What does a good parent do for their children? What specifically, if anything, can only a father do for a child?
It’s an easy question to ask, but complex to answer. Much of what we have in our minds about what good parents do, or don’t do, is based on our own experiences. Since we only have the two parents we’re born with, we depend on secondary sources to evaluate the ones we have: the parents of friends and cousins, television shows, books and movies. And only as we grow into adulthood do we have enough context to see our parents in a broader light, including perhaps the light of the experience of being parents ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about this topic and it’s obviously background for my book The Ghost of My Father (on sale now with great reviews). Without falling into the traps of genders, many of the things good fathers do fall into the general pile of what any good parents does. In drafting this post I wrote many lists about fathers, but in revising I realized much of these lists were really about parenting, and not gender or role specific.
Things good parents do:
- Keep the family safe
- Provide financial resources
- Provide opportunities for children to learn and grow
- Set examples of good behavior
- Enforce rules that are fair
- Are present and happily available with their time
- Create the first healthy emotional relationships children will have
- Model conflict resolution, introspection, goal setting, patience, civic duty, and more
- Be reliable and committed
Things good parents encourage in their children:
- Developing independence and confidence
- Being trustworthy
- Having self-discipline and commitment
- Desire to be helpful
- Learning useful skills
- Following the child’s own dreams and ambitions
This list applies regardless of gender. A single parent could do these things, or two parents of the same sex. What then is the exclusive domain of fathers? What things can fathers do that mothers can not?
Things good fathers do:
- Teach skills important to boys for becoming a man: self-discipline, sports, grooming, how to make friends. A man or woman could certainly teach these skills if they had them, but perhaps there would be elements missing than only a man would be likely to know?
- Model for girls and boys what a good man is like (trustworthy, respectful, skilled, self-disciplined, confident but humble). But aren’t these just traits of any good person, regardless of gender? Is there some specific element of the idea of man-ness that only a man can demonstrate?
What’s missing from these lists? Or am I wrong and there are more things only fathers can do?