by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief
Being a published author, I’ve had an opportunity to connect with some really amazing people whose daily work makes an extraordinary difference in the lives of everyday people. Rick Johnson is one of those folks. Passionate about marriage, families and the impact parents – especially dads – have on the lives of their children, Rick Johnson is in the business of equipping individuals to be better spouses, parents and leaders. Recently I got the chance to catch up with Rick and pick his brain on the topic of fatherhood. Here’s a bit of what he had to share.
eNannySource: How important are the relationships fathers have with their children?
Rick: A vast amount of research shows that fathers are fundamental in the lives of both sons and daughters. A father is a boy’s first and most important role model of masculinity. He teaches a boy how a man acts, thinks and faces life. He shows him his roles in life and develops his value system. He teaches him how a man loves a woman, as well important character traits such as self-discipline, respect and honor.
Likewise, fathers have incredible influence (positive or negative) on nearly every aspect of their daughter’s life. A father sets a huge role model for his daughter regarding the qualities she looks for in a man and the standards she maintains in her relationships. He is the first man in her life, and models how a man should treat a woman, how a man should act and how a man shows healthy love and affection to a woman. He also sets the standard for how a daughter feels she deserves to be treated by men. He even determines how a girl feels about herself (her self-image and self-value). If a father shows his daughter love, respect and appreciation for who she is, she will believe that about herself as a woman, no matter what anyone else thinks. Girls deprived of this fatherly love and affection make poor choices in an effort to fill that void.
All we need do is look at the outcomes of children without fathers (or who have uninvolved fathers) to determine the importance of their influence. Fatherless children have significantly lower outcomes on virtually every measurable area in life. Their educational outcomes are much lower than their fathered counterparts. Kids from fatherless homes have higher incidents of crime, drug and alcohol use, promiscuity, unwed childbirth, poverty, abuse and emotional and behavioral problems than kids from homes with their fathers.
So yes, fathers are important.
eNannySource: How can moms encourage fathers to be more involved?
Rick: I encourage moms to realize that if dad does something differently than she does (which he will) that it’s not automatically wrong, it’s just different. A man’s wife has tremendous power (especially in the home) to either lift him up as a father and garner him respect that he could never get on his own, or to crush him. A woman’s contempt and scorn is devastating to a man, and is easily passed on to their children. But, women who encourage their husbands to be involved dads allow him to utilize his tremendous influence to empower their children to be healthy, happy and successful in life. I tell dads that their children’s mother is their greatest asset as a father. Working together as a team, mothers and fathers bring so much more to their children than either can individually.
eNannySource: What do you have to say to working dads who work 60, 70 hours per week? How can they be active dads? What three practical tips do you have?
Rick: It’s important to remember that our most valuable commodity in life is our time. Everyone has the same amount each day. How we use it speaks volumes about what we feel is most important, primarily because we always find the time to spend on things we think are important (whether we admit it or not). The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. If we are indifferent to our children by ignoring them (not spending our time with them), what kind of message are we sending? I’m highly offended when someone ignores me. I expect our children are as well.
Now that I’ve offended every man out there, let me say I understand that sometimes you have to work a lot. A father’s role is to provide and protect his family, and that requires doing what’s necessary sometimes to finish his work or even keep his job. In those circumstances, here are a few tips to consider:
1) Perhaps the most important thing in these circumstances is to not be preoccupied when you are present. Don’t be distracted. Females (of all ages) especially say they feel most loved when the important man in their life gives them his undivided attention.
2) Spend focused time with your children when you are home. If possible, find opportunities to spend alone time with each child. Pick a day to take each one to lunch alone, go for a bike ride, etc. I know this can be tough with limited time but time spent alone with your child magnifies its impact.
3) Write to your children. Send them texts during the day. Mail them cards or letters when you are out of town or just busy at work. Writing is a powerful form of communication (sometimes even better than verbal communication). This lets them know you are thinking about them even when you are not around—a very powerful message to send them.
eNannySource: What about male caregivers? What do you think of male nannies?
Rick: Well, admittedly I don’t know anything about male nannies, but I do know that for many kids any male role model is desperately needed. Male teachers, coaches, uncles, grandfathers or male nannies might be the only positive male role models in a boys’ life. It is a responsibility we men need to be aware of and act accordingly.
