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Here’s to fathers who know how to daddy

June 21, 2010

Warning: Sentimental, gushy and personal post-Father’s Day post.

Back in 2004, Julie Beck was the first counselor in the Young Women General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She gave a talk at General Conference that year called A Mother Heart that has become one of the most frequently-referred-to LDS talks in my memory.

Beck expressed some truly beautiful ideas about the importance of devoted mothers and righteous women in general, and their great potential to spread goodness in the world. My favorite part is her comment that some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who are not mothers, at least not in the technical sense.

This is hardly news. Everyone who is fortunate enough to be loved by any woman at all knows it’s not pregnancy and birth that qualify a woman for the job of mothering. Love is often triggered by biological ties, but it’s surely not limited by them.

But this isn’t meant to be about mothers, at least not completely.

This weekend, families in the U.S. celebrated Father’s Day.

The word “fathering” does not carry the same sentimentality as “mothering.” “Mothering” implies an ongoing, loving commitment while “fathering” connotes, well. . . something entirely different.

Because I have a close relationship with my own father and because I am married to a man who adores his children even when they vomit on him in the middle of the night, I wish there were a better word to describe the honor they and men like them bring to the calling of father. “Daddy” is babyish, but perhaps accurate. “Father” is the technical label on birth certificates, but “daddy” is a title earned through a close relationship.

“Dadding” or “daddying” is too clunky to catch on as a verb, but it is what I’m looking for, meaning-wise. While every child has a father–at least technically–not every child has a daddy.

My husband coaches our son’s soccer team and I help with the administrative details, such as distributing game schedules and snacks. This year, for a team of seven players, I made more than 20 copies of the game schedule for players’ families. It wasn’t because people kept losing their schedules, it was because nearly every player had more than one house and family.

Coaching is nearly as strenuous as playing.

I am glad those little soccer players have so many people who love them and are ready to cheer at their games, but their family lives are undeniably complicated. Kids live with aunties and grandparents and various combinations of parents, parents’ significant others and step-parents. Some arrangements are stable and some, regrettably, are not. In the unstable situations, it seems the father–for a variety of reasons, some unavoidable– is the character most likely to be written out of the child’s life.

This leaves a lot of kids without exposure to consistent daddy-ing.

This is where my husband wins my respect, again and again.

He coached every game with the baby on his hip.

The team was (don’t tell my son I said this) pretty weak this year. They won only a few games. A couple players had never played soccer much at all before this season. But my husband was at every practice and game and acted like coaching those boys was the most important thing he’d done all week. He pep-talked, explained, demonstrated and cheered relentlessly. He dug through our basement storage to find nearly-new-but-outgrown cleats to give to a player who’d been playing in worn-out tennis shoes. He managed to find some compliment for each player, even if they’d kicked the ball in the wrong direction (“Your foot is getting so strong! I couldn’t believe how far that went!”) or they’d tripped (“You’re so ready to take one for the team!”). It seems simple and obvious, like what all coaches of children’s sports do, but it’s not. It’s valuable. Not every child gets attention and encouragement at home, and not every child gets it from an emotionally healthy, stable man he can look up to.

“Kick the ball this way.”

If you asked my husband why he coaches kids’ soccer, he’d say it’s an excuse to play with his son. His kid needs daddy-ing. But I think he sees how many other boys need a dose of daddy-ing, too, and he’s willing to give it. It’s a “father heart,” for sure.

It’s his “father heart” that makes him hire otherwise loitering neighborhood teens to do yard work with him and our own boys. It’s his “father heart” that makes him popular with the kids in our son’s carpool (which he drives every morning so I can have a leisurely breakfast with our younger children). It’s completely normal behavior for a dad to love his own sons, and my husband does that as well as can be done. As I type this, he’s putting doggy-print pajamas on our freshly-bathed baby and barking with him.

But my husband is not one to let biology tell him how many kids deserve to be cheered for or get a Slurpee after a day working in the sun. His devotion to daddy-ing means he doesn’t discriminate.

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother,” taught late LDS President David O. McKay. I would add that seeing a dad love his children–and others– makes their mom love him even more.

Confidently mastering a bicycle; Dad will catch him if he falls. (Meanwhile, Dad gets his cardio for the day.)

 

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Maryam permalink
    June 21, 2010 7:53 am

    awwww, make me cry whydonchya.
    what an awesome post! and person! and family!

  2. June 21, 2010 11:00 am

    Ditto Maryam.

    I’ve decided not to make rude comments about young Muslim guys. Only that we’ve got a lot to learn from our fathers who came from the ‘old world’, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater when attempting to shrug off the not-so-great parts of a back-home culture.

    I have a zillion favourite lines in this. When actually I just love the whole post and am terribly jealous (in a healthy and positive way, obv).

    ‘…some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who are not mothers’

    ‘…my husband was at every practice and game and acted like coaching those boys was the most important thing he’d done all week.’

    ‘…my husband is not one to let biology tell him how many kids deserve to be cheered for.’

  3. June 21, 2010 6:18 pm

    *Sob*

    Daddy! My daddy!

    P.S. It was Father’s Day in the UK this weekend too – I made mine snickerdoodles and watched ‘Sherlock Holmes’ with him. Works for us.

  4. July 3, 2010 8:41 pm

    Dear Kaimalino:

    You might be interested in this commentary distributed worldwide on 6/14/10 by The NY Times/Hearst News Service to their 500+ media outlet subscribers. And it mentions a new Hallmark card for expectant and new dads wishing them “Happy Daddying.” BTW, I coined that gerund in 1994 and have been using it and writing about it ever since. I guess that when Hallmark uses it, it doesn’t get too much more mainstream than that!

