A STEADY HAND
by Rachel Toalson
In my house, my husband is a bit neglected, come summertime.
Father’s Day gets stuck in this complicated time of “school’s out” and “I’m trying to stay sane,” and sometimes it gets buried under all the madness.
Dads don’t get all the amazing gifts kids create in their classes at the end of the school year—like the flower pot the 7-year-old made me with a piece of his colored art and a packet of flowers I could plant in it to remember how much he loves me and what I mean to him. They don’t get the handmade cards that say things like my favorite thing to do is wash the dishes (because they see me do that most). They don’t get the homemade ornament kids made as part of their final grade.
The only school they have in June is the School of Mom’s Tired. In spite of this underachievement, and, sometimes, lack of gift-giving, dads mean quite a lot in a kid’s life. Here are some ways dads mean the world to their children:
1. A dad speaks identity over his kids. He reminds them who they are.
Every morning, when I drop my boys off at the doors of their classrooms, I repeat the same mantra: “Remember who you are—strong, kind, courageous, and mostly Son.” I remind them who they are. I ask them to remember it throughout the day so that they can make bring honor to the Toalson name, either with the work they do in school or the way they treat people (preferably both).
But it’s only words, coming from a mom. Boys need to see a dad living out his own identity. And my husband does this expertly. He is supremely confident in who he is and accepts his boys for who they are. There is nothing that speaks identity to a child like this affirmation can. They have the privilege of observing the kind of man he is, and they want to be that kind of man. They see what he’s done in the world, and they want to do it, too. They call him a hero, and they want to be a hero in their own children’s lives someday. They find their identity in the roots of who he is.
2. A dad reminds kids of their worth.
I know this seems pretty closely related to the last point, but there’s a simple nuance that makes it different. A kid with an involved dad is reminded of his worth.
I speak as a fatherless kid. When a dad gives his kids presence and plays with them and pays attention to the worries of their hearts and their joys and interests and concerns and hopes and dreams and disappointments, what he is saying in their lives is “You are important. You are worthy. You are mine.”
Breaking the cycle of absent dads and all the lies that absence can communicate about worthiness is of highest priority in our house. Our fathers didn’t have fathers, either. My kids have a father. Every day, they get a glimpse of what it’s like to tell a kid, through presence and play and the simplicity of paying attention, that they are important.
3. Dads are a stabilizing presence that can impart wisdom.
Of course we pick up wisdom from our mothers, but it is a different sort of wisdom. It is a gentle wisdom that is nurturing and kind and loving. The wisdom we obtain from our fathers is practical and important in a different way. Maybe it’s because I have boys, but I often think about how my boys will go through The Change soon, and they will have a father who can speak definitively about what that’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be a boy, only a moody teenage girl. He can provide them wisdom in ways I can’t.
Not only that, but dads tend to see the world differently than moms. The wisdom from both a mom and a dad gives kids a clearer picture of the world as a whole. Dads help girls understand the world of boys. Dads help boys understand the world, period.
4. Dads give kids the freedom to be who they are.
When my is out in the store and one of my kids is losing his mind, shoppers pat him on the back and say he’s a brave man for taking them out in the first place. If I’m out in the store and one of my kids is losing his mind, shoppers look at me like I’m an incompetent mother. While there are systemic problems with this, there is also a silver lining—dads don’t have as much societal pressure on them to raise the perfect kids. When kids misbehave, society doesn’t look to them—they look to moms. That means dads have a bit more freedom to let kids be who they are.
This is significant. We live in a world where kids who are conveniently well behaved are lauded for their goodness. Dads don’t care about that. They care about raising kids who know who they are.
The world can’t survive with good dads. So thank you, dads, for what you do.