As I meet young fathers in the course of my travels, I get excited when the trust level rises to the point were we can honestly talk about how they are experiencing fatherhood. To be more specific, I am speaking to men who themselves have no real father-models. They are usually the non custodial parent and it is often very easy for them to walk away from active parenting for any number of reasons.
They are sometimes praised for doing very little, demonstrating our belief that they are not capable of more, or else, we berate them for not measuring up to a television ideal like Father Knows Best (I know I’m dating myself, but you get the drift.) I want to cheer them on as they begin to understand the hunger that their children have to be present, seen, acknowledged and supported by them. But real change only comes when fathers can see what’s in it for them, when they see fatherhood as an opportunity to grow as an individual, and to influence others.
I am practising how to listen to them as they share their journey of self discovery and reclaim their rightful place in the family unit. My paintings have always supported this philosophy. Naturally I hope these stories will inspire us all to encourage and celebrate our individual and collective growth.
Let’s call this Daddy Ken. Ken is tickled by the measurable positive impact he sees as he steps more and more into his roIe as Daddy. I spoke with Ken recently. He was one of the dads I painted. I was checking in to see how the whole fathering effort was going. I could tell by his countenance that he was doing well.
He told the story of taking his then nearly four year old son out for a play, just the two of them. There was a birthday party scheduled for later in the day so, the plan was to have a short play out near Admiralty House.
They took with them two sticks, a bucket and a ball.The sticks were for foraging for crabs, whacking their way through bushes, and since they were magic sticks, they became whatever the situation required. The bucket was for the crabs they were confident they would find near the water, and well the ball…….. the ball was just the ball.
I heard a tale of adventure. Apparently Ken and his son whom we will call Lee, crawled through bushes on their stomachs avoiding dangerous animals. Sticks turned into spyglasses as they manoeuvred around enemies large and small. They were after all, adventurers! Older children ran past them.
“What are they doing?”, his son asked
“Oh, but our adventure is better Daddy, come on, let’s keep playing”.
It would appear that it was too. Lee didn’t want to stop adventure play to go to the party. Not only that but when Ken arrived to pick Lee up from school on Monday afternoon, a class of little boys all ran out and surrounded him. “Oh Lee’s Daddy, will you please take us on an adventure?!”
“Imagine that !”, said Ken. “I couldn’t believe it. This child told everybody he met that weekend that he had been on an adventure. And, when are we going again?”
“2 sticks, a bucket and a ball ! Who would have imagined that this was enough to create such a big impression on him?!. I mean was the word “adventure” what did it? Was it a new exciting concept? I don’t know. I didn’t hear him, but he must have told one heck of a story at school. It really made me sit up and think. When I put him to bed, he asked heavy with sleep in his voice
‘Daddy, where did you put our adventure sticks?”
“Don’t worry Lee, they’re right here next to your bed”
“And you know what Sharon? I have to admit. I had a really good time too. I mean I really enjoyed playing with him !.
Lee admits that life feels better knowing that he has stepped up to the plate. He doesn’t feel ineffective.He feels better about himself. He is getting feedback which in turn supports and encourages him to do more. Lee’s mother is happier too. They both have a vested interest in Lee, and so do we, for we expect to meet Lee fifteen years from now happy and doing positive things. From my little corner of the world I will continue to paint images that support , transform and inspire.