It’s easy to father; it’s far more complex to learn the fathering.
Look around in the animal kingdom and you find that fathering is pretty much a biological moment.
Looking at fellow humans, the situation’s still pretty much stacked against a long-term, responsible and, most importantly, caring fatherhood. You have the hit-and-run guys and, sometimes, I think they’re not any better than the ones who do hang around but end up being still another “baby,” ever dependent, financially and emotionally, on the mother.
For the ethnic Chinese, including myself, we may have been raised by men who lived up to being a good father, if we use being a breadwinner as the sole standard. But we may not fare as well if we define fathering to include spending quality time with children, and being a model for emotional intelligence.
The Japanese have the same problem; their government even had to launch an information and education campaign urging their men, who are workaholics and good breadwinners, to help care for their children.
We Filipinos will probably scoff and say, oh, but we do help out with the kids.
But as an educator, I’ve seen too many cases of disappearing, abusive, uncaring fathers adversely affecting their students’ studies. I even have to deal with faculty members who still have “father issues,” and who unconsciously duplicate their fathers’ problematic parenting styles with students.
It’s time to say: Ang tunay na lalake, nag-aalaga ng bata. Real men take care of their children.
We protest bullying, fraternities and their violence, and toxic masculinity in general. But one major reason we have all these problems is that our culture still largely promotes masculinity as something to achieve outside the home: being the boss, being the ones with the most social and political connections and, simply, being always outside of the house, pursuing fame — or notoriety, by sowing wild oats, for example. Just think of how men continue to boast about having several children, all of them panganay (the eldest), with a smile suggesting they were able to escape responsibilities.
I thought about all this last Saturday at a father-child scouting function in Xavier School. This was my second time around, having done this for an elder daughter two years ago. The activity’s been evolving, and this most recent one was excellent. Packed into half a day, we had to rehearse for cheering, preparing merienda (the kids for their fathers, and not the other way around, which would probably have been disastrous), first aid (tying bandages), a mercifully simplified session on knot-tying, wellness (choosing from 10 quick fitness routines), kite-making (the kids did the flying) and minefield (guiding each other, one blindfolded, around an area with water-filled balloons on the ground).
It was a good mix of activities for mind, body and heart, emphasizing teamwork. Even if conducted only once a year — and I’m glad to hear more schools are doing this — such activities can go a long way toward teaching people how to become a father.
That includes fathers getting together to share views and experiences.
While the kids were preparing our merienda, a group of fathers including myself sat at a table and one of them quipped: “If the mothers were here, they’d all be with the kids directing them with the merienda: Do this; no, not that way.” Another added — and they’d be calling or texting us fathers, checking how we’re doing.
Moms certainly can learn from dads about the need to give kids a bit more freedom, but dads would do well as well to allow ourselves to show that we do worry, too — maybe more intensely than moms do, except we don’t show it. And that’s how many of us end up getting heart attacks from all the repressed anxieties.
I did play the anthropologist role, watching dads and feeling proud and hopeful for the future of fatherhood in our often fatherless nation.
One important observation for fellow dads: We need to be more conscious about the differences in the ways we interact with sons and daughters. I could see the differences that day: Dads tended to be more nurturing, more gentle with their daughters, while dads with sons tended to use more stern voices, almost barking out orders. I’m often guilty of that myself.
The day ended with a mindfulness session in the chapel, with fathers and children writing down what they appreciated about each other, and making promises for the future.
I was touched reading what my daughter had written for her promises, especially the last one: “I promise to take care of you when you’re old.”
I hugged her tightly, whispering: “Thanks, love, for that promise… and for thinking I’m not old yet.”
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