Recently I found myself face to face with the question, “How To Be A Good Father”, all because of some girls fascinated with flamenco.
Urmila and I had dinner at ‘El Gaucho’ on Mojacar Playa. It’s a fabulous Argentinian steak house that has live Flamenco on a Friday night. It’s normally full but during August – Spanish holiday month – it’s chaos.
There were at least a dozen 8-10 year old girls in flamenco costumes, with their families. Seeing them all dancing on stage together was not what I went out for!
My eye was caught, however, by the British family at the table next to us. There were the mother and father and three young girls in the 8-10 year age range. What caught my eye was the behaviour, or lack of it, of the father.
He was just not engaged with his daughters, he seemed to leave it all to his wife, that was a mother’s task.
My eye wasn’t caught by his behaviour because he was bored or even fed up, it was because he seemed to be so out of his depth. What was happening seemed to be so remote from his experience. He was just not connected in any way.
That, in itself, is not uncommon. You may think he had things on his mind, maybe he just didn’t like flamenco. These maybe true, I don’t know, but it seemed to me that his reaction encapsulated a male condition that is too common, one that can be solved.
I can’t vouch for understanding this personally. I come from a family of three boys and I had two sons. I grew up in a male dominated world where power, dominance and anger decided who was the boss, a world in which it was easy, as a man, to know where you stand. It is a world that a father can feel at home in, or, at least, think he can.
In a world surrounded by a wife and small daughters how does a man cope?
He has a number of roles to perform:
This is easy for him when it’s just the two of them, or is it. Maybe the wife has taken over leading the family, maybe she senses his lack of certainty and fills the gap. Once a woman does this a man often lets go and retreats into himself, happy to let things be organised.
I know that as a father it is scary seeing your children grow up around you. They seem to pick up all your negative qualities and amplify them. You feel that they grow up despite you. Surrounded by little girls it’s easy for a man to hide away and leave it to the mother to bring them up. It’s easy to feel that you simply don’t understand them and don’t know what to do with them.
Leadership is about being the strength that people come to for inspiration and protection. Leaders are defined by their followers, by those who look up to them. In a family it’s easy to see who is the leader by looking at who the children go to. In this family the father was ignored in the same way he ignored his children. They went to their mother for comfort, support and courage.
A role model is someone that people look up to and seek to emulate. Even when children despise their parents they often, subconsciously, see them as role models. They model their behaviour and take on board their actions. I modelled my father and took on board his anger and his dominance. In this family I see the girls modelling their fathers detachment and fear.
So what is a man to do in this situation? How can he find his strength again without becoming dominant, without frightening his girls. How can he be the man he wants to be and give the femininity around him the freedom to be chaotic, the freedom to fly.
The answer is deceptively simple, one that any man can take on board.
Find your inner Certainty
You have to know yourself and what you want. To radiate certainty, to allow others to be certain around you, you need to find it in yourself. This does not mean you need to be arrogant and dominating, that’s no sign of certainty. It means you understand that others look up to you and rely on you to know that what they are doing is OK.
Find your inner Courage
The courage to be vulnerable is at the core of being a man, being a husband, being a father. Your family look to your for guidance and when they see you acting without fear the have permission to do the same. It takes courage to bring up children, to cope with the unexpected they bring into your life. They seek the courage in you in learning how to deal with life.
Find your inner Compassion
All this male power needs to be tempered with love and compassion. Men can seem big and noisy to little girls who can be easily frightened. It’s important to see things from the perspective of your wife and children, not to speak down to them but to allow them to be on your level.
The strength and presence that he creates allows his girls to explore the depth of their femininity. It allows them to fly and be amazing. His daughters learn the courage to go onstage and dance with the flamenco dancer, letting their fear go in the certainty that he is there to protect and comfort them.
His engagement allows his family to relate to him without checking, internally, that they think it’s OK to do some. They can be fearless and open to following their emotions knowing they won’t be rejected.
Any man who finds these qualities within himself becomes a leader and a role model in his family. He becomes a true, husband and father and he creates a family held together by certainty, courage and love.