

The result is a tense relationship which can ease off only when the father develops greater self-confidence in his own fathering skills and makes a greater effort to develop a relationship with his son that is based on trust and encouragement, not fear and criticism.

In a nutshell

* Make the time to be Dad. You may have to fight to be a real father but it's worth it.
* Be active with your children: talk, play, make things, go on trips together.
* Sometimes ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is actually DDD (Dad Deficit Disorder).
* Share the discipline with your wife. Often your son will respond better to you not out of fear but from respect and wanting to please you.
* A boy will copy you. He will copy your way of acting towards his mother. He will take on your
attitudes and values. And he will only be able to show your emotions if you can show yours.
- Adapted from Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph, 1997, Celestial Arts

Dr. Onita Nakra has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota, U.S.A. Her specialisation is in assessment, diagnosis and intervention methods for children with special needs.

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