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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Lessons From 2020: 192 Dads and Granddads Can’t Be Wrong

by Allan Shedlin, Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

The end of each year is traditionally a time for us to reflect on the year just passed and, for many, to make resolutions for the year ahead. 2020 surely has been a year unlike any other in most of our lifetimes. It has provided additional time for introspection and an opportunity to discover what we can live without, what is most important to us, and what we have missed most while we have been "locked down."

2020 also marked the 20th year of my qualitative research with fathers. During that time, I conducted in-depth interviews with 192 individual fathers/grandfathers (16-104 years old) from 20 countries. They represented a broad socio-economic, ethnic, and racial spectrum. Most self-identified as straight, some as gay. I created a protocol of questions. The average interview lasted 90 minutes – the length was determined by the depth of answers the men offered.

Allan as principal with one of his classes, 1983

I have "studied" the "fatherhood field" since 1994, when a friend, after speaking with my young adult daughters, suggested that I write a book on fathering. Although I had written numerous pieces as an educator, I had never thought about writing about being a dad. As I considered the idea, I referenced myself as a son, grandson, and dad, as well as in my roles as a teacher and principal. After all, a 4-year-old once described my principal’s job as "the daddy of the school."

As I became more intrigued by the topic, I coined the term daddying – the place where fathering and nurturing intersect. It was important to me to distinguish the lifelong process of daddying from the one-time biological act of fathering.

Simply stated, when fathers and children are positively involved in each other’s lives, children, fathers, families, and communities all benefit.

Thinking of children, as the "consumers of daddying," I decided to conduct focus groups with them. It was after conducting 28 "daddying" focus groups with 162 children (5-21 years old) in three countries, that I began my individual interviews with the dads and granddads.

The interviews were heartfelt and most of the men were eager to share – admitting they had probably spent more time during their interview intensely thinking about their daddying than any other time in their lives.

During my more than a quarter-century studying, working with, and writing about fathers, the cultural attention and academic research dedicated to fatherhood has increased exponentially. In many ways, it has benefitted from the rethinking of the roles of mothers and women, in general, triggered by the Women’s Movement.

Almost all research to date has focused on the benefits to children of positive father involvement in children’s lives – the research is ample and irrefutable. That said, there is almost no discussion or even mention of the mutual benefits to fathers.

Simply stated, when fathers and children are positively involved in each other’s lives, children, fathers, families, and communities all benefit.

Ninety-one percent of the men I’ve interviewed in my daddying research have either cried outright during their interviews or fought off tears as their eyes welled up. And 94 percent of the fathers shared that their lives have been positively enriched by their experiences as dads. It is way past time to also acknowledge the reciprocal benefits to men of positive father involvement with their children, no matter what the “children’s” ages.

Overlooking the importance to fathers of father-child involvement deprives the field of a fundamental opportunity to increase motivation for increased father involvement and to expand the view of men as nurturing, sensitive, and vulnerable human beings. Appreciating this aspect of fathers can encourage a rethinking of what it means to be "manly" and thus acknowledge that it is the key to the fuller definition of fatherhood I’ve established as daddying.

Photo credit: Don Usner

With this idea in mind of how being a positively involved dad enriches fathers, grandfathers, and father figures, I share some of the key learnings that have emerged from my daddying interviews and my own reflections. Please consider these thoughts as you think about your own parenting, consider making your New Year’s resolutions, and as you commit to not keep the dad you want to be waiting:

  • Daddying is more than just who you are, it's something you do!

  • Dads matter to kids and kids matter to dads (in their presence and in their absence).

  • Daddying and mommying don't take place in a vacuum. They occur in a dynamic micro-social system known as "family" within a dynamic macro-social system referred to as the broader society.

  • Parents have an opportunity to encourage and/or discourage each other's daddying/mommying.

  • There is no such thing as a "perfect" parent, and you don't need to be perfect to be a successful parent.

  • Dads have the power to become the dad they and their children want and need them to be, and it is often not as daunting as one thinks.

  • We must do everything we can to provide opportunities for fathers to move from an "understudy" to a co-starring parenting role.

  • As you consider the dad YOU most want to be, ask yourself how you want your child to describe you as a parent 5, 10, 15+ years from now.

  • The qualities kids most want in their dad are the ones most dads want to cultivate AND that child development experts agree are needed to lead fulfilled and fulfilling lives.

  • Daddying is one of life's rare opportunities to make a direct connection to your heart.

As we move on to 2021 and beyond, be aware that if you embrace the opportunity to become a genuinely and exuberantly involved dad, you will never be alone in your heart.

From THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.


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