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Fathering Across the Lifespan

Fathering Infants and Birth Stories
Fathering Toddlers and Preschoolers
Fathering School-Age Children
Fathering Teenagers
Fathering Adult Children and Grandchildren

Fathering Infants and Birth Stories


For fathers today, birth is not an experience of pacing the hospital hallway in anxious anticipation with a pocket full of cigars waiting to be handed out. Most fathers take an active role as the coach and sometimes even as the punching bag for their spouses during the birthing process.

By being involved with the birth process, fathers begin generative fathering even before the child is born (Doherty, 1997). As fathers become more involved in the birth process, they report feelings of closeness to their spouses and to their newborn children. Many fathers remember the first time holding their child as the beginning of developing a close relationship with their son or daughter.

Similarly, many fathers find tremendous joy (and struggles!) when involving themselves in the care of their infants.¬†Marsiglio states that a father's involvement with his infant child serves as "a public symbol of their commitment to a more refined, progressive set of values" (1993, p. 5).

Perhaps the most important thing a father can help his infant achieve is a sense of trust in the world. Fathers who care for their children in a responsive, consistent, and trustworthy way will help their precious infants to develop the sense that their needs will be met by loving individuals. This can be a foundation for healthy development throughout the child's life.


Many of the stories in this section demonstrate Relationship Work, as fathers develop and cultivate relationships with their new infants. The following stories show several fathers' feelings of closeness and experiences associated with the miracle of birth and the first year of life.

Even before a child's birth, an emotionally supportive husband can contribute to the wife's sense of well-being and is likely to be associated with a relatively problem-free pregnancy and delivery, and competence in parenting (Biller, 1993, p. 18).

This story illustrates how fathers can be a part of the prenatal experience and develop feelings about their child even before the child is born.

"My earliest memories with Trina started the day she was born. No, they started before that. They started in the womb. I would come home and I would say, "Hello," and she would flick and flitter in the womb. She'd start kicking. If I put my hand on my wife's tummy when she was carrying Trina, she'd move over to where my hand was. If I put it on the other side, she'd move to that side.

"I used to sing to her. It's always been that way and has just continued pretty much that way. I remember one night laying with my head on my wife's stomach and singing a lullaby or something, I can't remember exactly which song. She was very active but she settled down, and then I put my hand on her stomach and she moved my hand. I thought that was funny."

In the next two accounts, two newborn babies were put into intensive care and fought to stay alive. Although attaching to babies in incubators may be more challenging, Biller suggests that if given the opportunity, men have just as much capacity as women to become attached to their babies, to be sensitive to their needs, and to be competent in nurturing them (1993, p. 22).

These fathers share their feelings of helplessness and closeness to their babies during their struggle.

"Bradley is remarkable in that he is almost always about the same emotionally, so there aren't a lot of high and low points. I felt very close to him when he was first born and was in the hospital. He spent at least two weeks in the intensive care unit and I would go by and see him twice a day. During those visits I always felt close to him. It didn't really hurt me for him to be there, but he did quite well in the environment and was able to come home in just two or two and a half weeks. That was a very difficult time and just having him there and being so defenseless caused me to be drawn to him."

Biller found that fathers who are supportive of mothers and are themselves a partner in parenting make it more likely that the infant will develop a secure maternal and paternal attachment (1993).

"There have been many enjoyable experiences with Jeremy. For a lot of reasons Jeremy has brought an added element into our home. One of the main reasons is that he made us realize that there are no guarantees in life. [Jeremy was born with special needs.] You cruise through life and you have highs and lows, and we seem to have been on one of the highs because everything was just going fine. Then all of a sudden this happened.

"Probably one of the most enjoyable moments in our experience with Jeremy was being able to hold him for the first time. Because he was in intensive care, it was five weeks before we were able to hold him for the first time. It was tough on me, but a lot tougher on his mom. You go to the hospital night in and night out and see other parents holding their babies, and you see their progress, and yours may not be doing quite as well and you haven't been able to hold him.

"His whole life is dependent upon machines and doctors, and you don't feel a part of that life even though it's your child. It's real tough. It's tough emotionally to stay strong and to stay up. You worry about those bonds, especially in the mother, since it is so important to create those bonds with the child. You can't hold them and you think, "How will I be able to do it? How can I catch up?"

"It happens, but being able to hold him that first time was a tremendous experience, for us as a family and for me as a father. Holding a hand and patting a back is one thing, but to cradle a newborn life into your arms that you know is yours and that you created, which you've been waiting to do for five weeks--you can't describe it. You don't want to put him down. You don't want to let him go. It's as if you're saying, "I finally got to hold you and I'm going to take care of you. Nobody else is going to get you."

"A lot of other experiences have come since then, but that has got to be one of the most enjoyable."

In the next two accounts, these newborn babies were put into intensive care and fought to stay alive. These fathers talk about the connections they had to their children despite the challenges. This connection, or attachment, is formed through simple interactions, like holding, talking to, or touching a child (Parke, 1996, p. 121). Both fathers and mothers can be equally attached to their children.

"We've always known that things were going to work out with Joshua, even when the doctors didn't give us much hope. Maybe it's a parent's blind love--I don't know. But we always knew that things were going to work out and that he was going to live. We didn't know what we'd have to go through to get to that point, but we never questioned that he would survive.

"The hardest part about the whole thing was feeling, as a father, that there was nothing I could do, that I was helpless. That is the hardest thing for a father or a mother, to feel like they are helpless in helping their child. To just give my prayers and give my strength emotionally wasn't enough....[A]s it turned out, just being there was what that child needed.

"We couldn't hold him for five weeks, but we could talk to him and touch him. The baby could not respond to people because he was so medicated and was on the ventilator....But any time Mom would walk in and just start talking the baby would flinch and try to open its eyes. In other words, it would acknowledge that it knew who was there. That's a rewarding experience.

"You think that you're helpless and that what you're doing is worthless, that it isn't helping, but it is."

Research suggests that when children have two nurturant parents, they are less likely to compete negatively for adult attention with siblings (Biller 1993, p. 21). This last story shows a father's love and concern for an older son who was soon to have a sister. He wonders if this new baby will affect his relationship with his son.

"I think an experience when I felt especially close with Bryton, [first child] was when Brittany was being born, [second child], because I remember wondering how I could love another child as much as I loved the first one. I remember talking with him--not that he could understand me, but I think he knew that I was sleeping right beside him.

"I just told him that I loved him and that I was a bit concerned what would happen when the other child came. I felt bad for him that someone else was coming in and that it might interfere with our relationship or with how I felt with him because he was the first child. I felt really close to him, I didn't want anyone else to come in and change things."


FatherWork with infants builds the foundation for a child's trust in the world. When a house has a firm foundation, its stability is increased. In the same way, a child's future rests on a foundation of trust built over time.

Fathers are crucial in building that trust as they complete daily chores to care for their children by providing for their children's needs and showing their love and concern. When fathers can work together with mothers, children's foundations of trust are formed by sharing the exhausting work of child care and financially supporting the family.

By pouring their lives into making their children feel safe and having their needs met, generative fathers lay the beginnings of a rich and secure life for their children. Your child's sense of trust will be solidly formed when you involve yourself from day one.

More metaphors about fathering

Fathering Toddlers and Preschoolers


Toddlers are active and curious people. Their job is to learn and to explore. While their bodies are growing rapidly, they are also developing control over large muscle movements. This is a time when toddlers are starting to communicate by learning words rapidly and by figuring out how to put them together in sentences.

Fathers can be active participants in this process. In addition, toddlers and pre-schoolers are beginning to develop a sense of autonomy and initiative. Fathers can assist their toddlers and pre-schoolers by helping them develop basic physical, cognitive, and social skills, encouraging them even when they fail in their budding attempts to master their new world, and giving them confidence rather than doubt or guilt.

The quality of the father-child relationship has a great influence on development during the pre-school years. The father's nurturance and positive expectations contribute to his young child's gender security, self-esteem, and intellectual and social competence (Biller, 1993). The following stories show how fathers contribute to toddlers' learning, growth, and exploration of their world.


The father of an adopted Russian child explains how his daughter was able to communicate her needs and wants even though they had no common language. This is also a great example of relationship work.

She is starting to speak English now, but on the first day when we had no common language at all, she was very ingenious about being able to communicate and tell us how she felt and what she needed.

As this same little girl came to understand and adjust to her new surroundings, her father explains that she also accepted them as her parents. Even her own identity seemed to be a discovery. Biller concludes that children who have the active support of both parents are more likely to develop an enduring sense of self-acceptance and confidence than those who only have the consistent interest of one parent (1993). This story illustrates the power of development work.

". . . she loves to read. She will grab a book and then back up to your lap so that you will pick her up and read to her. It's really fun to hold her. It was a long time before she recognized us as her parents. The skill that she had learned in the orphanage was that if she could find an adult and get their attention, she could get what she needed. So, at first she didn't care if it was us or the people across the street. It took weeks before she started to recognize us as her parents.

"It was really interesting to me that about the same time that she started to recognize us as her parents and come to us for comfort, she started to have a concept of who she was. It was a long time before she started to call herself Anna. She would respond to her name when we called her, but she would never call herself "Anna." She knew Grandma's name and Erika's name and knew how to say "Mom," "Dad," "Grandma" and "Grandpa" long before she would say "Anna." As she learned who she was, she would pray for "Anna," in her bedtime prayers, as well as for everybody else. I don't know what that means, but I think that is significant that it was somehow related to having a concept of her own identity. . . To me, there is nothing more precious than knowing who we are. It's what life is for."

As fathers allow their children to express themselves, their children will attain a sense of autonomy, or the ability to excercise free will as well as self-restraint (Snarey, 1993, p.16). Biller (1993, p.17) also found that fathers who encouraged autonomy but who intervened with age appropriate cues when necessary had toddlers who were particularly competent in problem solving.

One father shares several stories about his relationship with his two-and-a-half year son and how he encouraged autonomy in him. The first story illustrates relationship work, while the second shows how the father chooses to meet the needs of his son.

"Tim is changing now, but he was Dad's boy. The other kids could be playing with friends and Tim wanted to be with Dad. Probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I had with Tim was when I built my mother-in-law's home, which is just across the street. He was only two or two-and-a-half at the time, and he had to be there with me the whole time.

"It wasn't enough for him to be there; he had to be doing the same thing that I was doing. I tried to appease him by getting him his own tools, but I didn't want him to get hurt, so I got him the plastic tools . . . No, it didn't work, so I had to go and get him smaller, but real tools. If I was pounding a nail, he had to pound a nail.

"Tim had some painful lessons! He had to learn that when you bring the hammer up you don't bring it up and hit your head before you take it back down. But at two and a half Tim could pound a sixteen-penny nail. I had to start it for him, but he'd sit there and do his little taps. It might have taken him half an hour, but he'd stay right there until he got that nail down. To this day Tim likes to work. As long as he can work with Dad, that's fine.

"Tim is the one among my children who gets croup every year, and three years ago he spent three days and two nights in the hospital with croup. Croup is the craziest thing because it hits without any warning. He'll be fine going to sleep and wake up hoarse, unable to breathe, etc. Ten days ago that happened to him.

"It would have been all right if he had waited till at least 4:00 a.m. to have it because then I would have at least felt like I had some sleep. But at 1:00 he just came screaming into the room, almost hysterical, so I picked him up but he was fighting. Tim is at the point right now where he is trying to define his own independence. Like every other two or three-year old he wants to do everything himself. He doesn't understand that you are not helping them because you don't think that they can't do it, you just want to offer your assistance.

"So, he came running in right then and didn't want anything to do with Dad or Mom, but he was panic-stricken and didn't know what was going on. He said, "Dad, the mirror!" He wanted to see himself in the mirror to make sure that he was still there and was all right! So I had to pick him up, and as soon as he saw that he was okay he made me put him down.

"Tim has to do things on his own time frame right now, and about five minutes later he'd calmed down enough that he came to me and I was able to hug him and hold him, then steady him while we went to the hospital. Once we were driving down there he got scared of death because he doesn't like the hospital or the doctors, and all of a sudden he was outside his element in something new and foreign to him. Dad was his guide. I think that he enjoys me and welcomes the strength that I have, and those are the rewarding times. When Tim gives you a chance to show your love for him it's rewarding, and he lets you know that he is independent at three years old but there are still times when he needs you."

One of the main goals of toddlerhood is toilet training. This can be a difficult task for both child and father. Snarey (1993, p.16-17) suggests that if fathers do not use guilt with their children, and are accepting of their abilities, children are less likely to use overcompensating, show-off behavior or to have excessive feelings of guilt as they grow up.

Through development work, fathers can adapt to the new situation that both father and child are confronted with. This father's third story explains how he has tried to help his young son, yet feels inadequate.

"Tim is having a very difficult time with toilet training. We didn't push his big brother Daniel at all, and at three years old he woke up one day and it was done. Sarah our oldest one was the same, but Tim's not that way. We've been trying for a year-and-a-half now to potty train him and it's not working.

"I have a hard time understanding why it's taken so long and what emotions that a three-year old is going through under this type of thing. A lot of times it gets very frustrating for me. When Tim has an accident, rather than consoling him and being patient with him and showing him what to do, I lose my temper. I might say, "Tim, I'm not going to take you to work with me if you can't learn to do it in the toilet!" or "Why are you doing it this way?" I try to rationalize with Tim and it doesn't work.

"Because it doesn't work I get frustrated, Tim gets frustrated, and the relationship gets a little strained. What Tim needs is the positive enforcement on that and not the negative, and I think that I've failed there because for the last six or eight months it's been negative. It's always been "Why can't you do it?" instead of saying, "Come on, son, let's see if we can do it." It's tough."

Shawn recounts a narrative of when he felt the most distant from his daughter Tara.

"We were camping when Luke was a baby and were trying to go to sleep, but Tara didn't want to go to sleep. I can't remember why she didn't want to go to sleep, but I remember saying, "Tara, don't wake this baby up, whatever you do." She didn't want to go to sleep. I lost control and forced her to go to sleep, blowing up instead of just taking the time needed. Maybe that was a time when we could have been a lot closer, maybe going out to sit by the fire for another half hour and letting Mom and the baby go to sleep.

"Instead of doing that I said something like, "You're going to sleep! Now sit down and shut up." A lot of times that opportunity won't ever come back, and she probably hated me right then. I just need to have more patience. I should wait--turn a negative situation into a positive one instead of just thinking about what I want. Turn "me" and "I" to "us." Maybe if I wouldn't have done that, [Mom] could have been in the trailer having a good time with her new baby, and Tara and I could have been growing closer together as a father and daughter.

"The whole family would have been better off, instead of Tara hating me because I made her go to bed and caused contention."

Sometimes children themselves give the best answers on how to treat them lovingly. John Gottman (Parke, 1996, p. 139) found that fathers' acceptance and assistance with children's sadness and anger at age five was related to social competence at age eight. Biller (1993) builds on this data with his finding that father involvement during the preschool years is linked to sensitivity to feelings and emotions in adulthood and also associated empathetic actions of pre-schoolers with a strong father attachment during infancy.

This story tells of a time when a father's five year old son taught him an important lesson about empathy and acceptance, a great example of ethical work.

"Our five-year-old Brandon is a very energetic and fun-loving child. He is always active doing something. One of the things that was happening too often was that he would scuff his shoes on our new vinyl floor in the kitchen. We tried numerous times to encourage him to be careful in the kitchen so as not to leave long streaks on the floor. One evening I thought we would try some role-playing. I felt it would be a good opportunity for our family members to develop empathy for each other.

"When it came time for Brandon's turn, I decided to be a five year old that likes to slide across the kitchen floor leaving huge skid marks. I asked Brandon if he was the dad, what would he do? After some coaxing he responded. I had just slid across the carpet pretending that it was the kitchen floor. I expected him to get on my case a bit, instead I was totally surprised! He came running over to me, threw his little arms around my neck and said, "That's okay, we can clean it up together."

"Never had I been so amazed by my son. It's true: wisdom can come from the mouths of babes. I learned that day that my children can be a great source of learning for me."

A son describes a time when his father taught him that although he was young, he could still control some things that happened to him. This story illustrates the importance of mentoring work.

"We would put up hay in that field. Dad and a five year old. But the field was off-limits to me when dad was not around. Off-limits, not because of any mandate from dad, but because it was the home of a very large gander--a very mean gander. The field was his territory and he protected it jealously from all comers except dad, from whom he would flee. On the occasions when I would try to cross the field, thinking that he was not there, he would surely arrive and chase me as fast as he could go, until I crossed the fence.

"He was mean. He would peck at me. He would screech at me. One day dad saw me crossing the field, when the gander attacked me as I fled across the field. Upon returning to Dad, he was upset. He told me that I should act like a man--that I should not let any goose chase me. He instructed me to give the gander no quarter. He instructed me to take a big stick with me the next time that I crossed the field. Armed with the stick, I began to cross the field. Not long thereafter, I heard the gander in pursuit. I turned, and as he arrived I swung the stick, striking him in the head.

"He seemed startled. Confused. He was not knocked out, but was clearly disoriented. From his perspective, there was clearly something new--something that he had not counted on. The next time I crossed the field, he screeched, but did not pursue. I was now in charge, not him. Following one little instruction from dad had changed my life and my perspective. I could control things that happened to me."


FatherWork with toddlers and pre-schoolers calls fathers to create an atmosphere of affectionate attention for their child that is adaptive, yet continuous and consistent. A healthy toddler's inner world is filled with many conflicting feelings - independence and dependence, confidence and doubt, initiative and passivity, and self-awareness and confusion.

Just as a teeter-totter with an adjustable fulcrum compensates for a stronger pull on one end, fathers can adapt their parenting position to compensate for the general shifting emphasis toward his child's independence. However, the position of his fulcrum of love and support may change day to day as the child moves back and forth between these conflicting feelings. Fathers need to respect and support their child's initiative, autonomy, and self-confidence, but at the same time recognize their child's dependence and need for guidance.

More metaphors about fathering

Fathering School-Age Children


Despite the frustrating years of dragging children out of bed and persuading them to go to school, young children have an internal drive to learn about their world, and become industrious and productive individuals.

Their educational eagerness and curiosity can either be stifled or encouraged by parents, teachers, and other adults. Aware fathers can encourage their children's development of important life skills. Besides teaching them to read and write, school and home environments teach children cooperation and interdependence.

Children also engage in important play rituals (like playing with dolls or cops and robbers) which prepare them for adolescence and adulthood. Supportive fathers can exemplify adult life and promote crucial learning of life skills.

Above all, school-age children struggle with feelings of inferiority and incompetence when they compare themselves with their peers. If they don't fit in, they might feel insignificant. Loving and accepting parents help these children develop the confidence to create a future where they can thrive and feel good about themselves.

When fathers understand the developmental needs of their school-age children, they can create an environment and family relationships which are conducive to healthy and happy children. The importance of this aspect of "FatherWork" is shown in the narratives below.


Children with involved and available fathers generally experience much more success in school and increased academic performance than those children who do not have constructive relationships with both parents (Biller, 1993, p. 115, 130).

This first story illustrates the need for fathers' participation and encouragement in their children's scholastic experiences. The next two stories illustrate ethical work, the work that fathers do in meeting the needs of their children.

"I think that I was kind of like Matt [his son] when I was younger--I was always in trouble. That's what my mother said. I remember that I got expelled from school in the sixth grade. The teacher and I didn't get along, and she didn't like me much. I got good grades all through school, but once school work was done in grade school if there wasn't anything to do, then I usually got in trouble.

"Anyway, I got expelled and I thought, "Oooh, Dad is going to kill me!" I thought it was neat getting expelled until I had to go home. Anyway, we had to go back and talk to the principal and I was expelled for four days. I had to clean every rabbit pen and pig pen. He put me to work. But I remember that we had to go back and talk to the principal and teacher.

"I thought that they were just going to rake me over the coals, and so would my parents, but he didn't do that. He went in and I guess understood what I was like, and I remember that he said to the teacher, "Respect begets respect." I'll never forget that. I was only in sixth grade, but maybe if she didn't respect my feelings then I wouldn't respect hers.

"It shocked me. He stood up for me, even though what I did was wrong. He made sure I knew that, but he also didn't abandon me and go to the other side."

The next narrative is about a father who learned the importance of being there for his children:

"I can only remember the situation and I can't remember the specifics of it. [Steven] had something like a book and asked me to sit down with him. I didn't have the time. I don't know if it was something he was doing or something he said, but something let me know that was the moment he needed to practice his verbal skills or his interaction skills....

"It's very hard to say what it was about that moment. Maybe his face looked unhappy when I didn't have time to go with him, but I knew that he had to have me at that moment. I don't know what drew me away but I didn't have the time for it. ...It has kind of been my stimulus to never let it happen again.

"The father's sensitivity to the individuality and needs of other family members greatly contributes to his impact in fostering a sense of inner direction and purposefulness in his child (Biller, 1993, p. 150). A father's sensitivity to his child's emotional needs and development allowed him to better understand his son."

This is a great example of spiritual work, as a father listened to the promptings he received and was able to help his son.

"One day I misunderstood my son. It wasn't something that was necessarily his fault, but I thought it was his fault. I was very upset with him, and my words were not very kind. He cried and cried. It was only when he began to cry that his tears began to tell me, and I think something inside me was telling me I was doing something that was not right.

"I tried to calm myself down and then I realized that it wasn't really his fault. I think that time I misunderstood him. For him, if he remembered this experience, I think that he would probably be able to forgive me later on, but this experience will probably be in his heart for a long time--just like when I was misunderstood, it was in my heart for a long time too.

"When you are misunderstood you feel very frustrated. It just reminds me to be more calm and to be wise in making judgments. If it's necessary, I should even pray before I make such a decision."

Biller found that paternal nurturance could be demonstrated in many different ways and enhance the father's effectiveness as a limit setter and role model (1993, p. 92). Although disciplining children may not often be thought of as being particularily nurturant, it can be a time for fathers to show an increase in love for one's children. Many fathers feel the need to discipline, but doing so can be very difficult, as the following story illustrates:

"[In] a recent experience, he and our other child were in a BYU play. One night my wife and I took them there and then I went to the BYU Library while my wife was with them. I was afraid that while I was there they might be very wild and my wife would not be able to control them, since kids never fear the mother but usually the father. The show was in progress and I wanted to make sure that they were quiet, so I told them, "You need to behave yourselves this time," because previously they had broken their promise to me several times.

"I said, "You need to behave this time and keep your promise. Otherwise, I am going to be very mean tonight." I wanted to make them remember. I left and came back and my wife told me that they forgot everything that they said or that I said to them and were just very wild. People tried to stop them and they would not even listen. I just felt very, very bad, since before that I had told them that I didn't like disciplining them. However, I could not tolerate this any more and told them that I had to teach them a lesson.

"Before that I made them listen to me and said, "I didn't want to do this, because it probably hurts me more than it hurts you, but I have to do this because this is what I promised you and what you chose to get. Now I have to do this to you." So I spanked them both, then later on I gathered them in my arms and asked, "Do you know why I had to do this?" They said, "Yes," and I told them, "You know that this hurts me more than it hurts you. It hurts you momentarily from the slap; it hurts me because I didn't want to slap you.

"You are not only my sons, you are Heavenly Father's children. It makes me feel like I am doing a very bad thing." It was a painful experience, but I felt that because I promised them that I had to make sure that they understood that when I say something I mean it....[L]ater on I said, "Come over here," and got one in my left arm and one in my right arm, and said, "Do you know why Daddy had to do this to you?" They said, "Yes, because we didn't listen to you. We broke our promise, etc."...

"There is an important teaching from the scriptures which says that after disciplining children you want to increase your love. You want to do this after a hard experience with them so that the children do not take you for an enemy, and so that they know that you love them.

Fathers can increase their influence on their child's functioning when they demonstrate their emotional commitment and make themselves accessible to the child on a regular basis (Biller, 1993, p. 92) The father in the next story helps and supports his young child at the expense of their own time and comfort, also a great example of recreation work.

"One of the kids was out trying to ride a bicycle when I came home. She asked me to come out and help her learn to ride or watch her, and I went out there in pain. I thought, "I don't know why I'm doing this," but something forced me to go out and suffer some more. But she learned to ride the bike that day. I just held her up for a second and ran along by her and next thing I knew she was riding the bike...

"You do learn things almost instantaneously when they happen, and if you miss that moment then you've missed the moment. There is nothing else you can say . . . You have to do them or you miss them forever, and I mean forever . . . I don't want those moments to pass with me and my children."

Biller (1993, p.76) suggest that children with nurturant fathers are more likely to be generous, altruistic, tolerant, and understanding with others. This story illustrates how a father's selfless acts of service increased his son's desire to care for others the way he was cared for, a great example of mentoring work.

In an earlier semester, I had to walk to the school every morning very early. . . It was usually about a forty-five minute walk. . . . In the wintertime [in China], my father would always walk me to school and make sure that I was okay on the road . . . Usually we tried to get to school by the time it was light, which means that we had to wake up before it was light. We had to carry a lot of our rice and other things to the school so that we had something to eat.

"My father would never let me carry those things, he would always carry them for me. It was very cold and there was a lot of strong wind. We didn't have money to buy me a new hat and so he would put his hat, which he had from years ago, on me. It was too big for my head, but it kept my head warm. He himself would use a cold towel--the towel he had washed his face with the previous night. There was no heat in the house, of course, unlike America, and so in the morning that towel was frozen solid.

"But he would wrap that towel around his ears because of the wind in the winter. I will never forget that. . . . When you are nurtured and cared for then you are the one to transform that love to the next generation."

The father below tells about his relationship with his father and how, through ethical work, his father was there when he needed him.

"When I was a little younger than twelve I was with my sister at a cousin's and we were babysitting. I don't know why I left, but I was just unhappy or wanted to get out of the situation. I started walking home and it was less than a mile's walk. It's probably about six to eight blocks. I must have been quite small because before I had walked three blocks [my father] was there and picked me up.

"Apparently my sister had called him. He had said something like, "We'll come whenever you need us. Just call." . . . It's interesting because his father died when he was very young. His earliest recollection of his father was somehow being ordered out of the car because he was eating ice cream messily.

"He watched his Dad in the mirror but his Dad went very slowly so that he could get on the bumper of the car and made sure that he was okay. Maybe little things like that are generational."

In this situation, the father demonstrates his love and concern for his young, injured child.

"There was an actual specific moment when I had a physical need when I was eight and got hit by a car. I was just a block away from the house crossing a street. . . . A car came through the intersection rather fast and hit me; I did a backwards somersault, stood right up, and staggered over to the side of the road. I was okay but he didn't know that.

"Someone ran home and said, "Gary got hit by a car," and he came running out without even taking the time to put on his clothes. He came running out in his underwear, picked me up and carried me back to the house, then drove me to the hospital. . . . I didn't feel like I needed to be carried but he did. By the time we got to the hospital he was a little more relaxed about it."

When a father goes beyond stating facts, to what it means and its ideas and symbol system, he becomes culturally generative (Kotre, 1984, p. 14). The father in this story did not explain the reasons the family had to move and his son tells of the pain and confusion this brought.

I was seven years old. I had lived at the same place for all of my life, but we were moving. We were moving from the farm with all of its animals, with its memories of searching for chicken eggs, and with the black and white cows that had to be milked each day. We were going from the place of scrub pines, of pastures, of irrigation ditches to an unknown, unknowable place, far, far away. Dad had told us that we were moving. We had worked hard to get ready.

"Finally, it was all done. Dad piled all of us into the car. As we began to drive away, I looked out of the rear window of the car. As I looked back, I saw my dog, and my cats. I could not see my horse. I asked my father what would happen to these pets. All that dad could tell me was that they had to remain there, that they could not come with us. There was no explanation--merely the declaration that we must go.

"I was bitterly disappointed, so disappointed that this memory is still seared into me, forty-three years later. Why could my father not change this? I could not understand then, but I do now. But I still do not understand why there was no explanation. The failure to explain to little ones leaves lasting impressions on them and feelings that do not fade with time."


FatherWork with school-age children requires an attentive heart that is willing to meet the many challenges young children face. Some of these challenges are similar to school playgrounds that are full of difficult stretches, slippery slides, exciting whirls, and many ups and downs.

Just as children stretch their large motor capabilities as they strive to climb higher or swing harder on various playground equipment, fathers must stretch to meet the changing capabilities and needs of their child as they choose to respond attentively and appropriately to them. School-age children are caught up in a whirlwind of rapid developmental changes physically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally. Fathers who choose to provide gentle guidance, warm appreciation, and a patient heart will become a friend forever in the child's playground of life.

More metaphors about fathering

Fathering Teenagers


Fathering teenagers often seems hazardous to one's health, but it can also be rewarding and enjoyable. This is a time of life when teenagers are searching for an identity and a group to associate with. They are seeking answers to questions such as,"Who am I? What is my place in life?" and they are starting to think more for themselves.

Fathering is important for today's youth. Teenagers need someone to look to as an example for advice and support and who will listen and try to understand. Fathers can help their teenagers develop a commitment to a chosen value system and a stable identity that will protect them as they mature towards adult lives.

A father's support during these tumultuous times can be especially important in not only giving his son or daughter a sense of security in dealing with various peer and cultural pressures, but also in developing the self-discipline and moral judgement to rise above that peer pressure (Biller, 1993, p. 71, 181).


Many fathers mention time as an important aspect of fathering adolescents, not just time spent with their teenagers but time made available for them by their children. One father notes that one of the most meaningful areas in his relationship with his daughter is his availability to sit down and communicate with her about whatever she wants to talk about.

Snarey (1993, p. 161) suggests that nurturant father-daughter relationships facilitate healthy social and emotional development of the daughter. These stories illustrate how Chris and his daughter Elizabeth have become emotionally close during these times, demonstrating the need for relationship work during adolescence.

"There have been times when she has had some problems. It would take her a long while to get around to talking to me, but sometimes she did sit down and we would talk--not that I came to any conclusions. I think she came to more of the conclusions on her own regarding the problems that she had. But I was there just to talk with her and listen. Again, those seem to be the special times that she and I have had.

"Now when she wants to know something, it's mainly about boys. My two older daughters want to know why boys are the way they are. I ask, "What do you mean?" And so they bring up a particular instance, and so I have to sit down with both of them and say, "Well, they come from a different background than I do. The way they're feeling about things might be entirely different.

"But, here are some of the things that I went through at that age." I let them come up with their own conclusions at that point because I don't know what he's thinking! Every once in a while she still has problems and will come and talk, and we talk them through. Those are special times. They are also very personal times. I would say that those are the times I really feel close to my daughters."

Snarey (1993, p. 277) suggests that men who had active fathers are more likely to be active with their own children. One father told about his experience of having a dad that was always there for him.

"He's always been there. I'll just always remember him as being there, no matter what. We were in a state championship game in football and it came down to a last-second field goal. I was the field goal kicker and I missed it. I went home and was going to go with some friends somewhere. Dad was out cutting wood and feeding the horses, and I went and talked to him. He just said, "Well, sometimes you do and sometimes you don't." I could always talk to Dad and tell him anything, no matter what I did, whether it was wrong or right. I could always tell Dad, and he always stood behind me.

Trust is very important in a relationship, especially a parent-child relationship. The following is a story about a man who was not trusted by his father and what that meant to him:

"We were cleaning up in the back yard, a Saturday activity for everyone (or else), and I walked toward the garbage can. The garbage can was on the corner of the garage and at the garbage can I saw a dime. I got it and was happy to see it, and the next thing I knew [my father] was there questioning me where I got it. I said, "I found it out on the garbage can." I don't remeber exactly what he said, but it was basically, "You're a liar. Tell me the truth--where did you come up with this?" I guess that hurt quite a bit....Painful things stand out. I think it's disbelief. Why doesn't a parent believe what a child is saying? I hear it in myself.

Biller (1993, p.76) suggests that if the father has a warm relationship with his children, they will be more likely to respond positively to many dimensions of his behavior, such as his moral tenets and patterns of relating to others. Adolescents who are searching for an identity will pattern their lives after those whom they trust. Teenagers watch their parents closely in looking for values and standards. Jeff, a father in New Zealand, recalls his father's example to him and his brothers. This story illustrates mentoring work, as the father passes to his children morals he holds to be important.

"He always taught us to be honest. One time I remember that there was someone that he was working for that wanted a bunch of extra things done, so my dad did the work. Later, when Dad charged him for it, the guy said that he wouldn't pay--and then his wife got in on it. She said no, that my dad had quoted a different price, but she didn't take into account all of this other work, so they didn't pay. That guy was a mechanic. My dad had some of his cars being worked on in his shop.

"After the guy had worked on them, this lady from the shop called and said that they hadn't charged us enough and it would be an extra forty or so dollars. My brother and I were really brassed off [upset] because we thought that, well, he wasn't paying his bill--why should we pay them? My dad said no, that it was up to us to be the honest ones and pay. I think we went down there and paid the money. That guy never did pay us back for the extra work. And yet, my dad said that it was not for us to judge that guy and that, if we pay, the Lord would help us."

Snarey (1993, p.157) suggests that fathers continue to be models for their adolescent children even though these children are trying to become independent of their parents. When both the father and the mother are actively involved parents, their child is much more likely to develop into a socially and morally mature adult (Biller, 1993, p.76). Being active in the lives of children is an important element of relationship work, as these next three stories show. Shawn, a father of two, shares an experience when his father helped him see the importance of telling the truth.

"I remember coming home after being out with some friends; I'd had a little bit to drink. . . . Mother always waited up for me and Dad slept. If Mom ever mentioned anything bad, he'd wake right up. If Mom said, "Have you been doing this--?" then I'd hear, "What?" coming from Dad's side of the bed. Although I can't remember the details of that night very well, I do remember that I felt more tension than I ever had felt between Dad and me. Dad left for work at about 6:00 the next morning, as usual.

"As I was about to leave for school, Mom said, "Make sure you come home right after school because your Dad wants to talk to you." The worst thing about it was that at first, when they'd asked me the night before if I'd been drinking, I had said, "no." Then I'd started thinking about ways that I was going to get out of telling the truth, but I'd realized I couldn't, so I'd just decided to tell them what really happened. I remember the disappointment."

