by John Hoffman
When Chris Wilton is driving along in the car with his family, he’ll sometimes reach back and hold one of his boys’ feet for a few seconds. He started doing this when the boys were little. He still does it the odd time. “Usually it’s just a squeeze rather than a prolonged hold,” he says. “Just some nice contact.”
Funnily enough, I used to do exactly the same thing! Often I’d do it when I was alone with one of my (formerly) little guys in the car. I always treasured physical contact, and this was a way I could do it while driving. I don’t mean I drove around like this all the time. But for me it was a little “point of connection,” and that’s how Chris sees it too.
I think little points of connection, though they may seem trivial, are important. They are one part of the glue of father–child (or mother-child) relationships.
And fathering (parenting) is all about relationships.
Whenever I’m talking, writing or pondering any aspect of being a father, I always start with the relationship. Because anything you want to do well as a parent, whether it’s supporting an upset child, having fun, passing on values, teaching, guiding, even discipline, starts with a relationship.
Obviously relationships are complex. All sorts of things go into building and maintaining dad-child relationship. But little points of connection are an important one that we sometimes overlook. They play a unique, and sort of low-key, role in helping us stay connected with our kids in the midst of a busy day—a busy life, for that matter.
Chris Wilton has had many other small ways to connect with his kids. Here’s an unusual one. “My kids used to like to style my hair at bedtime and my youngest likes giving me a massage, with lots of karate chops.”
Frank Emmanuel, a father of two in London, Ontario had several little connectors to tell me about when I asked him. “One of my kids had a period of steady bad dreams and we invented a way to ‘take away all the bad thoughts.’ We’d rub noses before bed. The bad dreams problem did get better, but we never stopped rubbing noses just before bed. It’s part of our evening routine now—brush teeth, stories, kiss goodnight…rub noses.” Another (very DAD) thing Frank does with his youngest is a raspberry on the tummy during diaper changes. “Now he pulls up his shirt, expecting one every time,” Frank laughs.
The point here is not that all dads should be doing the belly raspberry, or the foot hold in the car, or bedtime hairstyling at bedtime. The point is that these little moments of connection—some of them quite silly, or a bit odd—are small, but important parts of what help you and your child feel like you belong together. They help keep your relationship strong (and unique). And that helps you be a good dad. Because being a good dad is all about relationships.