When journalist and fathering commentator Rob Sturrock found out he was going to be the parent to a baby boy he started thinking seriously about the role he would play in helping his son grow into a man.
“We really need to pay more attention to the importance of fathers and sons,” says Sturrock.
“A father is a young boy’s first glimpse of what it takes to be a man and how he’s going to interact with the world. So much of how we shape our community and our society really does start with the bond between fathers and sons, the love and the care that can be passed between them, and the understanding of a masculinity that is healthy, more inclusive, and more compassionate.”
Sturrock, author of Man Raises Boy: A revolutionary approach for fathers who want to raise kind, confident and happy sons, has come up with five indicators to know if you’re on the right track.
- You clearly and very explicitly display your love and affection for your children
In years gone by a father’s affection was not often explicit or clear. At best, it was hinted at.
“People would say, ‘He showed love in his own way’,” says Sturrock. “Well, let’s not leave our affection and love as a mystery, as signals to be interpreted, let’s put our love out there so our kids can just receive it.”
Sturrock encourages dads to use actions, not just words, to tell their kids constantly that they adore them and think they are wonderful.
“It’s cuddles, holding hands, smiling, kissing on the cheeks, waving at each other across the room to say ‘Hi’ that instil in our kids a deep reservoir of love, confidence and security.”
2. Your family is a priority in action, not just words
The number of dads pushing prams around neighbourhoods suggests that the current generation of dads are more likely to want to be hands-on carers rather than just breadwinners.
But there can still be a gap between what many dads say they want to do, and what they actually do.
“Dads are getting really good at doing things like school pickups and drop offs, but are they doing the doctors appointments mid-week? Are they doing the sick days when the kids are off from school, are they using flexible work arrangements so they can be at home?” asks Sturrock.
If you have access to parental leave and carers leave, use it. It’s a chance to demonstrate to your kids that family life comes first.
3. You help your kids believe in themselves
Dads can play an important role in breaking down traditional ideas and traps about what it means to be a girl or a boy. They can show children that they can be anything and do whatever they want, whatever makes them the happiest.
“Are you showing them a really wide array of options of how they can be?” says Sturrock. “If your son wants to sing Let It Go in an Elsa dress are you jumping up to dance alongside him? If your daughter wants to be Spiderman for Book Week do you help her with her costume?”
Allowing kids to be kids means letting them play their own way, rather than imposing rigid rules around who they should be and how they must behave.
4. You practice equality at home every day
Sturrock says that dads need to show their sons that they are just as invested in running the family and the home as mum. This means taking the initiative rather than waiting to be asked.
“Are you the one drawing up the lists, are you the one keeping a check on when bills need to be paid or what the meal plan is for the week? Are you keeping track of the school activities for the kids and putting them on the calendar?”
Even when dads are engaging in care activities, much of the time and the mental load spent planning is left to mum. Kids are watching this and learning. If you want your kids to see equality in action, you have to do more that just show up when you’re told.
5. Your kids come to you for emotional support and comfort
A great indication of the strength of your bond with your kids is if they come to you for comfort and support.
“When they’re upset or hurt or they’re feeling sad or alone or starting to feel anxious or depressed or are being bullied are they coming to you as a dad for compassion and nurturing?” says Sturrock.
While Sturrock says that this shouldn’t be a competition between mum and dad, kids needs to feel comfortable coming to dad for emotional comfort as well.
Sturrock says that if your child says, “I need to talk to you, dad. I really need your help,” you’re doing a good job.