Confession: Parenting doesn’t come easily to me. When my first son turned six months old the realisation dawned that I’d managed to keep him alive. I hadn’t starved him, suffocated him or let him die from dread disease. Remarkable.
To set the record straight, even though being a mother doesn’t come easily, it’s extremely important to me. Raising well-balanced, confident children is something I yearn for and if I can’t do it instinctively, I have to do it consciously. And that takes work. And love. And men.
Boys need men
My two sons each have a father, lucky things. And I couldn’t be more grateful. Fathers are our children’s first heroes. Right up there with Batman (or Batting Man as he was called in our house) and Clint Eastwood (we love retro-cowboy), fathers are the most important and influential men in a young boy’s life.
This is why throughout their growing up they’ll ask their dads a hundred questions in a hundred different ways that point to the same three things: Do I have what it takes? Am I enough? How do I be a man?
The way these deeply held questions manifest are deceptively simple: “Do you like my drawing, dad?” or later “Watch me do a back-summie into the rock pool!” or later still “Meet Tina…” or Ashleigh or Jessica or Ben or a number of other romantic hopefuls.
How my son sees himself for the rest of his life will depend on what his father says. And if the response doesn’t meet his needs, my child will look to fill his emotional hole somewhere else.
It’s not a walk in the park
This can be a heavy burden if you think about it too much. And perhaps an easier way is to just be the person you want your child to be. Even if sometimes you get it wrong.
Here’s what I mean.
One of the ways I feel most appreciated by my husband is at the dinner table. Each evening he expresses genuine gratitude and delight for the meal I’ve prepared. My sons soon followed his lead, albeit with an unintended result.
While bathing one night, my eldest son enthusiastically shoved a wooden tugboat against his brother’s face, shouting ‘boat-eye, boat-eye’ (a misinterpretation of bow-tie). His efforts were rewarded with loud screams and dripping blood, which brought my husband running. After sorting it out and suggesting an apology was in order, my husband asked my eldest son what was the appropriate thing to say. To this, all crestfallen and shivering he replied “Thank you mom for the lovely supper.”
Fathers teach what mothers can’t
Recently I learned that boys need three things: a battle to fight, an adventure to have and a beauty to rescue.
Translated this means:
- Don’t tell him to put on a jersey because you’re cold.
- Let him friggin’ jump from the highest friggin’ branch of that friggin’ tree.
- Appreciate the creatures he’s rescued from the garden and chosen to keep safe in your now empty, faux-velvet-lined jewellery box.
Fathers instinctively know this stuff and as mothers it’s our responsibility-bound privilege to get out of the way and let them teach it.
So, with gratitude and respect for my children’s fathers, Robert and Bruce; for Craig Wilkinson author of Dad – The Power and Beauty of Authentic Fatherhood who inspired this post; for my own father Ron, who guides me daily from his comfy-chair in heaven, and all the other fathers out there, I acknowledge you and wish you a happy and well-deserved Father’s Day. The world needs you.
And may you too have a lovely supper.