by John Hoffman
What are the character traits of a good father? Well, you could pluck almost any word from a list of virtues and make a good argument for it. Reliability, responsibility, love, kindness, integrity, compassion, fairness, self-discipline: all are important. But I want to talk about three positive fatherhood traits that wouldn’t usually be included on lists of virtues: curiosity, teamwork and a sense of fun.
Curiosity makes you want to understand your child. And if you want to be a good parent, being able understand kids in general, and your own child in particular, really, really helps. Curiosity helps bring you to that understanding.
I remember, so often, gazing at my boys when they were babies and wondering: what is going on inside that little head? I so wanted to understand what they were thinking and how they made sense of what was going on around them. Sometimes I could figure it out, but at times it was a mystery, one that I never fully solved, but never stopped trying to solve. I believe that my curiosity, my passion for trying to understand my kids, helped me learn more about my kids. So much of parenting is about making judgment calls. No parent always makes the right call. But curiosity helps you learn enough about your child to make the right call more often than not.
Teamwork has always been part of parenting in one way or another. It’s even more important these days because the nature of parenting teamwork (in two-parent couples) has changed. It’s now a given that fathers are expected – or to put it another way, have the opportunity – to take on aspects of parenting that were considered women’s work 50 years ago. The challenge is that, regardless of how far we may have come in terms of gender equity, sharing the “territory” of raising children is not necessarily easy. First of all, sharing any sort of responsibility is challenging. Secondly, even though many people aspire to ideals of 50/50 parenting and father involvement, we’re still influenced by a centuries-old mentality that the child-rearing buck stops with women. So we still often see mothers doing more than their (male) partners in the parenting realm.
I’m not saying it’s wrong if one partner assumes a more primary role, but I am saying it’s important to work as a team with your partner: to support her (or his) parenting and to take on your share of the responsibility. No matter what the exact division of labour is in your house, you and your partner will both parent more effectively if you work as a team, and feel like it’s a team. When the teamwork is good, both of you will feel supported. And feeling supported helps you be a better parent.
A sense of fun helps you find the rewards of parenting. Why are rewards important? Raising kids is a lot of work, and some of that work isn’t a whole lot of fun, but it needs to be done. Being able to enjoy your kids helps you grab onto the good moments. Those little payoffs help you build up a sort of bank account of positive fatherhood feelings and memories. That helps you stay positive and keeps drawing you back to your children when the going gets tough.
Little kids can frustrate us at times, but they’re pretty funny too. And their enthusiasm, energy and zest for life can be rejuvenating. Having a sense of fun helps you tune into all that good stuff so you can be ready to enjoy the great moments of parenting when they happen. In fact, one my key pieces of advice for fathers (or mothers) I’d say, enjoy your kids. If you can do that chances are you’ll be a pretty good dad.