Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day - Raising Boys and Strong Father, Strong Daughter

How to be a heavyweight champ

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When I told my husband I wanted to write about fatherhood, and, more specifically, the parenting styles of fathers, he issued a challenge: "I'll bet you can't write about fathers without some anecdote about our kids and me."

With that said, I threw down the gauntlet and accepted the challenge to refrain from personal experience.

Fathers have come a long way from the distant stereotypes described in history. There is now a new breed of father. Author Steve Biddulph calls them "lightweight good-time dads". LGDs appreciate the importance of devoting themselves to their children and will gladly give up time and money to express their devotion.

And yet when it comes to really parenting, LGDs tend to leave that to their partners.

I see LGDs around Hong Kong all the time. They carry the diaper bags and spend their weekends at the playground. They edit family photos to post online. All this is undertaken with genuine pride and enthusiasm. But can they spend weeks trying to get their child to behave, or even pack a diaper bag?

We all have a clear idea of what "mothering" means: to care for, protect or act maternally towards a child. That is a dictionary definition. But when it comes to "fathering", I think of the phrase "to father a child". To me, that just sounds like begetting or procreating.

Of course, fathers do a lot more than beget children. The experts say that we cannot underestimate the role of fathers beyond being LGDs. Their role has become even more important in our complicated modern society.

For fathers of sons, Biddulph's Raising Boys explains the importance of nurturing boys to help them develop emotional awareness and empathy.

For fathers of daughters, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Dr Meg Meeker is a best-selling book that underscores the need for fathers to strengthen the bond with their daughters because this relationship will determine the course of a young woman's life.

Meeker's research shows that fathers have a much stronger impact on girls than mothers. Even an absent father plays a role in a daughter's view of herself and other men in her life. Biddulph also emphasises the great influence of fathers on their sons, especially so between the ages of six and 14. His book gave me a rare insight into how different little boys are in their physiology and mental capacity compared with girls.

Both of these books seem to suggest that children take it for granted that mothers will just carry on with their mothering. But children turn to their fathers for guidance on the kind of person they ultimately become.

Although research seems to confirm that being a mother is a thankless job, it has also found children can truly benefit from fathers who move to the heavyweight division. 

Happy Father's Day.

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy through reading aloud to them

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