IT’S a universally accepted truth that Mums are to blame for everything from a child’s untidy ways to his blossoming career as a serial killer. But nobody ever really blames Dads for anything.
Dads tend to slip under the radar — and wrongly so, says Tony Bates, clinical psychologist and Chief Executive of Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health.
Yet, he says, fathers play a very important role in the family, something he warns, which goesmostly un-recognised by psychology
“Psychology has emphasised the role of the mother in everything from autism to schizophrenia and psychopathy.
“They look at mothers and what they do wrong — but I think people have failed to see the role of the father.”
Dads can be great fun, they’re super at being silly and acting the maggot, says child and adolescent psychologist Dr Patrick Ryan. Think Phil Dunphy in Modern Family.
“I don’t know if Dads just never bothered growing up, or whether they just revert to childhood at the flick of the switch!”
But Dads can also be ham-fisted, thick-headed and plain insensitive. As many a mortified adolescent will attest, some fathers make embarrassingly obvious efforts to be ‘cool’ and use the ‘lingo’ when the friends call over.
“Dads will do it more than mums and be very explicit about it — they can be a bit cack-handed and clumsy!”
When it comes to taking control, Dads tend not to bother negotiating. “They tend to take the role of the Alpha Male. ‘I’m the boss and you’re to do it the way I say you’re to do it’ — whereas mothers can be more open to negotiation,” explains Ryan.
Dads will often, somewhat immaturely “go with whatever they think is good.”
“Dads will tend to take more risks and let children do things that will have more of an edge. If Dad starts joking, he may keep it going because he likes a bit of edginess.
“Mum may worry that the jokes are a bit inappropriate or are going a bit far, but Dads tend not to worry as much about the consequences of things. They’re more likely to revert back to being a boy and jump off the tree without asking whether it’s too high.”
Dads themselves often don’t realise their importance in their children’s lives, says Bates.
“It’s the father’s job to introduce us to the world and prepare us to deal with the world outside the family, and fathers are important to both boys and girls.”
For daughters, a father’s reaction to her as an emerging woman is important, because he symbolises all men. Therefore, it’s extremely important for men to treat daughters with respect because that’s what she’ll come to expect from other men. We have to reference Moone Boy’s Liam Moone and the Snapper’s Des Curley here.
Men who communicate badly, or make negative comments — even jocosely — about their daughter’s appearance can damage her perception of how men should treat her.
He warns that negative teasing can erode self-confidence. Insensitive remarks about a girl’s appearance can go deeper than intended — Bates recalls the humiliation one young woman described when her father drew attention to her acne by referring to her as “spotty-face”.
It’s actually okay to give your daughter a compliment, he advises — just don’t wrap it up in an insult or an off-colour joke.
But be warned — don’t confuse paying your daughter a compliment on on her appearance with a comment on her burgeoning sexuality:
“There can be a level of teasing about sexuality with girls, for example, saying to a daughter ‘that looks hot on you.’ Far better and more appropriate to simply tell your daughter she looks nice, or pretty.
“A good rule is never make a comment about a woman’s body,” says Bates.
With sons, the father’s role is to give them “a sense of competence as a man.”
Here too, clumsy teasing can be unexpectedly damaging he says, offering an anecdote from his boyhood:
“I played the piano. When I played it, my father used to say ‘my son plays Beethoven and Beethoven always loses’.
“It was said with a laugh and it was meant to be funny,” he recalls.
However, the joke was oft-repeated and eventually, says Bates, “it wore me down and I gave up playing the piano.”
“Yet,” he recalls, “the irony was that my father was very proud of me.” “Fathers think they’re really witty but they’re actually eroding a young person’s confidence if they keep at it.
“Last, he advises, don’t be absent from your children’s lives because you think all they need is a mother:
“Fathers forget how important they are. Some men don’t allow themselves to participate in their children’s lives. I want to shake them and tell them wake up!”