The influence of fathers on their childrenDads play a vital role in shaping their children, which is why it matters how they behave with their little ones.
Until a few weeks ago, I had felt very stressed and worn out. I was getting cranky and very irritable. I was wallowing in this state of misery and pity for a number of days, so it was bound to be noticed by my family members.
My father, understanding this, had a heart-to-heart conversation with me and asked me what the matter was. This made me think, and I realised I was devoting too much time to work and not giving myself enough time to truly relax. We then discussed prioritising time for rest and recreation.
While the conversation was very helpful, it was his genuine concern for my well-being and his attention that really made the difference. Having a father who cared for my well-being, especially my emotions, was very reassuring.
Many sessions I have undertaken as a counsellor usually revolve around relationships with parents. Even with cases where the presenting concern is not related to family per se, the core or root of it always points towards parental influence on one’s life, especially during childhood.
Much has been written, discussed, and pointed out about a mother’s influence on a child. But we often overlook the influence of a father on their child. Fathers play a vital role in shaping their children, which is why it matters how they behave their children.
Was he that loving, caring, and always-present father? Or was he the kind of father that movies and web series love to depict fathers as—the breadwinner of the family but emotionally distant, unavailable, and domineering?
The norms of our patriarchal society are such that fathers are expected to be a figure that we revere but also fear. He is someone who is expected to operate as the family’s provider and a figure of influence.
However, at times, these societal norms can serve as a limitation to the father. This pedestal the father is put on can be so high that the child feels very hard to connect with him. Daughters especially not only look up to their fathers for a sense of security but also for an image of how their ideal partner would be. If she feels that her father loves her and her love is reciprocated, she craves the same in her relationships with men when she becomes a woman. But if her father is emotionally distant, she craves (unconsciously) for the same in her future romantic relationships. Why? Because it is familiar. They would seek out romantic relationships with men who will reject them emotionally since there has been a lack of healthy emotional connection.
On the other hand, these deep festering wounds can also cause them to avoid and reject men to escape the rejection they fear or can be hypercritical and distrustful of men in their lives. A woman who grew up with an emotionally unavailable father will be more inclined to think, “If my father has already betrayed me, why would I let other men do the same?” This feeling of anger, bitterness, deep-seated pain, and hurt over this rejection can lead to being bitter and angry towards other men in her life.
While daughters can model their relationships based on their own bond with their fathers, sons tend to model themselves after their father’s character and ideals. Boys, from a young age, tend to seek their fathers’ approval for their ego to feel validated. They strive to achieve in areas that their fathers value. A son might go on to become a doctor or an engineer because that’s what their fathers wanted for them. That is why many men who might have been pushed to follow the path their fathers had set out for them end up not feeling content or fulfilled with their lives.
Deep down, it is all about acceptance. It is about feeling loved and acknowledged. “If I fulfil these ideals, I will finally get the love I have been craving,” they will think.
Finally, realising these significant influences can be very beneficial to the fathers or soon-to-be fathers reading this. It is not only the mechanical aspect of being financially secure that matters, but effective parenting is as crucial. Moving away from this archetype of a distant father to an embracing one can be a good place to start.
Rather than focusing on the quantity of the interactions (also considering that a large majority of fathers tend to live abroad, away from family), it is the quality that matters. Fathers who are insulting or dismissive would never uplift their children, no matter how much they talk.
A good father would provide love and acceptance to their child and, in turn, accept the love that their child gives them. A good father would genuinely care for their child and realise that their own actions matter as they are being looked up to. They are the first teachers, after all. As John Mayer sings in his song ‘Daughters’, ‘On behalf of every man looking out for every girl/ you are the guide and the weight of her world/ so fathers be good to your daughters/ daughters will love like you do’.
Gurung is a Counseling Psychologist. He is currently working in Happy Minds, a mental health and well-being platform.