Some time ago I had the privilege of organising a meeting with Pru Goward who was the then Equal Opportunity and Discrimination Commissioner based at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Sydney. It was an informal, round-table discussion over coffee where several men’s and father’s groups shared their dreams, frustrations and positive suggestions for the future.
Pru also shared eloquently on the frustrations women feel in a male dominated society. The conversations were frank and open and at times, passionate. It was refreshing and illuminating from every point of view. An interesting point of agreement for all present was the importance of male mentoring.
Rex Finch, founder of Finch Publishing, which at the time had published almost seventy books on fathering, men’s issues, relationships and parenting, probably in the hundreds now, talked about the problems men have mentoring their teenage sons. We all agreed that this is a difficult period for any father. The consensus was that teenage boys need other male mentors at this point in their lives. I agreed with everybody else at the time but deep inside I still held some nagging doubts.
On the way home in the train with Jack Harris from the Australian Men’s Network we discussed the issues. I said “You know Jack, I believe the key for fathers to be successful mentors to their teenage children is for fathers to be a friend to their children when they are 5 or 6 years old or even earlier.” Jack agreed and added, “If men can’t connect with their children well before their troublesome teens, then they are going to have great difficulty connecting with them when they hit fourteen or fifteen.”
At the dinner table that night I said to my sons who were 19 and 21 year old at the time; “Can I ask you a question? Is it important for fathers to connect with their children before they become teenagers, so that they can mentor them properly?” Their answers were both interesting and challenging. “Well of course dad, when you hit puberty your body seems to go mad. It’s very confusing. Sometimes you don’t even want to be with your father. If a father hasn’t developed the confidence and a good relationship with his children, then it’s going to be very hard in their teenage years.”
My wife also offered some excellent advice. “It’s all about the father respecting and honouring his children and their opinions at a much earlier age and also during the teenage years.” We all agreed that teenagers needed more space and even the room to make mistakes, ‘but hopefully not big ones’.
As usual, I learned something. You always do when you ask your children. Really, you never stop learning and if you do, it’s often a sign of death. That’s why I was really happy to learn something from the Annual Mission Australia Annual 2014 Youth Survey which focused on the 15 -19 age group.
The Mission Australia Survey shows that when young people were asked to indicate from a number of sources where they would go for help with important issues in their lives, the top three sources of help for young people were friend/s, parent/s and relatives/family friends (87.7%, 76.2% and 66.9% respectively). Over half (53.7%) of respondents indicated that they would go to the internet for help with important issues and over one third indicated that they would go to their teacher or school counsellor for help with important issues (36.2% and 33.5% respectively).
The good news is that parents are still a strong source of advice for their teenage children but certainly not the leading source of advice. This highlights the need for us to work a bit harder and start earlier to develop authentic friendships with our children in order to be the fathers our children need us to be.
Make friends with your children. Start as young as possible. Change nappies, bathe the babies, settle them before sleep. Read to your children, tell them stories, play their games, hang out, ride skateboards (be careful!), do what it takes. Second chances in fathering are rare. Grab the opportunity while you can. Your children are only young once . . .
Yours for Friendly Fathers
PS. We had a great day at Karla Lee’s ‘Voice4Kids Summit’ at Parliament House on Wednesday 12 August 2015. We will bring you a full report next week. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts.