Renowned expert on fatherhood, Dr. Ken Canfield spoke at the Dads For Life Conference on the specific roles fathers play.
Contributed By Melissa Chen
It’s a fact that mothers get a lot more help than fathers when it comes to parenting, but there are those who are working to close the gap. An initiative of the National Family Council, supported by NFC work group Fathers Action Network, the second annual Dads For Life conference on May 27 at Suntec Singapore saw eminent parenting authority Dr. Ken Canfield taking participants through the seven stages of fatherhood in a child’s life, effectively underscoring the message that a father’s responsibility does not end, but rather, begins at conception.
Canfield is a “father” to fathers. He was awarded the 1993 Father of the Year by the National Congress for Men and Children, and is a founder and former president of The National Centre of Fathering in the USA, as well as a founding member of former vice president Al Gore’s “Father to Father” initiative. He authored the award-winning books, 7 Secrets Of Effective Fathers and The Heart Of A Father, among others. He is particularly renowned for developing family life education modules for community groups.
“Attachment between fathers and their children is reciprocal. It is both powerful and life-giving. It is foundational and restorative, and yields lifelong benefits to both child and father,” he said. Thanks to recent findings in behavioral research, it is by now irrefutable that children whose fathers were there for them adopted less risky behavior and are more intentional in developing relationships. “Attachment happens throughout one’s course of life, when you send your son to university or walk down the aisle with your daughter. These reference points are powerful moments, and we have to prize them as these are what distinguish us as fathers and grandfathers.”
Canfield emphasized that fathers need to actively plan and create points of attachment in the form of pictures and memories with their children. Contrastingly, abandonment and detachment creates fear, insecurity, anxiousness and avoidance in children, which then results in a void in the child. Revealing findings from his own research, he said that adult males who experienced father abandonment suffered from more turmoil (the inability to regulate emotions), sexual problems (because fathers bring a calmness and sexual identity to their child), a higher measure of guilt, shame and memory loss. A father attachment pattern is also generationally directly related to one’s own father, and in turn affects his closeness with his child.
He summarized the life course or life cycle of fathering into seven different stages:
1) Attachment (0-2 years): to bond and provide for the child’s needs.
2) Idealism (3-5 years): the knowledge of child personality and actualizing commitment to child by creating pictorial memories and, to enforce discipline and guidance.
3) Understanding (6-12 years): to identify the child’s motivations, talents and gifts and to engage with him or her emotionally.
4) Enlightenment (13-18 years): involves active listening and the provision of support in times of crisis or failure with patience and persistency.
5) Reflection (19-24 years): reaffirming of marriage values, expressing encouragement and modeling consistency.
6) Generativity (25 years and above): a lifelong process of having a proactive awareness and intentional sacrifice in developing family history.
7) Generational Fathering (grandfathering and great-grandfathering): having biology continuity and renewal, mentoring and expressing of vicarious achievement.
Canfield encouraged the audience to be effective fathers by sharing the “ICANs” of fathering: firstly, they have to be “Involved” by factoring time into their schedule and making it their priority. “Seven minutes of uninterrupted quality face-time a day for your children is the key to involvement,” he said.
They need to aim for “Consistency,” where a parent’s predictable behavior serves as reference points when children make their own decisions. A parent’s regularity and dependability such as fulfilling promises is therefore of utmost importance.
The third point is “Awareness”: how fathers are in tune and connected to their children’s world such as having a Facebook account or how accessible are they to their friends.
The last point, “Nurturance” relates to attachment and closeness in the form of touch and writing of notes.
The sharing session featured local rapper, actor and radio personality Sheikh Haikel, father-and-son radio deejays from Gold 90.5 FM, Brian and Mark Richmond, former school teacher Norman Kee and R. Chandran, founder-director of ACT 3 Theatrics, all of whom shared their experiences of entering fatherhood.
“It is a long process; every day and every year I learn something new from my son. Adults always have the mindset that we have to teach our kids something, but for me it is the other way round. I want my kid to teach me. From this, we can discover how he wants me to bring him up,” said the elder Richmond.
Pastoral worker Gerald Boon, 34, said, “I attended this conference to get a better understanding of fatherhood. As a father myself, I feel we really need to approach fatherhood as a lifelong learning journey.”
Said Lee Meng, 50, who works in the healthcare industry, “We need to be always connected with our children. As we go through the routine of life, quality time spent and communicating to our children is very necessary. I am here in order to be a better father to my children.”
The fathers brought home a piece of the wisdom that transpired with the newly launched “Knowing Me, Knowing You” card packs, creatively designed with tips on overcoming father-child communication barriers, conversation starters and inspirational thoughts on fatherhood.
At the end of the event, the participants recited the Dads For Life pledge, renewing their vows to play out the most important role of their lives with love and determination.