Why Paternity

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Today I was confronted with the message that apparently fathers can be parents too.

At first it looked promising: A headline with the word “Celebrating Fathers” and a picture of a couple – father and mother – bonding with their child.

But then I took a closer look.

Under the picture of the family the copy reads: “Did you know that both dad and mum can share an intimate bond with their baby from birth?” 

Since this is an ad for “DADs for life” I am guessing that what they are trying to say is: “Did you know that also the father – not just the mother – can share an intimate bond with a child?”

And sure, I understand the good intentions with this campaign and their ambition to get fathers to be more involved with their children.

But at the same time the message makes me so sad.

Like it would be some huge revelation that fathers can have a connection with their children. That children have a connection to their fathers.

I feel that this attitude of trying to convince men be more present in the parenting of their children by revealing this “big secret” that “oh, surprise (!), we just found out that fathers matter too!” is counter productive.

True, a lot of men are not giving fatherhood the time, energy or prioritisation that it deserves. But I highly doubt that a campaign talking to fathers as if they were children is going to change that.

Just the other day I got a personal experience of this “treat fathers as children” attitude when me and my wife took two of our children to the dentist for the very firs time.

The dentist, a very lovely and competent woman, looked at the four of us and said to the children: “So how does mummy brush your teeth?”

A innocent question at first. But it shows that this expert dentist assumed that it was the mother who helped the children brush their teeth.

Well in our family the father (i.e. me) brushes the teeth of the children just as often as the mother.

What would have happened if the dentist had the habit of asking: “How does your mummy and daddy brush your teeth?”

Would it send the message to the parents, and the children, that both parents were expected to care about the teeth of their children?

The point is not that mothers tend to brush the teeth of the children more than fathers (that might very well be the case). The point is that if we want fathers to take a bigger responsibility in parenthood (and I think we should) – then we should not treat fathers as lesser parents – but instead encourage them to step up by treating them as equal parents.

By treating them as equal parents. Not like lesser parents who are spoken down to.

So instead of a campaign that says “Did you know fathers could share an intimate bond with their baby from birth?” – make a campaign that says: “Celebrating all parents (mothers and fathers) who take the time to create an intimate bond with their baby from birth.”

 

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Here are some depressing statistics when it comes to fatherhood:

  • 46% of fathers think they spend too little time with their children.
  • Fathers spend an average of 50% less time with their children than the mother.(7 hours per week for the fathers – that is one hour per day… – compared to 14 hours per week for the mothers.)
  • Just 64% of fathers give themselves a rating as doing an excellent or very good job as a parent (for mothers that number is 73%.)

The numbers are taken from a study by Pew Research Center studying the attitudes of American parents.

As you might expect the study also shows that there is a correlation between how high of a grade the fathers give themselves as parents and how many hours they spend with their children. (The parents who think they spend the right amount of time with their children also rate themselves as being good parents.)

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Now here is the good news: The study found that fathers have nearly tripled their time with children since 1965.

And here is the bad news: that just means an increase of 4.5 hours per week over the last 50 years: from 2,5 hours per week (yes, I had to re-read that number a few times to see if I got that right..) to today 7 hours.

But, you might now say, fathers work more and can not be expected to both work hard and parent hard.

Well the study also showed that fathers spent 3 hours more per week than mothers on “leisure activities”, defines as “watching TV, playing games, socializing and exercising”(28 hours vs 25 hours).

Now here is a thought exercise for you:

If the fathers decided to reduce their “leisure activities” by 3 hours per week and trade the “watching, socializing and exercising”  for an additional three hours of “parenting” per week they would essentially increase their “time spent with their children” by almost 50%”.

And maybe, just maybe, that would push the fathers into feeling that they are now spending enough time with their children.

When the 46% of fathers are saying that they spend “too little time with their children” they are basically saying “I have prioritised my leisure activities over my father activities.”

“Leisure” literally means “free time”.

Perhaps the unhappy fathers should reduce the “free time” just a little and exchange it with some “be time” – as in “be a better father’.

Just saying.

Oh, and spending time with your child can be some of the most “free and leisure times” of your life. Like, in the picture above, hanging out on the beach with your daughter.

 

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There seems to be two fundamental meanings to the word (both when you look in the dictionary and when you do a search on Google.)
1) The first is that “fathering” means “bring into being, bring into the world, give life to”.

In essence it boils down to a man donating his sperm to help create a new life.

2) The second meaning of the world “fathering” is “to be the father of…” as in “treat with the protective care associated with a father.”.

In essence to be an active, and caring parent.

It is the same with the word “Paternity”.

The definition of the word “paternity” is: “(especially in legal contexts) the state of being someone’s father.”.

Now that can mean two totally different things.

1) Your genes where used to create a new human so you are the child’s father.

Google the term “paternity” and ads for paternity testing comes up…

(Again, the idea of donating a sperm.)

or

2) The idea of taking full responsibility as one of two parents in regards to fostering a child.

The idea of being a dad.

As a father you have to make up your mind about what the word “fathering” means to you.
Do you want to give life to a child, or do you want to give a life to a child?

That one letter “a” makes a huge difference in how you look at the concept of fathering a child.
The first view is that a father helps create a child, the other view is that a father is present to raise a child.
But to be present you need to be there.
It’s a decision – and a commitment – that you, as a father, have to make: to physically and mentally be there as much as you can and as much as the child needs it while your child is growing up.

Are you?

To help bring a child to this world is the easy part.
To help raise it is the rewarding part.

Be more than a sperm. Be a dad.

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Imagine a child who gets the one gift that he has always wished for – and then forgets to play with it only to find out that his parents gave it away since he did not play with it.

Picture the couple who never used the “fine China” because they saved it for a “Special Occasion” that never came.

Think of all the people who never approached that girl/boy because they were waiting for the perfect timing – only to see that very same person get involved with someone else because they never knew.

Sad?

Yes.

Sad, because they all had it there all along but let it slip between their fingers.

Now ask yourself this: What is the biggest gift in life? The biggest gift a human being can receive?

It is arguably the gift of becoming a parent.

No love is greater.

No gift last longer or is more rewarding.

No gift gives so much back.

And yet:

So very often do you hear parents say: “What happened to my little child?”, “How did she grow up so quickly?!”, “Why did I not spend more time with kids when I had the chance?”

The answer is simple: They prioritised something else.

They decided that doing something else was more important than spending time with their children.

Probably not because they thought this other things was more valuable – but because they thought they would have plenty of time to play with their kids later.

The sad truth is that we don’t.

Before you know it the kids will be out of the house, living their own lives, and you will be sitting in that very same (now quiet) house asking yourself “What just happened?”

They say time flies.

Well, so does parenthood.

Take full advantage of every day, minute and second of parenting that you can get your hands on and you will leave this life feeling that you lived a life worth living.

Take the approach of thinking you will take the time off “later” and there will always be that risk that you don’t.

That would be sad.

So go for the alternative to sad: Be a dad. Now.