What does it mean to be a Father?

Father’s Day is more than just an opportunity to restock the socks and jocks. For the men on the ground who are doing their dad thing, day in and day out, it’s a chance to revel in the warmth of their children’s love and soak up some appreciation. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what being a dad means to them. Research shows that dads are just as important to the mental and emotional health of their children as mothers, and more and more dads are responding to the challenge to take their dadding up a notch. Today we talk to dads about how they took to fatherhood, and how they think the role has changed over time.

Pietro, 62, says, ‘I certainly had a classic ‘provider dad’ growing up. He went to work and paid the bills. He was a nice guy, and loved us, I know. But he wasn’t ‘involved’ - if you know what I mean. My own experience of fatherhood started out quite similarly, until I got retrenched and I was at home with our toddler for a short period while my wife worked. That experience changed me.’

Pietro says he wouldn’t have questioned following in his own father’s footsteps until he realised what he was missing out on. ‘I had a traditional view that the mother is the most important caregiver and that that was natural and father’s should mostly provide and support the family. Hanging out with my son one-on-one, every single day totally changed my understanding of how important I was to him and what role I could play.’

The importance of being a ‘good dad’ is a view is shared by the University of Western Australia’s community program, The Fathering Project. Founded on research that proves fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of their children, the Fathering Project runs programs and provides support to dads who want to improve their parenting. It’s an initiative that acknowledges how profoundly the relationship between father and child can affect their child’s future flourishing.

Indeed, The Fathering Project points out just how crucial having a good father-child relationship is to appreciating dad jokes, too. ‘There are studies now which show that if a father is involved with children from infancy, by 7 years of age they have a higher I.Q., do better in school and have a better sense of humour.’

For Gregor, 72, living up to his father’s incredible example was the goal from Day 1 of becoming a dad to Evie, now 35. ‘My old dad just ‘got’ me.’ Gregor says, ‘I felt like he believed in me and everything I could do. He was at every sporting event and endured a lot of boring inter-school debating, chess club, you name it. But he also set an example of what it meant to be a man; taking responsibility, owning your actions and never being a ‘sheep’.’

Gregor says his relationship with his adult daughter is the joy of his life and he’s now the keenest grandfather he knows, too! ‘As a grandfather I see men of my own generation still struggling with how to ‘be involved’ with their grandkids - they leave it all up to grandma and I think that’s a shame. They’re missing out a second time.’

The alienation from family life that was typical of Gregor’s generation is a trend modern fathers have well and truly bucked. While ‘daddy day care’ is still in its infancy (yes, pun intended), there is a growing number of men opting to stay at home while mum goes to work. There is also a wider understanding of the importance of fathers and an expectation they will share the load of child rearing, not just the expenses. And, most importantly, it’s a change that fathers themselves welcome. As Pietro says, ‘Being a dad is the greatest thing I’ll ever do. It’s given me life, fulfillment, joy, responsibility and love. It’s everything.’

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