A father's role in their child's life
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When I was a teacher at what was then the Virgin Islands Montessori Middle School, one of my duties was to be in charge of the spelling bee. It was my responsibility to put on our school bee and be the "coach" for whichever student won the honor of being our representative in the district bee. Our school took the attitude of prepare and see what happens so the majority of my coaching came down to encouraging the student's best efforts, finding lists for them to use as study guides and, most importantly, be their ride and corner person for the event.
At the bee, they had coaches, family, judges and a couple of people, usually female teachers, who manned the "hug and cry" corner. That's what they called it. It was where the students went after they got a word wrong and were out. They checked in with each student to make sure they were okay before they went to sit down.
My relationship with my parents was kind of like a spelling bee. My mom was my enthusiastic coach. She felt it was her place to push me to pursue knowledge and to always give my best effort so that I could take advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves. My dad was my cheerleader and my champion. He was the one who I went to to hug it out.
There are a lot of reasons why he filled that role. My mom was more of a problem-solver. That's who you went to when you needed a plan that worked. My dad was more of a listener. He would sit with you and listen to you. I would lay my hands on his forehead or my head on his shoulder and know the peace of having someone to lean on.
So often we see the role of the father as the disciplinarian or the bread-winner and we neglect to see how they can offer emotional support for their children. I think that is especially important for daughters. There is a lot that can be gained from letting a man take on that role at least occasionally.
A father that can just sit and be still with his child gives that child a haven when times get to be more than they can handle. It says that sometimes a father's greatest strength is not in taking charge but in providing a place or moment for you to try and sort things out for yourself.
We have the image of the dad as coach. We see him yelling at the ref and pushing his child athlete with high demands and lofty goals. We reject the notion of dad simply being the one with encouraging words and loud cheers.
Much is made of a mother's bond with her infant child. It is a bond that begins before birth as the baby grows in her womb. We don't always recognize the intimacy of the father's bond. There is a peace and comfort in having someone in your life that knows you. To have someone who has held you close to their heart as you drew breath over the first hours and days of your life. To have someone who may not always understand the changes your personality goes through but who always recognizes the fundamental part of you that never changes. That is something that you can always go back to and use as a touchstone to gather your bearings in the world.
It has been 10 years this week since my dad became an ancestor. Most days, I've made my peace with his physical absence. Then there are those days when the comfort of his presence next to me would go a long way towards helping me get over the hump.
As a society, we have stretched and expanded the definition of family, so why not stretch and expand our view of the role of father? A father, whether by blood or by circumstance, can be the strength and the provider. He can also be that quiet presence who offers an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on. He can have a relationship with his children that allows for a connection on a level that requires for him to really know his children and their spirit. Just like we wouldn't dream of telling a woman what kind of mother she should be, let's not decide for fathers what their place in their child's life should be and how they should fulfill their role.
- Mariel Blake writes a weekly column for The Daily News.