Fathers, Your Presence Matters

As a young boy, I often spent endless Midwest summers playing basketball in my driveway after school or on the weekends well into the dark. Some evenings, the local neighbors would venture to my driveway, or I to theirs, which would spark the eventual competitive “one-on-one” or a classic game of “twenty-one.” I often described these experiences as “life-raft moments,” providing a much-needed connection with others who shared my passion for sports—these moments, however, also surfaced deeper desires, rising from the depths of my playful heart, connection with my father.

“The presence and involvement of a father is unlike anything else in the universe.” As author Joe Battaglia shares, “Dads mimic what our heavenly Father does for us, His children--protects, shelters, comforts and loves.”1 As a father, your presence and words hold great power in the life of your children. When my wife and I adopted our oldest son, it unlocked within me a visceral desire that had long been repressed since those summer evenings in my driveway. It surfaced again, subtly rising from the depths, revisiting me like a robin after a long winter. I began wrestling with existential questions associated with fatherhood, starting with the most essential question: What is the single greatest gift I could give my son?

The answer: Showing up!

“Showing up means what it sounds like,” Dr. Dan Siegel states, “It means being there for your kids. It means being physically present, as well as providing a quality of presence.”2 You don’t need direction from the latest Instagram parenting guru or to read all the parenting bestsellers. You don’t need to have a committed co-parent. You don’t even have to know what you are doing exactly (Lets be honest, what parent does anyway?). Showing up means bringing your whole and complete self to the table of your child’s heart—your attention and awareness. When we show up, we are mentally and emotionally present for our child in that moment; nothing matters more than our attunement. Learning to show up for your child greatly empowers you as a parent to promote strength, resilience, and confidence in your child. This simple yet powerful skill of “showing up” creates social and emotional development, leadership skills, meaningful relationships, and even academic and career success. “Your reliable presence in our children's lives can significantly impact the physical architecture and connectivity in their brains, creating mental models and expectations about how the world works,”3 writes Siegel. As a Father, the experiences you provide to your children through your relationship with them will literally mold the physical structure of their brain. These connections, in turn, influence how their mind will work, even well into adulthood. Kids learn who they are and who they can and should be, in both good times and bad, through their interactions with you, dad! Showing up creates in our kids’ neural pathways, selfhood, grit, strength, and resilience.4

As fathers, we can tangibly “Show up” for our kids through what Dr. Dan Siegel describes as the Four S’s: Seen, Soothed, Safe, and Secure.

Seen – Showing up for our kids physically by attending dance recitals, baseball games, or spending time with them matters; however, seeing a child is more than being physically present. It’s about attuning and tending to what is happening inside their heart and focusing our attention on their inner feelings, thoughts, and memories. As a father, genuinely seeing your child means paying attention to their emotions, both comfortable and uncomfortable. When we tune into their emotional landscape, we teach our children what it means to love and care for someone else. This is how our children come to feel felt by us.

Soothed – Difficult moments are a part of life. This is where our kids learn and grow the most. We must allow our kids (depending on age and stage of life) to experience these trying times when conflict arises with friends, teachers, and others. Fathers, soothing our children isn’t about getting rid of difficult moments. It is about teaching our kids that when adverse moments arise, you are with them. There should never be a doubt in their minds that their father will be by their side. They need to know, at their core, that you are there for them when they are hurting, and even when they are at their worst. Communicating the deeply rooted Gospel message that they will never suffer alone.

Safe – Kids feel safe when they feel physically, emotionally, and relationally protected. This is the first step towards creating a secure attachment. Children need to hold the belief that their father is going to protect them not only from physical harm but also from emotional and relational harm as well. This doesn’t mean we may never make a mistake or do something that leads to hurt feelings. We are all going to do that—a lot more than we may like. However, as a father, when we take the courageous step of providing the essential attachment need, what Adam Young identifies as “Willingness To Repair,” we send a message of safety.

Secure – Security is based on predictability. Again, this is not about perfection. No one can parent without making mistakes. Instead, it is letting your kids know that they can count on you, time and time again, to show up. Their natural sense of security will be developed when they believe that you are willing to work hard to keep them safe and help them feel seen, and when life does not go their way, you will be there to soothe them.5

“Showing up” for our children isn’t the ultimate goal of parenting. Instead, it is a means by which we move forward to our desired outcome: secure attachment. Providing a secure attachment allows our children to explore their world from what researchers call a “secure base,” from which they feel free to go out and see what lies beyond the horizon.6

As a father, you are not just a safe haven; you are a launching pad. Fathers, Your Presence Matters.

 

Grace and Peace,

Andrew M. Forbeck MA, LPC, SATP

 

Resources

Battaglia, Joe. (2016). That’s My Dad!: Honoring the Fathers Who Shaped Our Lives. Broadstreet Pub Group LLC.1

Siegel, Daniel J., & Bryson, Tina Payne. (2021). The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. Ballantine Books.2,3,4,5,6

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