By Drs. Wendel A. Ray and Jana P. Sutton, ULM Marriage and Family Therapy Program
What spells out 'F-a-t-h-e-r'
Being a father figure means:
Faith ... It is imperative to have faith in yourself and in your child. Tell your children you have faith in them and in their abilities. Tell others too. Even in disappointment, he or she must believe you believe in their abilities to overcome the difficulty. Encouragement is the key. Express pride. [Clinical Note: Frequently children in treatment for problematic behavior relay to their therapist that no one believes in them and therefore they do not have hope for their own change or future. They are simply discouraged].
Adore ... Reciprocal love and admirations are crucial to a youngster. It is easier for children to love you and show you love when they feel unconditional love, which does not mean condoning behavior of which you disapprove. It means allowing the child to understand that while you do not care for their behavior, you still love them. [Clinical Note: It is not uncommon when children are in treatment to express that they do not feel loved and find it difficult to convey love to their family members].
Time ... Time may be the most important gift fathers can give. As children mature, one of the most frequently reported and sorrowful memories is their perception their father figures did not spend enough quality time with them. Ask yourself: What stories do I hope my children will eventually relay to their children about me? Be involved in their lives. Teach children your skills. Know their friends. [Clinical Note: Children in treatment commonly are starved for time with their father figures, making it more likely they will involve themselves in activities, positive or negative, to fill that void].
Honesty ... Children appreciate honesty. While they may not like it at the time, if you say "no" to something that could be dangerous, children eventually acknowledge this is love. It makes them feel safe, secure, protected. [Clinical Note: Children labeled "problematic" are quick to admit they wish their father figures would implement appropriate boundaries].
Expectations ... Just like time together can be positive or negative, so can expectations. Children know whether or not you expect great things from them. Finding a balance is the key. While you should let children know you believe in their abilities and in their futures, it is dangerous for the expectations to be too high. [Clinical Note: Too often, children in treatment think expectations for them and their achievements are not high. Alternately, they oftentimes express feeling inadequate and inferior to siblings].
Resourcefulness ... Utilize your resources and children's resources. Concentrate on your strengths and theirs. Each child is unique; his or her special talents and qualities should be celebrated. [Clinical Note: Strengths are usually never mentioned in treatment. They are uncovered. However, it is never difficult for therapists to know of a child's problems. Those are usually offered without question].
Reflections of a father: Some personal reminiscences of Wendel Ray's come to mind, a simple yet powerful story on which you may reflect and draw your own conclusions about being a Father Figure and about this special day.
"One of my earliest Father's Day memories is buying a card each year. My relationship with my father, Clarence (C.A. to friends and co-workers) was complex. He was a stern, quiet man who worked hard always. This WWII Navy veteran believed in chores and corporal punishment. We did not talk much, and I was afraid of him. Yet each Father's Day I would search until I found a card to give him. It was rare to find one that conveyed the love I felt for him. I have a photograph in my office of our family taken just weeks before C.A. died of lung cancer in 1988.
"I miss my father and frequently find myself, especially with Father's Day rapidly appearing, looking at that photograph and thinking about dad. C.A. asked very little for himself and looking back I am amazed at how he devoted his life to making sure his family was fed, housed, and protected. Now more than 20 years after he died, I wish I had known how to get to know him better during the time we did have together.
"Sometimes I talk with my own two sons about that photograph, and another photograph taken years earlier of their grandfather in Navy uniform. I tell them about how much their grandfather would have loved to watch them turn into the fine young men they are becoming. My boys are teenagers now, and at this moment, are away visiting their mother for the summer. During their absence we regularly speak by phone. The other day while saying goodbye to my oldest boy, now age 15, said, 'I love you dad.' Those simple, unexpected words reminded me of how important my sons are to me — how fortunate I am to have them in my life.