Following is a re-vamp of an article I originally wrote for a parenting magazine, thebabyspot.ca . I hope you enjoy it!
Dad-ness (adjective) \dad-nes\
The many qualities that encompass being a dad; Vague and ever changing based on the individual father and his children; Implies a sense of protection, playfulness, masculinity, sensitivity, strength, occasional sternness, involvement and stability.
I had to make this word up. There is not, to my knowledge, a single word to describe what a father means to his children. Whether you are married, single, divorced, step, foster or adoptive, if you have kids that look to you as their dad, this article is for you.
In preparation for writing this, I reached out through social media to ask what dads struggle with. Very real but no surprise, many dads strive to find life balance and often feel pulled between family and work commitments. Workdays are often longer than the traditional 40 hours a week and kids are involved in more activities outside of school, leaving moms and dads hustling to transport and cheer on while keeping a handle on things at home. Being a dad in the 21st century carries responsibilities that our dads and grandpas were not expected to fit in.
One struggle I uncovered, that the dads who responded face, came as a little bit of a surprise. Many (not all) dads feel that they are not equally as essential in the caregiving as the mom in the family. Just to be clear, I don’t mean as essential to the family, but to the part of the family structure that decides childrearing details- foods to eat, clothes to wear, what time is bedtime, those kinds of things.
This has given me insight into my own family and led me to finding a word that describes being a dad. This is something so significant and yet there is no word to explain the plethora of attributes of dadness. How can this be? Dads are not stand-ins for moms and vice versa. Dads are equally important to the raising of a child. What a dad brings to his children is unique and valuable. You see the world differently and function differently than women. (Duh, Brenda.) Kids need that to grow, be challenged, be sheltered, and be loved in ways that only their dad can show them.
My husband was hands-on in raising my girls yet I think part of him always felt like he was “standing in” for me when I wasn’t home and he was PIC (in this case, Parent in Charge). He sometimes stayed home with them when they were sick; made a few specialty comfort foods as only he could do; got after them when they were naughty; slathered sunscreen on them in a “guy that doesn’t know his own strength” kind of way; went on field trips, played endless horsey on his hands and knees, you get my intention. When my oldest was 12 or 13, she was sick and dehydrated. Not our first go-around, I knew she needed to go to the emergency room. As I explained this to her, she said, “But Mom, I can’t go. Tom” (my husband) ”isn’t home to carry me to the car.” She needed his dadness, his strength and protection to empower her to be brave and face what was ahead.
A year ago last September, my husband walked the same daughter down the aisle; symbolically giving her away to her husband, living forward to the next generation, trusting Alan’s innate and unexplored dadness to provide. So goes the next generation. “Her mother and I do” was what he said but the look between them said more.
Where does it begin; where does it end? Because of the elusive, ever-changing meanings of Dadness, I am led to infer that a dad’s “dadness” may emerge at the just-right time, just right for him and his children. For some, it may be when they know their partner is expecting. For others, it may be with that first touch or first baby all nighter. And with no less impact, other dads may own their dadness when the adoption papers are signed or they are PIC for the first time with their kids. There is no right, only what fits dad and his children, in their unique and exclusive dad/child relationship.
You dads deserve all the support that can be gathered on your behalf. Seriously, you just don’t get enough. As your doting mom, wife or sister will probably tell you, you are great! My heartfelt wish for you, dads, is to acknowledge your fundamental importance in the lives of your children. You are not “standing-in” for anyone. Whether you are raising children with another or raising them solo, you bring your dadness to your child in ways only you can do. I encourage you to celebrate you and the father you are!
Happy Father’s Day!