The beginning of September may mark the first days of spring, but for a large proportion of Australians, it is also the time to celebrate Fathers day! Yet once again, both have come and gone, but they both have left their legacies and their memories. This week I’d like to talk a little bit about Dads, and for me this year it’s been a very personal experience because my dear, beloved Dad died the day before Fathers day, at the ripe old age of 91. Even at that great age it was still “unexpected” and, as for all of us who lose a parent, it’s difficult to believe that he’s no longer here.
We Dads are a strange breed: just by being born a male automatically reduces our life expectancy compared to our female partners, and yet we have a critical part to play when it comes to our roles in the lives of our families. I like to think that one of the most productive seeds that we Dads can plant in the hearts and minds of our children is that vital virtue of respect.
Respect can be taught in several different ways, but it’s what happens in the home that has the greatest impact, and mealtimes are a great place to show how respect works. The family meal has been relegated over the years as the various forms of entertainment and media have encroached into quality family time. TV, computers, iPads, MP3 players, mobile phones have all had a fragmenting effect on the family as more and more parents and children are plugged into their IT devices and not tuning into each other.
Mealtimes are a great way to switch off the airwaves and talk to each other - with respect. Food doesn’t appear out of the blue, and 99% of the time it’s Mum who’s done the hard work to put it all together, so a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ are just as important ingredients at the table as the food itself, and Dads should lead by example.
Teaching our kids how to listen to another human being without interrupting before adding your own comment is also a sign of respect, and it also will allow you to hear the other side of stories that you may not have fully understood. Being silent is good, but so is encouraging others to comment on a topic of conversation and not be frightened of contributing a ‘contrary’ view without being subject to ridicule or harassment by older siblings. Again, Dads have a pivotal role in making mealtimes occasions of creative debate without anyone’s feelings being wounded.
This type of healthy involvement should extend to playing sport which has always been an area where Dads volunteer to coach and manage various junior sporting teams. Again, Dads must lead by example by showing respect to opposing teams, coaches and supporters by welcoming them and interacting with them after the game in the true spirit of sportsmanship. Sadly we hear only of those parents who are the ‘ugly face of sport’ - the ones who abuse umpires and hurl invective at opposing teams - which is a great shame as the vast majority of parents are well behaved and show respect for officials and opposition teams.
Dads can also lead by example in the way they respect their partners in life. Kids can only learn from what they see in the home in the critical first five years of life, and if they see Dads respecting their spouses then it is far more likely that when these children grow up, they too will respect their wives and partners. And it’s not only respect for their partners that’s important, showing respect for themselves is equally as impressive.
Dad’s who drink excessively, are violent, who use foul language, who smoke and who fail to respect their own health are far more likely to have children who grow up with embedded memories of such habits, and which may reveal themselves in the way they act and behave in their adult life. But those Dads who respect themselves and want to be healthy role models for their children will be aware of this, and these Dads won’t smoke, but will have an active lifestyle and be aware that little ears and little eyes are around all the time - even if they’re not in the same room - and these little people will be copying what you are doing.
We hear a lot these days of miners ‘up north’ who ‘fly in, fly out’ but all Dads need to be careful not to be ‘fly in, fly out fathers’ who just come home for food, watch the TV, sleep and then go to work the next morning. What we need are Dads who come home from the paid job, back into the real world where their families live, and where they can have the biggest impact on our world: by passing on values based on mutual respect for each other.