Dear corporate dad
I can see you have had a long day. I can see you’re struggling to keep focused on what I am saying as you sit across the table from me. I know you just want your kid to pass and be happy.
It’s very telling that every time I ask a question like how your child is coping with homework or their studies, you look at your wife for answers. I don’t blame you; I can only imagine the long hours you have to put into work. You seem to be the same dad who stands next to the sports field when your child is playing over the weekend, except you’re not watching your child playing, you’re usually on the phone or talking to someone about work. Is your presence better than your absence? Absolutely! But what your child really wants is your focus, your attention, and your time.
Sadly, too many of you “corporate dads” believe that you have lost the battle so you won’t even pick up your sword. You seem to think that as long as your child is not using drugs, not having inappropriate relationships and is doing reasonably well in school then your job is done.
The fact of the matter is simple though: a child can grow up with all the world has to offer- every toy, video game, fashion accessory and a bazillion friends on Facebook and still be utterly miserable and self-destructive. What most of the kids I’ve engaged with really want is quality time with their parents, especially with their seldom present dads. This does not mean a board room meeting where we as dads deconstruct each area of our kids’ lives and proceed through a value chain analysis to effectively navigate them to “happiness”. It simply means taking quality time out of your week to focus solely on your child.
Please note I am focusing on quality time and not the quantity of time or the amount of money that is spent during this time. The family trip to paradise for a month is still not going to help bridge the gap between you and your kid if you don’t actually know what he or she enjoys doing.
A good example of this would be the mistake I made with my own daughter. She loves sport and like most is addicted to TV. I am a huge Liverpool supporter so in my mind, good quality time would be watching Liverpool try and actually score and win a game. I would constantly be frustrated (not only by Liverpool’s poor performance) but by the fact that my daughter did not enjoy this time and chose game days to be restless and whiney – attention seeking in other words. Eventually my sweet wife pointed out that my daughter would rather be kicking the ball outside with me than watching others play.
I’m not saying this is easy, I’m not saying that there are not a few challenges to creating a space for us as dads to connect with our kids. Many of our children are incredibly busy with school work, extra murals or maintaining their social media profile. The responsibility, however, does lie on us as parents to actively create quality time for our families to connect. This should not be a modern version of the Spanish Inquisition with questions flying a mile a minute. Start slowly, find a topic of common interest, make sure the family sits down for the evening meal together and let the conversation develop organically.
Just because we are the dads does not mean we have all the answers, but we will have made that all-important first step to connecting with our child. If dinner time isn’t always viable, try an approach where for one hour a week you set aside time to just be with your child. Teenagers are particularly difficult to connect with, especially as you have to get through the barrier of technology before you can engage. Try asking that for one hour a week they put away their phones, iPads, computers or TV’s and yes I know this sounds scary but try and just be with your teen with no agenda. Let them decide what it is that you can do together. It can be helpful to give some suggestions like a walk, coffee or poker but the main point is that you let them decide. It’s vitally important that you let them know you don’t have an agenda. You are trying to create a new space where you can connect and develop trust between the two of you. Even if you have a quiet teen who does not talk much, enjoy the silence, respect it, and they will respect you for not pushing and probing. If you have the loud and proud teen, hold on tight and try keep up. They will appreciate that you are listening and engaging with what they have to say.
So to the dad who is standing next to the sports field on the phone. To the dad who is present, at home and providing for his family but A.W.O.L with the emotional needs of his kids, please remember that you are the dad, please remember that no one should be taking your place, please remember that you are not just the ATM machine but a pivotal member of the developmental process of your child’s emotional wellbeing. Your kid wants and needs your attention, affection and love. They deserve it and so do you.
By Gareth Fell