Years ago, my neighbour and I sat watching our then younger children run through the water sprinkler in her backyard, enjoying the sounds of their laughter and the soft droplets that the wind swept our way. Basking in the above-average temperatures of that June, she closed her eyes and said, ‘Ah, only two weeks to go.’ ‘To what?’ I enquired. ‘To no more early morning routines, school lunches, punctual 3 pm pickups and extracurricular activities. I can’t wait for school to end.’ I had to echo her sentiments.
It’s not just kids who count down the days until summer vacation, but many parents too. Some parents look forward to the freedom of their kids being away at overnight camp. For others, it’s more about not having to get the kids up at a certain time, fed and out the door. It’s about not having to do as much clock watching, about not having to conjure up interesting healthy lunches and then despairing when they come home uneaten. It’s about spending some quality family time together.
For some families, day trips are the answer. A trip to African Lion Safari or to the local zoo can be just the trick to bind a family unbound by too many individual activities throughout the year. Better yet, a weekend away camping or a few days at a resort or cottage can be the magical solution to relaxation and reconnection after a stressful school year. It’s a time to linger over simple pleasures such as board games (even though I admit to calling them ‘bored’ games), playing frisbee or catch at the local park. It’s true that with all the programming and intense schedules that children, and their parents, manage all year, children often have a tough time transitioning from being busy every waking moment to taking on the slower, lazier pace of the summer. It may be for fear of their whining ‘I’m bored’ that parents organize similar schedules during the summer.
I recognize that not all parents have the luxury of hanging out with their children during the summer months, but for those of us fortunate to work part time or have summers off too, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with our kids. I’ve found that while some summer time planning is certainly warranted—three to four weeks of camp and a couple of weeks of family time works well for us—it’s great to leave half of the school summer break for kids to relax and invent ways to entertain themselves.
And then, just when you and they get the hang of lazy days and perfect the art of doing nothing in particular, it’s time to begin counting down the days to the start of another school year.
Dad. Vader. Baba. Tatay. Papa. Apu. Babbo. Tata. Abba. Babbas. Pai. Pop.
However you spell it and no matter how you say it, the words all mean the same: Father.
Now that it’s June and Mother’s Day has come and gone, fathers can look forward to their special day.
The relationship between fathers and their daughters is both special and complicated. Although mothers feel softer and are often seen as the nurturers, there’s something special about snuggling with dad. Something about the strength in his arms, the broadness of his shoulders and the sound of his voice that makes a girl feel safe.
However, by the time she’s ten or eleven, a young girl is likely to create physical distance between her father and herself as she embarks on her journey towards becoming a young woman and feels less comfortable with sitting on his lap, having him stroke her hair and kiss her soft cheek. The pang of rejection is often difficult for a father as he struggles to maintain the same closeness that a young girl will often reserve for her mother. This is the complicated side of being father to a daughter.
However, don’t be fooled into straying too far. Try not to take this personally by realizing that this has nothing to do with you. This is your little girl’s first step towards defining personal boundaries—with men especially. You are the very first man in your daughter’s life and how you respond to her creating this space will send a strong message about having her needs heard and respected. Try to find other ways to remain close. Settle for being able to hold her hand briefly as you cross the street. Relish the moments when she’s tired and rests her head on your shoulders.
If you show her unconditional love and acceptance, if you listen to and respect her needs, she will expect that other men in her life will too. If you show her unconditional love, she will not allow herself to become engaged in relationships with men who love her only if she looks or acts a certain way. If you show her respect, she will expect other boys, and eventually men, to treat her as their equals. She will choose partners who listen to what is important to her, validate her and encourage her to assert herself.
When a young girl takes time for herself, maintains hygiene and cares about her grooming and is acknowledged for doing so by her father, in particular, this will be very meaningful. So, when you say something like, ‘Wow, you’ve cut your hair. I love the way it frames your beautiful face,’ she will glow. When you say ‘You handled yourself so well in that situation. You asserted yourself without being bossy. You expressed your thoughts so clearly,’ she will be thrilled that you have noticed. The way in which a young girl sees herself reflected in her father’s feedback can encourage or discourage her towards becoming a self-confident woman.
As well, the way in which a girl’s father treats her mother—whether they are living together or apart—also creates a template for the way in which she will expect to be treated. If she sees her father care for, respect and speak highly of her mother, this will not only foster even greater love towards her father but will also provide a model for her future relationships.
Biology can help a man become a father, but it takes time, effort and careful intention to be a dad. A dad may have given you life or may have come into your life later on. The person who plays the role of dad may also be dad to your mom. He may even be mom’s brother. Being a dad is a huge responsibility but also an awesome privilege. This Father’s Day, take a few minutes to reflect on the role you want to play in your daughter’s life and the amazing opportunity you have to shape her future.