Five Foundations of Healthy Fathering
(Excerpt from Father Memories © 2012, 1992 Dr. Randy Carlson. All rights reserved.)
Becoming the father you always wanted
- Did your father provide emotional security?
Emotional security is a foundational element in healthy child development. A child raised without emotional and physical security comes to believe that life is like walking on quicksand. People can’t be trusted and risk-taking is unpredictable and dangerous. One client of mine recalls clinging to a flagpole on the first day of kindergarten because he feared going to school. That was a typical response to life for someone who missed out on feeling secure in his early years.
2. Did your father value you as a person?
We all entered life with one thought: “Meet my needs!” People who were not valued as children grow up deprived of the dignity and affection they deserve. Often, they respond to this deficiency in one or two ways. Some adults still squawk, kick their feet and throw tantrums to get their way and elicit the attention they crave, even though it is negative attention. Others battle a deep sense of inadequacy and pull inward, feeling unaccepted and unworthy, and find it a struggle to develop intimacy in their relationships.
3. Did your father teach you healthy touching?
The skin is the largest sense organ in the body. Touch brings pleasure or pain. My wife, Donna, knows that when she rubs my back or massages my feet I purr like a kitten. Touch connects people in a way nothing else does. It is an expression of sensual love, tender affection and brotherly concern.
If your father abused the gift of touch, or did not offer touch, you have been set up for problems—women especially. Ross Campbell says in his book, How to Really Love Your Child, “In all my reading and experience, I have never known one sexually disoriented person who had a warm, loving and affectionate father” (Campbell 1977).
4. Did your father set boundaries and enforce them with consistent discipline?
My friends and I once attempted to play volleyball without clear boundary lines for the court—a frustrating experience. After the first volley both sides were arguing about whether the ball landed in or out. It’s a great way to develop childish behavior at an adult party! The point is, clearly established boundary lines give us the freedom to function without confusion and tension. Behavioral and relational boundaries give freedom and limits, protection and safety.
Children routinely test the boundaries and argue about the limits, but they want and need them. When those guidelines are enforced by firm, loving and consistent discipline, the child can more easily bridge the gap from childishness to self-discipline and self-control.
Loving discipline leading to self-discipline is a key to healthy self-esteem.
Individuals who do not establish and enforce healthy interpersonal boundaries set themselves up for others to take advantage of them. They develop all sorts of relational problems as adults.
5. Did your father teach you the right values and help you build a belief system that leads to wise, balanced and moral living?
Was right from wrong explained and modeled by your father? Distorted values lead to neuroticism, despair and failure. In his book on building self-esteem in children, James Dobson lists values that lead to emotional and physical health:
“The Bible provides the key to God’s value system for mankind, and in my judgment, it is composed of six all-important principles. They are:
(1) devotion to God
(2) love for mankind
(3) respect for authority
(4) obedience to divine commandments
(5) self-discipline and self-control
(6) humbleness of spirit.”
“These six concepts are from the hand of the Creator, Himself, and are absolutely valid and relevant for our lives” (Dobson 1979).
Not surprisingly, Dobson credits his own father for the values that were instilled in him as a child and wrote this tribute on the dedication page:
“This book is dedicated in deepest respect to my father, whose influence on my life has been profound. I watched him closely throughout my childhood, yet he never disappointed me. Not once did I see him compromise his inner convictions and personal ethics. Thus, his values became my values, and his life charted the path for my own. Now it is my task, in turn, to be found worthy of the two little ones who call me ‘Dad” (Dobson 1979).
That is the way it is supposed to work. Hurray for fathering at its best!
Campbell, Ross. How to Really Love Your Child (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1977), p.73.
James Dobson, James. Hide or Seek: How to Build Self-esteem in Your Child (Revell, Old Tappan, N.J., 1979) p. 171.