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What Dad’s Do

I was at the community pool yesterday. I was watching a dad help his 4 year old daughter get in the pool. She kept walking up to edge and then shying back. She saw her friend playing in the water with her dad and clearly wanted to get in the pool with her dad. He tried coaxing her and reassuring her that the “water isn’t to cold,” “you are a good swimmer,” I will hold hold you and I won’t let go.” She began to cry saying she couldn’t get in.

Her dad got out of the pool picked her up and said it will be OK…”you love the water.” And while she was crying he carried her in the pool…while she conducted somewhat of a tantrum. In about 45 seconds…holding her hands and pulling her through the water she was laughing and looking like she was having about the best of a time.

This is what dads do…help us take the “plunge” when we perhaps are tentative about taking the risk. It has something to do with boundaries.

When do we scoop our kids up and take them into the pool and when do we support them in sitting by the side of the pool until they are ready…or
understand that they need us to know they are not going in that pool at all!

Of course I am talking not just about a day at the pool. There is something we do as dads that has to do with learning limits and also getting out of comfort zone so we not just try something new, but discover our own ability to master new situations.

Helping our children getting beyond their fears allow them to be confident and competent in the world. Something we all want for our kids. How do we know when to push forward and when to respect that it is patience we need as we wait for them to be ready for their next step?

This is what dads do…try to understand the boundaries of our children’s limitations and
help them find both master of the world’s challenges and discover their own potentials…
not an easy task. I know I have often pushed when I might have taken a step back…and taken a step back when maybe I should have “nudged” a little harder. Never got it perfect…but I keep trying, hoping the “net sum” of my better judgements will have helped.

When my children were growing up I always used the metaphor of learning to be a good “curve ball hitter.” I explained that often things didn’t go the way we planned and we need to adapt and make the best of the situation.

I watch them now as adults in the world trying to regulate their own limits…searching for their own balance between their limitations and potentials. (And even now I am still struggling with when to give advise and when to be a good listener and respect their choices.)…trying to understand the boundaries of our adult relationships!

Bruce Linton, PhD. is the Founder of the Fathers’ Forum programs and author of Becoming a Dad, how fatherhood changes men.