    (Copyright 2010 Hearst Newspapers – Distributed by The New York Times/Hearst News Service)
    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Father’s Day is to Honor Daddying
    By Allan Shedlin

    When the Google Alert popped up on my computer screen on May 24, it was the latest evidence that we are undeniably in the midst of a bona fide social revolution that holds exceptional promise for children and families: the Daddying Movement.

    The Google Alert announced that Hallmark, just in time for Father’s Day, had come out with a new greeting card for dads-to-be and new dads that says, “Happy Daddying!” This is just the latest evidence that we are in the throes of a revolution that is redefining what it means to be “masculine.” Although still evolving and incomplete, this movement, building one newborn child and one new and newly born dad at a time, is steadily building momentum. Like a snowball rolling downhill, it is picking up strength and size as it gains in velocity.

    Although we are not yet at the point where we can officially expand the adage to “It’s as American as Motherhood, Fatherhood, and Apple Pie,” we are getting closer, as dads are dramatically more present than ever before in playgrounds, story hours, pre-natal and parenting classes, and school conferences; they are more visible carrying their infants in baby carriers as well as pushing strollers, and they are even increasingly present utilizing changing tables in public restrooms.

    When I coined the term “daddying” in a magazine article in 1994, to distinguish the lifelong process of being a dad, as distinct from the one time biological act of fathering, a number of folks told me that the word would never be broadly accepted because it sounded soft and wimpy. I countered that to challenge stereotypes which limited father roles to “breadwinner” and “disciplinarian,” and expanding the roles to include “nurturer” and “work-at-home dad” was courageous and anything but wimpy. Now the term is being embraced by Hallmark, we’ve come a long way.

    The Daddying Movement, which I first identified in an online interview conducted three years ago by Connect for Kids – and later wrote about the following year in a newspaper commentary – has grown steadily in the interim and it continues to expand and gain credence. After all, since father absence is a critical factor in virtually every social problem experienced by youth – truancy and dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, violence, crime, depression, and suicide; and positive father engagement has been shown to diminish the likelihood of these factors occurring, it is hopeful and exciting that such a social revolution is gaining strength.

    And if that is not enough to be hopeful about, there is increasing recognition that positive father involvement is beneficial to dads as well. During more than a decade of qualitative research I have conducted with fathers, grandfathers, and even a few great grandfathers, men have shared that being a dad has enriched them by reminding them of what is really important and what needs are fundamental; has exposed them to a new and deeper kind of love; has positively diminished their self-focus; and for many, has given them a greater appreciation for their parenting partner.

    These individual and private indices of the daddying movement have taken a giant leap forward in the intervening two years as public indices proliferate. These include but are not limited to:

    • Fatherhood groups of all ilk and varieties continue to grow and increasingly collaborate.
    • Movies, television programs, and books with a father focus have become more commonplace.
    • The current Administration has held a series of Fatherhood Forums throughout the country and has required every U.S. department to develop a “responsible fatherhood” initiative.
    • There is a bill before Congress proposing a $500 million initiative to create a Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund – an increase of more than 325 percent over current spending.
    • Mothering Magazine repositioned itself to “better embrace fathers” and has created a regular department, “In His Own Words.”

    As more children grow up in homes that model these new roles for fathers and as public policies and popular media continue to feature fathers and father figures in roles that stretch our previously restricted stereotypes of dads, the movement will continue to gain momentum. Such a movement is a good thing because: it is more tolerant of a wider array of possibilities and relationships; it removes significant traditional barriers to human development; it broadens our potential for self-fulfillment and self-actualization; it acknowledges human and social interdependence; and it minimizes arbitrary and constricting gender role expectations that pigeon-hole and handicap women and men alike.

    Daddying is the practice of positive and vibrant father engagement and acknowledgement of a father’s responsibility for his child’s physical emotional, social, intellectual, creative, moral and spiritual well-being. Hallmarking daddying is a great way to celebrate Father’s Day.

    # # #

    Allan Shedlin is a daddy and granddaddy. He is the founder and president of REEL FATHERS (www.reelfathers.com) and DADS Unlimited (www.daddying.com). He is a freelance writer, parenting coach, and former school principal and founding executive director of the National Elementary School Center. He lives in Chevy Chase, MD.

    If you send me your postal address, I’ll be happy to send you some additional writings.

    And noting your Hawaiian roots and hula dancing, I highly recommend the wonderful movie, “The Men of Hula — Na Kamalei” by Lisette Flannery (Native Hawaiian).

    Hooray for your husband and his exuberant daddying! And hooray for you for writing about it!

    Only the best ~
    Allan (Shedlin)
    Founder & President
    DADS Unlimited
    http://www.daddying.com
    and
    REEL FATHERS
    http://www.reelfathers.com

  5. July 4, 2010 6:46 pm

    aaaaaaaaaaawwwwww…….. m gonna cry now! i wish my father could see my tears right now. Yes! i do agree with u that there is a huge difference between these two words; father & daddy.

    i wish my father could understand our feelings for him. he is always busy with his bussiness. there are so many days when we don’t see each other, cuz he wakes up early and leaves early for his office, and comes back late night.

    i am very close to my mother. you kno what… my father doesn’t even know how old i am! hah! how unlucky i am. Mashallah! you have a supporting husband who gives time to ur babies.

    i iwsh i was that lucky. i can’t even talk freely to my father . when ever i try to share something with him, either his phone rangs, or he feels tried and shows no interest on my issues.

    bt m thankful to my creator for everything, for a father like him who is working all day just to give us all the good facilities and luxuries.
    but still we miss his presence.
    he is also a political figure, so on the eid days or on special occasions, he has to go to the parliament. its ok now! we r used to of this absence, but i feel sorry for my mmother. i have friends, so i enjoy my time with them. my mother spents lonely times with out him. i often see her crying cuz my father is not with her.

    hope oneday my father will realize the value of family.

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