My organization, Better Dads, hosts summer camps for single moms and their kids. We bring in a bunch of male volunteers to basically play with the kids all weekend while we hold workshops for the moms. These children are so starved for masculine companionship that by the first night we see formerly angry young boys sitting on the laps of these volunteers, calmly staring into the campfire. They are literally sucking up their male essence like dry sponges that crave masculine touch, affection and even just attention. We see similar results in schools. Anecdotal research shows that the very presence of an adult male has a very calming effect on the entire classroom. If your son’s father is not involved in his life, it is imperative that you find positive male role models to be involved in his life.
eNannySource: What about boys…. It seems we are emasculating boys from the way we teach to the way we play. It’s no longer boys will be boys, but instead typical boy behavior is being labeled as bullied, etc. What do you have to say on this topic?
Rick: I would agree that we are either intentionally or inadvertently attempting to “feminize” boys and young men through our culture. It is perhaps one reason why boys are struggling so much right now. Many young men tell me they don’t feel very manly. They don’t know why, they just know something isn’t right. The teaching style currently employed in most of our public educational system makes it difficult for boys to learn, and they are showing the effects of it. Being required to sit still and listen for long periods of time in a lecture style format goes against the way boys learn most effectively. Boys, who are physical and often restless, have a need to move around to process information and their emotions. Because this goes against the system, many are now being labeled. It’s my opinion that too many boys are being medicated just for being boys. Additionally, we often confuse normal male responses to stress as being too angry or aggressive.
I think lack of positive male role models in a boy’s life makes it very difficult for him to understand his natural roles in life. We currently have such a high rate of fatherlessness in this country that boys and girls alike are suffering mightily. Males are very visual and learn by observing. A boy who lives with only his mother (and maybe grandmother), who has only female teachers, female Sunday school teachers and female Cub Scout leaders is a boy who has only female authority figures in his life. How is he supposed to see a male’s perspective of life and how a man thinks, acts, solves problems? How is he supposed to know what his role is as a husband, father and man? Without the real thing to observe, he’ll get that from TV, movies and music videos—all extremely poor mentors of healthy masculinity.
eNannySource: How can nannies help to facilitate the father-child bond?
Rick: Any time an important care-taker in a child’s life (which a nanny is) can encourage a child to look up to, respect and appreciate his father helps to facilitate that bond. So, for instance, if a nanny suggests a child ask his or her father’s opinion on a topic, instead of providing an instant answer, it edifies the father. An example might be, “Wow—that’s an important question. You know what? If it were me, I’d want to ask my dad’s opinion on a big question like that.” Additionally, from having done work with men over the past 13 years, I’ve come to realize that most men really do not understand how important they are in a child’s life as a father. It’s not a message that men or fathers typically hear very often in our culture—that they are important. A nanny can help a father realize that by sharing insights about his children that he may not know. Also, by telling him directly (and often) how much his children look up to him, and maybe even sharing with him how important your father was in your life.
eNannySource: Anything else you’d like to add?
Rick: Yes; men, if you are struggling with your relationship with your child, I would encourage you to know that it’s never too late. All children are born with an innate desire to love and respect their father. They may close that off to guard their heart if you have un-reconciled issues, but that need never fully goes away. Too many people are walking around today with deep father wounds for it to be inconsequential. If you need to, apologize to your child and ask for their forgiveness. You’ll be surprised how quickly that need to love and respect their father comes back.
Additionally, your children have a craving for healthy masculine affection from their father. Give your kids plenty of hugs and kisses.
Good luck and good fathering. Remember–you matter!
Rick Johnson founded Better Dads, a fathering skills program, based on the urgent need to empower men to lead and serve in their families and communities. He is the bestselling author of 10 books, including That’s My Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Men of Character, Better Dads Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Boys to Become Men of Character, The Man Whisperer—Speaking a Man’s Language to Bring Out His Best, That’s My Teenage Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Good Men, That’s My Girl: How a Father’s Love Protects and Empowers His Daughter, and The Power of a Man: Using Your Influence as a Man of Character, all by Revell Publishing. His book, Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half: Why Differences Make a Great Marriage, is being used by many churches across the country for their couples study groups. Rick’s newest book, A Man in the Making: Strategies to Help Your Son Succeed in Life, is due for release August 2013. To learn more about Rick and Better Dads, visit www.betterdads.net.