Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Any man can be a father, but it takes a special man to be a dad -- Anonymous
The fathers and a few moms start arriving at the second floor conference room at the Greenwich YMCA at around 8 Saturday morning. It's an unseasonably warm November day and they have come to be part of the Fathers' Forum presentation, "Like Father, Like Daughter -- Find out how Your Behavior Impacts Your Daughter's Self-Esteem."
The Greenwich Fathers' Forum is now in its 10th year; its stated purpose is to provide Greenwich dads with information and skills to help them make the best, most enlightened choices in developing relationships with their children for the purpose of protecting them from high-risk behavior. Forty to 50 dads regularly attend the monthly meetings at the Greenwich YMCA, which are open to the public.
Over the years, guest speakers have ranged from authors, therapists, doctors, police, lawyers, students, graduates and actors, to a comedian with a message. One of the primal emotional themes of adolescence is relationships with parents; the speakers open a window into the world of kids today, and help fathers better understand, communicate with and relate to their children.
Today the speakers are Orla Cashman, PhD, LCSW and Christina Young, MSW. I have brought Caleigh, one of my Peer Players -- an adolescent improvisational theater group -- to act out slice-of-life vignettes highlighting the dad-daughter relationship.
Studies have shown that a father's relationship with his daughter will significantly impact the adult she will become. Strengthening bonds with daughters is the first critical step in giving young women the foundation they need to live a happy and meaningful life. Dads can truly make a difference.
Caleigh and I act out two scenes: one about a father discovering something on his daughter's Facebook page that totally surprises him; the other a conversation about the history of their father-daughter relationship, including both the high and low points. She is great at honestly communicating her feelings about our history and current relationship.
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The scenes are a perfect jumping off point for the themes the presenters want to touch upon: communication -- the importance of listening with our eyes, ears and heart; legacy -- how do you hope your daughter will remember you; power of presence -- how to slow down, be calm and be in the moment; connecting -- ways to make genuine conversation, let girls be known/heard; making mistakes -- taking risks, modeling the ability to take risk/not be right; boundaries -- discipline, consequences, separating person from the behavior.
There is definitely an increased interest on the part of fathers to get more involved in their children's lives.
More and more men are doing what it takes to reshape themselves as fathers and male role models and doing what it takes to reshape the image of fathers in their communities. Fathers are becoming more aware that investing time and personal interest in their child is the most important gift you can give them.
"I have learned over and over again how important it is to consider what my kids see me do," said Lou Hipp, former chairman of the Greenwich Fathers' Forum and father of two sons and two daughters. "Something as simple as sliding through a stop sign, muttering something less than respectful of another, or not showing love and commitment towards my wife -- these are the messages that get through."
"The Fathers' Forum helps raise my awareness and understanding of the dynamic environments both inside and outside my family, while illustrating different techniques and parenting styles, so that I can become a more capable -- actually more sane and rational -- parent," said Martin Taylor, former chairman of the Fathers' Forum and father of a teenage daughter.
My father never had the benefit of a Fathers' Forum to hone his parenting skills and the absolute plethora of self-help books on parenting hadn't been written yet, so he had to rely on gut instinct and the "fly by the seat of your pants" philosophy of child rearing.
The expressions "bonding with your child" and "spending quality time with your child" were not part of his vocabulary nor anyone else's, for that matter.
He tried to be the best dad he could with what he knew. We certainly had our communication breakdowns but he was my biggest fan and if he didn't always succeed, it wasn't for lack of effort.
I've also tried to be the best dad I can with my daughters. I've had some not-so-stellar moments but have always tried to learn from those moments and not repeat the behavior.
Here are some other things I've learned:
No matter what happens, always make it a point to let them know how much I love them, fully and unconditionally.
Talk often and avoid lectures.
Guide, don't control.
Listen to what they have to say.
When my daughters drive me crazy, take a step back and recall my own feelings at that age -- the anxieties and confusions.
It doesn't get any better than being silly and laughing with my daughters.
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.