Few fathers or father figures would disagree that the real gifts of Father’s Day are their children- whom they love, carry, care for, play with, worry about, mentor, affirm, argue with, laugh, cry, admire and often marry off.
In his well-researched book, Do Fathers Matter? Paul Raeburn reports what has been scientifically overlooked but emotionally experienced – FATHERS MATTER and their children matter to them.
Fathers Reading Stories
Even beyond recognizing the known benefits, many fathers cherish the opportunity to read stories to their children. Nighttime reading rituals allow Fathers and their children to share worlds that can include everything from elephants and pigs to dinosaurs, demons and Dark Knights. Most fathers are even seduced into “ one more story” before lights are out— and the “ I need water” torture begins.
Fathers Telling Their Own Stories
A father’s sharing glimpses of his own story over the course of his child’s growing years, is different. It is an opportunity to be known by your child in a way that others may never know you. It is an opportunity to make your child an insider whose own story is now expanded by yours.
Research findings suggest that pre-school children, whose parents were guided to reminisce with stories, were able to tell a richer narrative with more details than children whose parents were not guided to reminisce. Pre-teens from families that collaboratively shared daily events and family history were found to have stronger self-esteem, self-concepts, knowledge of family events, coping skills, and less anxiety and depression that those without the opportunity.
What About a Mother’s Story?
This value of storytelling, of course applies to fathers and mothers. Do fathers share as much as mothers? Maybe.
Historically, it was held by those like renowned pediatrician, D.T. Winnicott, author of The Child, The Family and the Outside World, that mothers provided children with the inside emotional story and fathers, the outside world story. As such, personal sharing may have been more likely from mothers. While we have moved beyond that gender stereotype, it is worth reminding fathers that their own inside story is invaluable to their children.
The Story the Child Hears
Children only know their parents as adults. Accordingly, they are intrigued by the very thought that their parent was once a little person like them–Someone who had a best friend, a favorite food, a favorite toy, the same allergy, a big sister, a team that went to the finals, a team that lost every game, a piano teacher they hated, no one to play with, summers at grandma’s, crazy chores, a new school, a new friend, a lost basketball……
In his book, The Storytelling Animal-How Stories Make Us Human, Gottschall tells us that when we hear a story – we co-create it. We picture in our own mind our own version of what is happening – the setting, the sounds, the people. We are moved emotionally with delight, dread and expectation of what will happen as it unfolds – and we remember it. Unlike other facts, as humans we are pre-disposed to remember stories. When we add the emotional significance of parents, it is not surprising that children remember detail of their parents’ stories.
When Others Tell Your Story
Sometimes whether requested or not, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends feel compelled to tell pieces of your story.
“ Do you know what book your Dad wanted me to read over and over every night?”
“ Do you know about when your Dad was seven and I was five and he dropped his ice cream cone on my head?”
“ Did you hear the story of when your Dad got lost at Adventure Land?”
When your story is opened, don’t close it. – Share your version. Most kids want to know all the pieces and they want your input, “Did that really happen?”
What About the Pain and Trauma in Your Story?
Your child’s learning about pain and suffering in your life may be one of the most important aspects of the life stories that you share. Notwithstanding sensitivity to age and what a child can grasp, your child will come to know what you have faced and how you survived. We know from findings on intergenerational trauma that secrets distance us from loved ones and what is not said, but acted upon, bewilders and impacts children.
Elaine Cooper LCSW, clinician, blogger on Intergenerational Trauma and author of the book, Let’s All Hold Hands and Drop Dead: Three Generations, One Story, shares that it was only when her father gave her the written version of his story that her father’s emotions and behavior made sense to her. She reports that tragically in the case of her brothers and personally for her, it would have made such a difference in her relationship with him and her childhood experience of her family.
When Fathers Can’t Tell Their Stories
In face of the realities of terrorism, war, gun violence, illness and accidents, too many young fathers are lost to their families and those who love them. Their stories are very important to their children. Told by grandparents, siblings and friends, their stories are a gift to a seven year old or a seventeen year old – they offer a memory, a personal glimpse of their father to embrace and carry in life.
We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. As a father give your children the gift of your story.