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In a changing world, the best gift a father can give his children, is his presence. So why do some people still think there’s something unusual about the sight of a dad looking after his kids when mom isn’t around?
by Kojo Baffoe*
I find it amusing that despite us living in a world where the things we say can be destructive, we continue to be flippant about how we use words, on social and digital media or in our physical day-to-day.
Our wayward words have the potential to spread across the world in real time, existing in the cloud for perpetuity. How we use language has always been important. It contains our beliefs, our values, our culture.
When you become a parent, you learn, very quickly, to be conscious of your words, especially around your children. Kids do say the ‘darndest’ things and it’s usually from what they hear from you.
Don’t like it when your son tells Uncle Thabo that you hate it when he visits because he finishes all the beers? Don’t say anything remotely negative about Uncle Thabo within your son’s earshot.
As a father who views fatherhood as a responsibility and a duty to ensure that they are equipped, as much as possible, with the tools to tackle this potentially ‘big bad world’, I spend a lot of time working to equip myself, especially after discovering there is no single manual for parenting.
I have two children, an 8-year old boy and a 4-year old girl. They are two distinct human beings with unique personalities. What works with one doesn’t always work with the other. I work hard to engage with them and understand what makes them tick, individually. I try to be present as much as possible. While children would probably enjoy more presents, I believe in the idea of ‘presence’ over presents.
Every year, my daughter and I get VIP tickets to the MamaMagic expo to go and watch Barney. We even get to take a picture with him after the show. I’ve never been a big fan of the purple dinosaur but happily take the kisses when singing the “I Love You” song.
Fortunately she also loves building puzzles and it’s fun to sit on the floor with her, celebrating when she completes her latest one. We are up to over 100 pieces, which, of course, makes my daughter the ‘smartest daughter in the world’, in my eyes.
My son is a lot like I was at his age. He loves books but is also active. He’s a big fan of Lego and there is no greater joy than his asking for my help in building his latest model. And, because he also enjoys trying new sports, which I also did, I love being able to either learn the sport (rugby) or share my limited knowledge of it (tennis, football, running).
The role of fathers has evolved. The image of the distant man who puts food on the table, gets the best cuts from said food and is merely an enforcer or disciplinarian, is out-dated.
Acknowledged, there is the challenge of absent fathers or, as the Americans would put it, the scourge of ‘biological fathers’ but that isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the only image of ‘father.’
Part of being a father is being a father, which means to be ‘present’, loving and taking the time to know your children. This is why it grates me no end when some fathers talk of ‘babysitting’ their children.
Whenever I say I am spending time with my children, without their mother around, at least one person will confidently exclaim, “Oh, you are babysitting”?
My standard response? It’s not babysitting. It’s called parenting. I may ‘babysit’ someone else’s children. I’m raising mine. Language is important. I use it consciously.
* Kojo is a writer, poet, blogger, media consultant (television and print), columnist and the former editor of Destiny Man. He is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa.