Steve Biddulph... working to promote the role of fathers.
Steve Biddulph... working to promote the role of fathers.

Being a good dad takes work

IF WE'RE honest with ourselves, there are days where we are disasters as dads.

We lose it with our kids. We're not there enough for them. Sometimes we're not there when they need us most.

We spend so much time trying to prove ourselves at work and acquire things that don't matter while losing touch with the very people who do.

Even parenting guru Steve Biddulph admits he's had his moments.

He told the story this week of how after his wife decided to go to India, leaving him with their two-year-old son, he developed the most precise schedule for the three weeks.

The only problem was that by the afternoon of the first day, it had been exhausted.

It was only after that how he discovered the joy of a slow walk to the post office – a trip that normally took 20 minutes – with his inquisitive son.

“I took four hours and it was nice,” he said.

“We give them a life but we get so much more back.”

But that joy soon turned to frustration at the dinner table after his young child failed to appreciate the meat-and-three-vegies combo he had prepared so carefully.

Instead, he wanted just a peanut butter sandwich. After several failed attempts, Steve delivered what was required, giving his child a little clip on the head on the way through.

The poor kid's heart was broken and he went away to hide under a rug, saying he wanted to go to India to be with Mum.

Steve relays how he felt so ashamed and immediately comforted his son and acknowledged he missed Mummy too.

According to the best-selling author of Raising Boys, the reality is we can all work on our parenting – and reconnecting with our own parents.

Some of us spend a lifetime longing for the dream dad, while at the same time our dads are probably longing for the dream child.

Rarely do the two expectations ever meet.

“The secret of the whole thing is loving what you have got,” he said.

This week, at a mental health forum, Steve relayed stories from his own life, including a haunting one of how his father was abused for pushing a pram with his new-born baby.

When Steve was born his dad wanted to show him off to the neigbhourhood. Instead of getting messages of congratulations, he was ribbed.

“People actually jeered him and frowned. He was embarrassed and gave up and went home. That was in the 1950s,” Steve recalled.

Today, the value of fathers has come a long way, partly because of books like Raising Boys, which is in a quarter of all Australian family homes.

Men are the ones most in trouble

FOR the past 30 years in working with families, Steve Biddulph has focused on men, saying they are often the ones in trouble.

“Boys are three times more likely to die in their teenage years, nine times more likely to go to jail,'' he points out.

“Men are four times more likely to suicide, the bad news just goes on and on.

“The core problem is that we don't teach boys how to be men. It doesn't just happen automatically when we turn 18 or 21, good manhood has to be taught.''

He says it's vital that men spend more time with their children and make a real connection.

While he said there have been huge improvements, even today only about one man in 10 really gets on well with his dad.

However, more men are learning it is never too late to reconnect, even if it means spending time or calling up a dad who has been distant for most of our lives.

On average, Aussie dads spend about half an hour a day with their children – it's not much – but it's a lot more than the eight minutes a day only a generation ago.

Of course, many dads do a lot more than that.

“Younger dads are so much warmer and engaged.''

So what if there is no dad around, particularly after family separation or a sudden death? He says the key is to ensure children have a network of uncles or aunts around them who can make the connection that their father would have provided.

A wide variety of role models are needed to make for a strong community.

“Men need to contribute.

“Men are not just work machines, and we need to define ourselves more widely, then we are resilient to change. Our energies and our caring will be needed even more as times get harder.''

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