I want to be respected by my three children-and loved.
Be a role model.
I am a father of three children all under ten years old. I was brought up in a very
strict (Korean) home environment, and I hardly ever felt paternal love-only the stern hand
and aloof presence of my father. These are modern times. I want to be a good father to
my kids, but sometimes I am confused, especially when I find myself raising my hand in anger
to my kids, just as my father did to me. My marriage and relationships with other family
members are good overall. Is it possible for a father to be respected and loving at the same
This is a very apt question for modern times, commonly referred to as a "fatherless society,
" because so many children are brought up by single mothers, the result of an ever increasing
divorce rate and cohabitation without marriage. Often, though the father lives at home, he
remains isolated and apart from the children, leaving the responsibilities of childrearing-and
the joys-to the mother to bear alone.
Trends in American society with regard to the role of the father have changed drastically in
recent decades. In the 1950s, the father was thought of as a meticulous and kindly person,
generally approachable, in whom children took pride, as recounted in pop songs of the period
and celebrated in such TV fare as "Ozzie & Harriet." From the late 1960s on, the father became
an increasingly aloof and estranged family member, the breadwinner treated by his children with
grudging tolerance, if not outright hostility as the main target of their rebellion.
Later, with the women's liberation movement, the role of the father softened and expanded to
include some of the roles and functions of childrearing traditionally reserved for mother, such
as diaper changing, shared baby care, and greater involvement in family life. In some American
households, there may even be a "Mr. Mom," a dad who stays at home with the little ones, while mom
takes on the role of breadwinner. No stigma attached, he is not thought of as less "manly" because
he's the one doing the "mothering."
The upshot is that there has been a blending of traditional and progressive roles for dad, blurring
the lines of gender-determined function and identity, making him overall a more pleasant, expressive,
less forbidding contributor to the family unit, while sustaining his function as a masculine role model,
albeit newly defined.
In traditional societies such as in Korea, one might expect the father's role as stern patriarch to
be re-invented, clung to as backlash to modern trends, which some perceive as undermining the fabric
of society. Ironically, just the opposite has happened. Instead, the iron-fisted commander of your
father's time, who ruled the roost and whose word was absolute, has been replaced not by the somewhat
enlightened, fun-loving, supportive American type, but rather by fathers who seem to be missing in
action-sadly no longer needed or appreciated. Caught in a watershed, straddling two worlds, contemporary
dads like yourself will have to walk a middle ground between old and new, redefining and determining the
role that you want to play-for the better.
It will be harder for you than for your wife to know how to behave toward your children. In some ways,
they will be looking to you to establish the bounds of acceptable behavior and provide a firm line. Yet
they won't be making your job easy, either.
For, in counseling adolescents, I often find that they harbor much more hostility and anger toward dad,
rather than mother. For example, Judy, a 9th grader when I first began seeing her, went through a very
difficult time as a result of her parents' divorce, which she ended taking out on her father.
Alienated from him by the circumstances of the divorce, which is not uncommon, she didn't have much
contact with him until she started getting into trouble in school. During this time, she went from
being an A student, to a trouble-maker often suspended, eventually joining a gang.
When her father attempted to reconnect with her life, and pull her back from the path of destruction,
she violently rejected his interest as too little, too late. All along, she had been crying out for his
firm guidance and tough love. In the end, it was too late.
What's the lesson in this that you can apply to your family? Physical punishment is not the answer,
ratifying as it does the expression of violence while imploding the victim's anger, forcing them to
turn away from you.
For your daughter, you need to be a role model of what a healthy, secure, caring male ought to be-involved
with her life, striking a balance between friend and co-decision maker, with your wife, of the household.
A daughter's emerging sexuality tends to be a thornier issue than it is for a son, though it ought not to be.
A lot of tension and conflict often arises at this time, when your daughter will be working through
puberty and the changes they bring. She may push you away and turn to her mom for modeling, and privacy.
Be patient-there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you've been consistent and available, she'll
appreciate your sensitivity and care.
As for your son, your identity and role ought to be much the same, though fathers and sons tend to have
more of an easier time being friends. Your son will respect you more if you can find ways to discipline
him without putting out the conflicting message that using physical discipline always implies-"don't you
use violence but it's okay for me, your father, to use it on you."
Deeply involve yourself in your children's lives, their schooling and personal matters, acknowledge what
they do well, teach them by your good example, help them to overcome or accept inadequacies, to like and
even love themselves, and never spare an opportunity to express your love and total acceptance.
Remember, they are precious resources on loan to us until the time when they can stand on their own-which
will come soon enough. So attend the important events in their lives, sports, recitals, awards, and enjoy
their company whenever you can.