Father’s Day isn’t just for buying the proverbial tie and calling it a day. It honors fathers–-and men who’ve filled the shoes of a father--to help change a child’s life for the better. Studies today affirm that an involved dad plays a vital role in the general health and well-being of children. Child welfare reports have found that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with “better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.”
Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart raised his six children as a single parent. After hearing a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, Smart’s daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. She got the ball rolling, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the third Sunday in June was officially declared a national holiday for fathers by President Nixon.
The following is an interview with my friend, Ben Gladden, who lives in Framingham with his family. Ben has spent the last three years as a stay-at-home dad for his three kids, while his wife works full-time as a lawyer. I wanted to know how he keeps it all together, including taking care of himself. The driving force for his parenting? Spiritual principles he’s learned from the Bible and his practice of praying every day.
Ben, what surprises you most about fatherhood? It’s hard work! There are things that dads are good at and things they just aren’t good at. I’ve had to develop more of the mom side. I used to be less of a hugger and a kisser when there were tears, and more of a “You’ll be fine . . . you’re tough!” But I’ve learned to get down on my knees and give big hugs and lots of kisses.
What’s a lesson you just learned that made you say, “I have to share that!”? For me, parenting is in the details and in being disciplined. A simple lesson I share is if you put a full plate of food in front of your toddler or pre-schooler they often won’t eat it. But if you put just a few pieces in front of them and keep giving them a few more, they’ll finish it all up!
For me, mentally, I can deal with things a lot easier if I know what’s coming up. My wife thanks me for the discipline and structure of the day–for managing the homework, laundry, etc. I make a lot of lists and that helps a lot. I have a running list on our fridge that I print off every week for my teenager. My wife also writes down a menu for the month, which is a huge help.
How do you balance family time with personal time–and how do you keep from feeling isolated? A stay-at-home dad has a problem that I’m not sure moms have. I’ve noticed moms will easily talk with other moms even if they don’t know them, but they rarely talk with dads. If I go to the library or playground, I see moms talking to each other. But I’ve rarely had a mom initiate a conversation with me, so I do it now. I almost never run into a dad at the playground during a weekday, but if it happens I say to myself, “I need to talk to that guy!”
When I’m out with the kids the assumption is, “Dad has the kids to give Mom time off.” Sometimes I hear people say, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” I don’t really mind that, but I might gently tell them, “No, this is actually what I do . . . ”
I didn’t realize how important personal time is until about a year ago. For two years, I took care of the kids, handed them off to my wife when she came home, and then went into my home office to work. But that was just unhealthy – for me, my kids, my marriage! So, I started taking time either for myself or with my wife – we now have a weekly date night. I’m much happier now. I laugh a lot more–I can roll with things a lot more.
How have you let your spirituality influence your parenting decisions? My parenting decisions are based on the spiritual/religious values I have. From the very beginning, I decided whatever I did parenting-wise needed to reflect things I was learning in my spiritual practice. The values in the Bible and in what Jesus taught and lived (like his Sermon on the Mount) are great examples for what we do and how we treat others. I also love that Jesus encouraged little children to come to him, rather than sending them away.
The other thing I’ve done in the last few years is I’ve been very open with my teenager about my failings . . . not always the specifics, but just what I learned from them and the spiritual principles behind those lessons. I might tell him of a mistake in high school or college, and share with him the lesson I learned and help guide him away from making the same mistake.
Who’s your role model when it comes to parenting? Jesus comes to mind first. He was never a parent, but he had to lovingly guide, teach, and be a good example for his followers. My mom raised six children, so she’s a big inspiration to me. I also think of Bible figures like Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and Paul. It was my dad who taught me to love the Bible.
If you could order the perfect Father’s Day what would it look like? Think of the stay at home mom. What does she want?? As an at-home dad, that’s exactly what I want – someone to feed me breakfast in bed, do the laundry, cook the meals, maybe give me a couple hours to read. Just a break from the routine. Oh, and lots of people saying, “You are the best dad ever!”
Ingrid lives in Framingham where she and her husband manage three busy kids, a Lab who's sniffed every trail at Callahan and a ragdoll cat. She blogs on spirituality and health and is also a Christian Science practitioner. You can see more on her website "Breaking Bread" at masshealthblog.com.