"When I got home from school that afternoon, he hadn't come home yet. It was the longest half-hour I've ever waited in my life. He came home, went in and gave Mom a kiss and talked to Mom, then said, "Mark, come in the room." He didn't ask me why I had been drinking; instead he simply said, "Why did you lie to me?" Those were his first words. "Why did you lie to me?" I wasn't ready for that question.

"That's all he wanted to know, and I felt like the biggest heel right then. It wasn't so much the drinking; it was that I had lied to him. That's probably the farthest away that I've ever felt from him, doing that--lying to him. I hope he taught me a lesson there--to always tell the truth, no matter what the circumstance may be. Hopefully, when my kids come to me and tell me the truth, I won't act in a way so that they won't want to tell their dad the truth."

The following is a story of a father who learned how he wished to discipline his children by an experience he had with his own father:

"He slapped me once. I can't even remember what I said, but we were in the car and I mouthed something back at him. He slapped me in the face. What I remember is how awful that was. It was more devastating than any ten spankings he'd ever given me in my life. It was very personal, being in my face, and he had never done that before. I guess I must have just pushed him right over the edge, but I learned something from that which you didn't have to draw out of me....It is not worth what it does.

"I'm not faulting him for doing it either. There have been times that I've wanted to slap my kids. I don't think that he was really being a bad father, but I understood something about what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that which made me not want to do it to mine."

Fathers can be an emotional support to their teenagers by being there in those times when they are needed most. Some fathers recall times when they needed their fathers' support and it wasn't there.

"I remember a time when I felt emotionally distant from my father. . . I'm not sure if he was aware that I knew of the situation. It was a case, because of the things that I was involved in, that somebody had the audacity to go to my father and tell him that I was gay. My father did nothing. He didn't say anything. He never said anything to me, but he didn't say anything to the guy, and that made me feel like he didn't really care one way or the other what people said about me, and didn't really know me at all. In those times if you were into drama, dancing and those things you had to be gay.

"Something had to be wrong with you. So something was definitely wrong and you had to get a little hassled. The thing was that the man had the nerve to say it to my father, not to someone else on the side but directly to him, and then sit there and laugh about it. And my father did nothing. I remember that particular thing because it hurt me and it made me feel like maybe I was adopted, or maybe he just didn't care for me. And the other thing is maybe he believed it."

One father, Shawn, tells of an experience when his father was there to support him and how he felt about it. This story illustrates the power of recreation work, as Shawn's father took time to support him outside of his father's daily routine.

"The one (experience) that sticks out was when I was wrestling in high school. I was going for the state championship. He and all my brothers were there-- there are six boys in the family, so there were five boys there with dad. You wrestle with all these other guys all year round, but he was there when I won. I didn't care about everybody else-- dad was there."

One of the most challenging things about fathering a teenager is dealing with their growing desire for independence. Fathers often provide support for a child's developing autonomy (Parke, 1996, p.144). A father shares his experience when his 16-year-old daughter decided it was time for her to leave home. This story illustrates development work, as the father adapts to the changing needs of his daughter.

"Parenting adolescents has been a challenge for me, but that hardly makes me unique. A couple of years ago my daughter Kathy, our oldest child, began chafing against parental monitoring and guidance. Nothing too unusual here. She was 15. Over time we gave her more and more "slack, " eventually getting down to a couple of basic rules: let us know where you are and who you are with, let us know when we can expect you back, call if you're going to be late, and "be good."

"We thought these were very minimal and reasonable rules, but it wasn't enough for her; she needed to be on her own, completely unfettered by parental ties. We asked her if she thought other parents were more lenient than hers. She said all that she knew were stricter, but she still needed to have her freedom. She just had to be on her own.

"The summer after her sophomore year in high school, she moved out and into a home with an adult friend and her husband (they have no children). We didn't approve, but we could see that saying no would really sour our relationship with her. It was hard to say good-bye, even though she still lives close; we had thought we would have more time with her. It's been especially hard on her mother, who grew up in much more challenging circumstances and didn't get much parenting or have many of the advantages Kathy enjoyed.

"I've learned first-hand about the process of adolescent autonomy, parental separation, and an emptying nest. I've learned that the timing of this process isn't necessarily predictable and can be sooner than you think, leaving you unprepared. I think we made a good decision, and Kathy seems to be doing well, although it's harder to know all that's going on in her life now.

"I guess I've learned that children grow up on different timetables and with different needs and desires. Parents need to respect them. Although we wish we had more time with her, we now realize that parents shouldn't assume a fixed amount of time (18 years) to rear their children before launching. We hope letting her go will preserve a good relationship so that she will still come to us, physically and emotionally, in the future. That seems to be happening somewhat already."

Sometimes a little humor can be the best way to work with teenagers.

"One day my Dad was working on the car I usually drove. He came inside wearing his work overalls, and I asked him how it was going. He said it was going fine, but he had to go to the store and get something to finish up. I said, "You're not going to the store looking like embarrassing! You look like a geek. Don't tell anyone you're my Dad." I was kind of joking but I did think it would be embarrassing if he ran into someone I knew. A few minutes later he came out of his room with home-made signs taped to his front and back that said "I'm a geek" and "I'm Kimberlie's Dad."

"He got in the car and was leaving and I was laughing. I was a little embarrassed but it also made me realize how dumb it was to worry about my friends knowing he was my Dad, even when he looked like a geek. I'm glad I could have a good, fun relationship with my Dad."

