What's the point of dads?

Ben Wakeling, journalist, author and dad asks "What's the point of dads?

Ben is the proud father of two boys, and lives with his wife in Kenilworth, England. He is the author of 'Goodbye, Pert Breasts: The Diary of a Newborn Dad' and 'Teething Pains: How to Survive Being a Dad', and also regularly posts about parenting on his blog. In his spare time he enjoys photography, football, and talking about himself in the third person.

What’s the Point of Dads?

Now and again, a man on the receiving end of his partner’s hormonal rage will meet up with his mates and recount his experiences, in much the same way as someone tells the tale of surviving a bear attack. “She scratched me all over my back, and nearly took my face off”, that kind of thing. The conversation, though, will invariably end with something along the lines of “Women. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”, followed by a shrug and a hearty swig of Carling.

However, I imagine that when women get together, any conversation about the various foibles that men possess ends with “Men. Can’t live with ‘em.”, followed by a prolonged silence and a hearty sip of rosé.

It seems that they may be correct in this statement, especially when you consider single parents. In 2006, the Office for National Statistics reported that nearly a quarter of children in the UK lived with just one parent, and nine times out of ten that parent was the mother. Making the admittedly broad assumption that the vast majority of these single-mother families are coping well with the pressures of daily life, you can be forgiven for asking one question: What’s the point of a dad, anyway?

The role of the dad has changed immensely in the past fifty years. Not only are we encouraged to be present at the birth – something unheard of in the mid-twentieth century - but we take a much more active role in the upbringing of our children. We change nappies, we sing nursery rhymes repeatedly until the lyrics are seared into our brain. We’re up in the night, feeding expressed or formula milk to a wailing baby; we’re in the park, watching as our child topples from a climbing frame for the fifth time in as many minutes, face-planting into the wood chippings with all the grace of a bag of spuds.

This isn’t the case for every father, though. Just like every dad in the mid-twentieth century wasn’t an aloof, waistcoated gentleman standing on the sidelines as his wife raised the children, not every father in today’s society feels comfortable with getting knuckle-deep in a freshly soiled nappy. Modern society places fathers under a lot of pressure, which can become crushing for some. Being a father who doesn’t necessarily get his ‘hands dirty’, so to speak, does not automatically mean the family will cease to function; just like a father who is active and involved does not guarantee an idyllic family unit.

The main function of a father is simply to be there, especially when it matters. Our role as provider has not changed; it’s something that has been there since the beginning of time. But just how we provide has evolved to adapt to the times we live in. It extends way beyond pound notes: it’s teaching your children how to live in a cynical world, bringing them up to have integrity and dignity. Being a father makes you think about your own morals, your own integrity, and how you can project this onto your child to give them the best possible chance at life.

Scientific studies have shown that fathers push their children’s emotional and cognitive boundaries, and encourage their independence. Whilst a mother may be a bit soppy and molly-coddle a child, us dads are a tougher breed. We are reluctant to talk in baby language, which on the face of it seems a tad cold, but is actually vital in providing your child with a wider vocabulary, as well as giving them the foundations of more complex use of language, such as sarcasm and wit.

Dads tend to be stricter with their children than mums, and so are vital for a child’s discipline. Play-fighting with your child not only teaches them how to cope with disappointment (I mean come on, you’re not going to let them win at arm-wrestling every time), but pushes them out of their comfort zone and allows them to nurture their independence.

In short, dads are an incredibly important part of a child’s upbringing: and, like it or not, you are an example to your son or daughter. Their hero, in fact. They may not admit it now, when you’re subjecting them to songs from your childhood in the car and claiming it’s ‘real music’, but one day they will look back on their upbringing and realise how important a part their father played in shaping who they are today.

So give yourself a pat on the back. Not every dad is perfect, and no matter how hard we try to bring our children up properly there will inevitably be times when we fail. But nine times out of ten we’ll hit the mark. So swig away on your pint of lager – or glass of wine, if you prefer. You’ve earned it.

Author, Freelance Journalist

Official Webpage
Goodbye, Pert Breasts: The Diary of a Newborn Dad
Ben's Twitter Feed

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    We value your opinion. Here are some of our readers thoughts on this item.

    • Dderbyave
    • Wednesday 17 August 2011 8:47 PM
    • Great piece of writing thanks!
      I agreed with most of it but differ on "The main function of a father is simply to be there, especially when it matters."
      I'm all for proactive parenting and see my main job as doing as much as I can (when I'm not at work) rather than just being there.
      But you are right in emphasising the importance of fathers in the home (though we are fallible) and I look forward to more of your work.

    • sahdandproud
    • Wednesday 17 August 2011 11:32 PM
    • I'm a full-time stay at home dad, and have been for 2 years since our son was born. We now have a 9 mo girl so I'll probably be here for a while yet.
      I've probably fallen into what society may view as the traditional role of 'mum.' Being the one at home with the kids all day I get to kiss scraped knees, try to work out what to feed them that's healthy and nutritious and contains their 5 a day, do the shopping and the washing up, argue about the importance of an afternoon nap etc. My son saw a picture of Miffy's mummy in a book recently and said 'Daddy.' A girl at my son's playgroup recently proclaimed 'Why is your daddy here? MY daddy is AT WORK.'
      Are my kids getting a skewed sense of what a dad is? Probably, but I guess this could only broaden their outlook on the world and they can grow up to see that, as individuals, our roles in society are not solely defined by our sex.
      Or they'll grow up as serial killers :-)

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