Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | July 6, 2009
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Setting a standard for fatherhood
Joan Pinkney, Gleaner Writer

POSITIVE Parenting

Sunday, June 21, marked another Father's Day where we celebrated fathers internationally. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind fathers in the Caribbean, but particularly those in Jamaica, of a very significant role they are expected to play in the lives of their children and that is setting a standard for fatherhood.

For the girl, and starting from infancy, the father should provide a secured environment where she feels safe. That should be regardless of place, residence or status. The child should not have to contend with abuse or any kind of destructive behaviour from her father. The father should also ensure that he provides a standard of manhood with strong values and morals culturally acceptable so that she can know how she should be treated by a 'real' man.

In fact, I believe that her father should be the first date she encounters. He should organise with her and escort her out to dinner or some social function or place to demonstrate gentlemanlike social graces towards her. Another important part of this demonstration of a standard is the way he treats women in general, and in particular the child's mother/female caregiver. Positive, respectful behaviour in this way would undoubtedly reinforce the principle of the standard set, causing her to readily reject, from any man, any conduct which conflicts with her father's, as she blossoms into adulthood.

For the boy, the father must realise that he is automatically seen by the son as his role model and that he seeks after his father for affirmation and empowerment. The father must practise to hang out with his son soon after the child isborn. These should graduate as the child develops in keeping with what is appropriate for his age. For example, at infancy, holding him in his arms, feeding, bathing, taking evening/early morning walks or, later, just talking with him about the day, trucks or any kind of 'man stuff'. These bonding gestures would enhance confidence in the father-son relationship and set a standard for quality relationships in teenage and adult years, whether it is platonic or intimate.

Sometimes, however, the father plays his part well in forming bonds with his child but by the time the child reaches teenage years he/she begins to withdraw from Dad and begins to gravitate toward his/her peers. Fathers must know that this is normal behaviour for this period of development and should not feel that they have failed or that the child is necessarily becoming wayward. Fathers should not project their fears through negative behaviour towards the child as this would only escalate the situation and unfortunately risk the destruction of the foundation set up in the formative years.

Search for identity

Psychologists contend that during these years, teenagers search for identity, endeavouring to find answers to questions such as 'Who am I?' and 'What is my purpose here?' This, coupled with the surge and the dynamic hormonal activities, could cause the child to lose focus for a while and appear different.

Support and guidance

My recommendation, based on personal experience as a parent and knowledge of research findings in this area, is that the father, while not compromising his standards, should provide support and guidance while seeking after becoming a friend and a good listener to the child rather than being defensive or a dictator. This usually results in helping the child to adjust to his/her new body image and the renewed way he/she has begun to view the world. With patience and in time it is likely that the relationship will be repaired to an even stronger bond than before.

Joan Pinkney is a counselling psychologist. Email her at jp.pinkney@gmail.com.

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