Many times fathers do things they regret later. The following is a story of a father who learned from what he felt was a mistake:

"I know that self esteem is our most fragile commodity. So much of what we do as parents destroys self esteem "--clean up your room, it's such a mess." "--why did you only get a C in your math?" - etc. I will never forget when we were going to Philmont Scout Ranch to participate in the LDS scouter training. We had six of our children in the car with us. Mike (15) had bought a cowboy hat. He was pleased with himself in the hat. I thought he looked dumb--perhaps I was embarrassed. Well, I put him down over it, multiple times. I very much regret this....Now I deal so differently with the gang in similar situations. I try to be sensitive as to how I act over clothes or things that are important to them."


FatherWork can be especially challenging when it involves teenage children who are stretching their wings towards greater independence. During these years, generative fathers can be the wind beneath the wings of their adolescent children as they fly farther and farther from the nest exploring a world full of opportunities and dangers. As teenagers search for a stable identity and choose a personal value system, fathers may feel unnoticed and distant from their teenagers. But as fathers work to build a strong and trusting relationship through the early years and continue to tell their maturing youth they love them, their teenagers will sense that quiet wind lifting their youthful wings and appreciate its strength and guidance. Although fathers walk a step behind their teenagers during these years, their children can still recognize their dads as one of the true heroes in their lives.

More metaphors about fathering

Fathering Adult Children and Grandchildren


Many fathers feel mixed emotions at seeing their children grow up and leave home. It might be sad to see the ones they have taught, loved, and nurtured for so long, leave. On the other hand, a sense of joy might more adequately describe the departure. Many fathers feel that they don't have responsibility once the children leave the house and "declare independence," but good fathering continues throughout life.

Young adults are still developing. They are forming intimate relationships, making lasting commitments, maturing in their abilities to make self sacrifices, and learning to care for the next generation. In all these important developmental tasks, a father's strong example can be a great asset to adult children. Fathers can be a source of support and gentle guidance for adult children, especially in times of need or distress.

The following stories illustrate how fathers continue to parent even after the children are "on their own."


The next two stories show the importance of mentoring work. In the first, Isaac tells of an experience he had with his father after he had been away from home for a while.

"I was older and married. It's been really interesting because, like I said, my Dad's been really quiet and my Mom is very demonstrative. I remember coming home after I came back from the war in Vietnam, and he said something to me. I can't even remember exactly what he said, but it was really interesting. For the first time I think that I heard him verbalize that he loved me, and it just kind of stopped me in my tracks, and he hugged me.

"That had never happened all my growing up years that I could remember. I was thirty four. We had gone home for Christmas, I think, and it might have been the first time that he had met my wife. I remember what he said. He said, "You treat her good, because that is the woman you need." He told me, because we were thinking about moving back to Kansas City, "There is nothing for you here. Absolutely nothing, there is nothing here." It was interesting because it was like he was having a father-and-son talk with me.

"I was thinking that I was thirty- four and married, and this was almost the birds-and-the-bees type of thing. That was really touching, as he opened up and fumbled through it. And then he felt more comfortable. I sat there and let him do it."

Paul remembers a time when he was in need and how his father came through for him even when he didn't ask for assistance.

"Seven years ago I was in a partnership in construction and it went sour. The company got into a bad situation and, without going into a lot of detail, the bottom line was that I left. All I had known was construction for five or six years, since I'd been home from my mission [for his church]. I didn't know anything else, and construction was gone. There were no homes being built, no job opportunities, and I'd soured on it from what had happened.

"Basically, I ended up losing a home and becoming unemployed with no money. I'd learned from my family how to survive tough times: You face situations, nothing is ever critical, there's always a tomorrow, you're not going to die, etc. Yes, it might be important or a sticky situation, but you'll face it and tomorrow you'll go on. However, for the first time in my life, I didn't feel like there was a tomorrow. I had no money. I had bill collectors coming to the door. It really got to me when I realized that I didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread to feed my wife and my one child.

"When you are put into situations like that, you lose all self-confidence and all feelings of self-worth. I was devastated. My father could sense that something was wrong. My parents didn't know what the situation was or how bad it was, but they just showed up with some groceries. It was as if they were saying, "We don't know what you need, but we have some extra and here it is." It's probably one of the few times that I've cried in front of my father.

In the story below, a college student expresses gratitude for a wise father who knows how to listen and counsel.

"College life can be really fun, but really hard at the same time. There are so many important decisions to make--like where to live, whether to work or not while going to school, how to handle relationships, and what to do after graduation. When I really need advice, I call home and talk to my dad. I don't know where this normally impatient man developed the patience to listen to his twenty-one-year-old daughter ramble on about school, young men, and her future, but he always listens with interest.

"He never fails to praise me for the good things I am doing. He helps me to understand things about myself that I hadn't even been aware of. He even knows things about my future that I don't know--He says he won't tell me until it's all over! Sometimes I call when I'm having a bad day and just need to remember that my dad still loves me. He knows at those times that all he needs to do is listen."


FatherWork is a lifelong commitment. When children are young, fathers are a shortstop, a coach, and even a team player in their child's game of life. As the innings progress and the child matures into adulthood, this relationship is not dissolved. Generative fathers learn to play different positions in their child's life; they now become an outfielder. An outfielder is not always in the action of the game, but he plays an integral part.

A generative father still gets to view his child's life, even if he is waiting for a fly ball for part of the game. Successful fathering is like a baseball game; participation is necessary throughout the entire game. As a father, it is up to you to be there for your children even as they grow into adulthood. By letting them know you will be part of their team, you allow them to play their best while remaining part of their lives.

More metaphors about fathering

Learning and Application Activities

Please complete one of the following:

1. Share a story or experience about fathering an adult child or receiving encouragement, support, or guidance from your father after you were an adult. (Think especially about experiences when you helped your adult child or your father helped you with some important decisions about relationships or marriage.) Submit the story to us.

2. Interview an older father about the joys and challenges of fathering adult children and being a grandfather. Send your brief (about one page) "report" about this experience to us via email.

3. Think of some of your ideas based on your professional work about how fathers and adult children can work on strengthening their relationships. Send your ideas to us via email.