Sunday, June 17, 2007

Can An Old Dad Teach A New Dad His Tricks?

If you go to any large book retailer or surf the web, you are likely to find a plethora of articles and self-help guides for the new dad. “New Dad” is involved with his kids, he stays home with them, he takes a more equal role to mom, and he loves, loves, loves his kids. “New Dad” is something akin to a superhero, psychosocially speaking. “New Dad” is getting a lot more press these days, but what if “New Dad” is actually “Old Dad” reinvented?

Photo: Dad in 1979

I was born in 1976, just one day before my dad’s 26th birthday. It was love at first sight for us both. My dad was “New Dad” before “New Dad” had a name. My dad became a father right on the cusp of social movements rejecting the old dad, the traditional dad, the pipe-and-slippers dad. In 1976, my dad fixed a sewing machine and then proceeded to make six of the ugliest cloth diapers you’d ever seen as a surprise for my mother. I still have one in my scrapbook. He did Lamaze and he was in the delivery room, something that was not allowed for the dads of prior generations. As subsequent children followed (two more), dad was our caregiver a lot of the time. He did his dissertation and diaper duty when I was a toddler.

After graduate school and three more kids, Dad got busier. He wasn't at home as often, but when Dad was home, he was really with us. He took us on errands, camped with us, taught us all how to work with tools, let us put curlers in his hair, taught us how to garden and cook, laughed at our terrible jokes, and showed us how to properly sharpen a knife. Dad doled out as many hugs and kisses as we wanted, and all the discipline we didn’t want. But Dad wasn’t a scary dad. He was gentle and kind with his discipline. He only yelled about once a year, and we rarely dared to cross the line. Dad gave us the best of himself despite his busy career.

In 2007, “New Dad” is actually the son of 1976 dads everywhere. The question is, did the “New Dad” of the 1970’s know something that the traditional dads did not? According to researchers in a variety of social sciences, yes. During the last three decades, new dads went about doing their fatherly duties with Bill Cosby as their only decent role model, while fatherhood as a whole got a bad rap. More studies have been launched about the negative effects of “bad dads” than you can shake a stick at, which has stereotyped dads as incompetent and unnecessary. As a result, few studies have been conducted about the benefits of dad, but what has been found confirms that “New Dad” has it right.

Dad’s interactions with children, when done with affection and consistency, offer developmental benefits that Mom just can’t offer, no matter how great she is. Dad is as integral in the development of infants and toddlers, and all the way through the teen years, as Mom is. The reason is that children use their father for social referencing as much as they do their mothers, but they reference different things from each parent. While Mom is busy protecting her babies from danger, Dad is encouraging them to pursue their curiosity about the world.

Kids look to Dad when they want to explore their world, and Dad is more likely to engage in rough and tumble play with his kids. By moving baby’s legs and throwing balls to older kids, he is teaching his children how to master motor skills and develop muscle control. According to researchers, he is also teaching them social and emotional skills. Kids laugh and cry more with Dad than Mom. Since Dad helps kids try new things, they gain self-confidence by experiencing success at skill mastery, as well as resiliency when they fail. Research also shows that kids who have Dad as a positive role model and readily available to them will have less problems with crime, drugs, and other behavioral issues later in life.

Essentially, what we have learned is that the “New Dad” of 1976 does have a lot to teach the “New Dad” of 2007. And now that “New Dad” of 1976 has become “Old Dad” of 2007, we have learned by all his triumphs and disappointments. That being said, “New Dad” of 2007 is lucky that his role as active parent to his children and partner to their mothers is more widely accepted and acknowledged by our current society. More companies are giving dads flextime and work-from-home options. Many mothers are educated and working while dads stay at home full time. More young fathers are embracing the standards of parenting offered by the “New Dad” ideal. For one local dad, it has brought great joy to live the "New Dad" dream. He just started his official job this week as stay-at-home dad, while his loving wife heads back to the wilds of biomedical statistics. It’s been hard for her, but what a gift she has given the father of her new son.

While I certainly don’t expect perfection from these pioneering dads, I am extraordinarily grateful for the fantastic dad that I have. The one who still gives me as many hugs and kisses as I want, but spends most of his daddy-daughter time engaged in phone conversations from the opposite coast. He listens and only offers up advice when asked. My "Bill Cosby" dad gave me so much of himself. Dad has gone on to experience numerous successes in his job. He's been nationally recognized for his work and is a vice president for a fast growing non-profit. But if you asked him what his best and favorite work was, he would probably tell you it was us. He frequently tells me that he is still flabbergasted and delighted that his children still like him.

Mother's Day has long been the time that postal workers and florists go into heaps of overtime for all the cards and flowers sent. It is my hope that we in 2007 we can start a new movement. A movement of loving and celebrating our dads like we do our moms. At the very least, maybe we can rethink that tie we got him for Father’s Day for the last 30 years. Let's make some noise for our dads, because dads rock!

Happy Father’s Day “Old Dad”.


K&B Brown said...

I really enjoyed this. My great husband is a "new dad" but I think it is from the example of "old dads" that "new dads" know what to do. Both of our dads are very "hands on" they love spending time and interacting with the grandkids. I guess they like spending time with their own children as well.

Karen B said...

Wow that was a lot to say. I heart "old dad".

Chunky Monkey said...

As I read your tribute to dear "old dad" I thought of my dad, my son's dad and all those child developmement and family science classes that I took at the old BY. Amen! And yeah dads!!!

Emily T. said...

This was beautifully written and quite accurate. As a parent advocate, it's great to see posts like this exist. While there are plenty of crummy dads out there, it's refreshing and important to remember that there are also plenty of great dads (like our own...go dad!) who are actively loving, encouraging, and teaching their kids.

Emily said...

Thanks for the shout out. I'm proud of my New-Age Old Dad, and of my son's New Dad.