So I was leafing through "People" magazine (don’t judge!) and saw a long piece on talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon and his adorable baby daughter Winnie. Reading his joyous comments about fatherhood, you would think he invented the role. For example, he says: “I just want to hang out with my daughter. Little girls are the perfect things. You can get the cutest outfits for them. Every single thing she does, I’m like, ‘God, I’m so in love.’”
Those are lovely things to say—clearly, Fallon is a happy, devoted new dad. It’s hard to believe just a generation or two ago, fatherhood was viewed somewhat differently. Fathers were proud of their roles but not considered all that crucial to the development of their progeny once they were produced. Mothers were the focal parent with fathers playing an often elusive role aside from ball-throwing sessions on the weekend and being relegated to disciplinarian (“wait ‘til your father gets home!”) Obviously I’m painting with a broad brush here—there were no doubt many dads who were more involved than this. But my point is that fatherhood has changed and society is now realizing how critical dads are to the family dynamic. There are numerous books on this issue, as well as magazine and newspaper articles and a slew of studies. Far too much information to cite here but suffice it to say that fathers’ involvement in their children’s development affects everything from cognitive growth to social skills, self-esteem, and even future success. Dads interact differently with their kids than Moms do—in general, they’re more playful and possibly less verbal (which explains why my boys “hear” their dad a lot better than me. I suspect I sound a lot like the “Charlie Brown” teacher “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa…”) .
It’s fairly common knowledge that boys look to their dads for cues as to how a man behaves, how he treats a woman, how he deals with life’s challenges and the values he holds dear. A father’s relationship to his daughter is equally important. Dads are a girl’s first foray into the world of men, so if you think about it, how he treats her truly lays the groundwork for future interactions. Daughters develop their self-esteem, confidence and sense of feeling “safe” in a world that can be a labyrinth of questionable values and unhealthy behaviors.
I know a lot of great dads. In fact, I recently wrote a Facebook posting asking all the dads I know what their biggest challenges and greatest rewards of fatherhood have been so far. I would like to say I was inundated with responses but actually only received two. One man said this: “Toughest thing in the world is juggling a career and a family. Most rewarding is despite the hours sacrificed is at the end of the day your kids letting you know how much they love you and how much you are their hero for doing so. I don't care what anyone else says but your kids can reduce you tears in a matter of seconds with one act or one word. Love being a dad no matter how hard it can be at times.”
The other, which was told via his wife, said: “The most challenging thing is patience – (as I hear him now in the bathroom losing it because the boys got out of the shower without towels)-- I can verify this. The most rewarding is seeing the boys laugh and almost reliving his childhood, as he can see life again through their eyes.” Both of these men served in the Army and have endured long separations from their kids.
I know my own husband is constantly feeling the pressure of balancing being an involved dad with his work responsibilities. Now that our boys are getting older, I see his relationship with them becoming more interesting. He and Ryan share an interest in history and are often conversing about a WWII battle or a particular tank. Andrew used to be the proverbial “baby” but at nearly eight years old, is growing and changing by the day. Thus, Rob is starting to interact with him on a different, more nuanced level and that is wonderful to see.
I am so glad fathers are getting the respect and the thanks they deserve. Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads, step-dads, grandfathers and others who have taken on a fatherly role. You are valued, needed, honored and loved.