In his biography Common Ground: A Political Life, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau relates how his father, Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister of Canada, juggled his public career with being there for his growing son. When Justin was a baby, his father would typically return home in the day to check on his infant son. Pierre would also invite his cabinet ministers to the Trudeau family’s official home for a working lunch so he’d be able to see his baby. As young Justin grew up, Pierre was there to repair his bike and relate bedtime stories.
I often tell people that I believe 50% of the problems in this world will cease to exist if each and every father were to commit to engage with their children from the day they were born till they’re older.
Most parents dream of their children becoming smart, successful adults. If you’re a father and you’re reading this, know that your inherent capabilities as a father can spin magic on your sons and daughters. Adolescent boys and girls tend to perform better in school, have less behavioural problems, are more motivated and value education more if fathers play a more proactive role.
A father is often cited or perceived as the extra pair of hands to alleviate the mother’s stress in handling children. But studies have proven fathers are worth much more than that.
A study carried out by researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University found that 3-month-old babies whose fathers played with them were smarter at 2 years old. Another study found that toddlers whose fathers played with, and cared for them showed better problem solving skills.
This isn’t meant to downplay the importance of mothers; many mothers voiced out their dismay at their spouses’ hesitation to step up and engage with their children even when it’s obvious how a father’s contribution can make a difference to their children’s level of self-confidence and maturity.
I see at least two major challenges.
First, the man who did not have an involved father in his childhood might not have a clue of how to be one.
Second, if a woman did not have an involved father growing up, or had a negative role model e.g. an abusive father, she might unwittingly be the one dominating the parenting role, seeing her spouse as little more than an assistant who is useful when she’s exhausted, unaware that her spouse has innate ways of raising children that she herself is unlikely to provide.
The Qur’an mentions fathers multiple times, which goes to show how hugely significant the father figure is. Examples: Luqman and his son (Qur’an: Luqman: 13); Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (Q:As-Saffat:101); Yaaqub and Yusuf (Q:Yusuf:16). We also know that the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. himself was very hands-on with children and youths. Yet, many parents I meet still have the idea that fathers are less relevant than they truly are. We know that mothers are naturally connected to their young by way of giving birth and nursing the child. It’s a given that mothers are endowed with maternal instincts to be there for their children.
Know that a father interacts with a child differently in comparison to a mother. The way a father talks, plays, asks questions, teaches, conveys affection, moves about, engages with the child certainly is never the same vis-a-vis the mother. Besides, there’s a natural need, a deep desire, in the hearts of both boys and girls to develop a relationship they can cherish with both parents.
If you’re a father who’s looking for ways how to connect with your children, worry no more.
A little planning goes a long way.
Apart from providing for the family, take time to communicate warmly with your children, run errands together, go for a swim or jog with your son or daughter, have a few rounds of board games. For an older child, you two could perhaps watch a TED video on YouTube followed by a pleasant chat. Spice it up with positively kind gestures: a smile; a touch on the arm; a pat on the shoulder.
Now that you know the magic you could harness, give it a go! Let the fun begin. It doesn’t cost money to spend time with your own kids and make your presence felt, yet it could be the best gift for them to cherish.