A few thoughts below about the Fathering Today seminar I attended at WWS two weekends ago which was hosted by Jack Petrash and Kim John Payne.
About 40 fathers attended. I would not have minded having a few moms present (or at least my own wife Elena) because I think much of what we discussed was applicable to parenting in general and also because I think it would have been really interesting for the moms to hear some of the perspectives that were dad-specific. But that is beside the point. As with so many things that you do intensively, it was just so refreshing to have a day to step outside of yourself to reflect on why and how you are doing that thing (in this case, being a father) in the first place.
There was so much that we discussed that I found to be compelling. Among other topics, these included the following:
- that our children really notice when their fathers are feeling carefree (i.e. not burdened with thoughts of work or stresses outside the family)
- that our goal as fathers is to create a memorable and meaningful relationship with our children but that we should not expect to be perfect in doing so
- that we should seek out the things we do in our lives in which our children can accompany us… that they will remember the things they get to do with their dads that they don’t do with their moms… also, that the things we do in our lives rhythmically or ritually (i.e. a weekly meal or an annual summer trip) are things that will live on in the memories of our children… but also that we should not forget the importance of surprise in doing things with our children because those also will live on in their memories
At one point, Jack Petrash went around the room asking the fathers present to share one of their most treasured memories of their own fathers or some other meaningful male figure in their lives. 75% of those who responded started off with a phrase like, “When I was about 10 years old, my dad…” This really struck me, because the oldest of my two boys is about to turn 9 years old. It would seem to me that I am entering a period of his life when our experiences together will leave the greatest mark.
Kim John Payne spoke a lot about the subject of discipline, which I wasn’t actually expecting, but which really resonated with me as I considered my relationship with my two boys. He described discipline as a process through which we help define our family… that you go into parenting knowing what you DON’T want your family to be like and through discipline, you sort of shave those parts away. He said that when you back off of discipline, you risk leaving your family feeling unformed, and that a child who acts disobedient may in fact be disoriented due to lack of boundaries. Then he talked about specific kinds of words and approaches you can use with your children. He really emphasized leadership, saying that it is exhausting to constantly chase after children, their behaviors, etc. rather than saying to them follow along. He also introduced us to his model of the role you play as a leader through three phases of your children’s lives: being a “governor” (ages 0-7), being a “gardener” (tween years), and being a “guide” (teen years).
In addition to discipline, Kim John Payne also spent some time talking about the high levels of stress placed on children in our modern life. He went so far as to say that the amount of stress hormones in today’s children is unknown in human history. He believes that all of this stress turns natural character traits into compulsions. He feels that as parents we must act as sentinels, dialing kids back from all of this stress – he said that that’s when their natural gifts will shine.
I could write much more about this. Suffice it to say that I am very glad I attended, and if a similar seminar is held again in the future, I would highly recommend it to other PCWS dads.
- Erik Oberg