No Fear in Fatherhood
“Man up” and “fatherhood” are not two phrases society usually associates with each other. But research (see accompanying article) reveals that men who do their best – or “man up” – in fatherhood can help their young children develop into better women or men. Below, five First 5 LA staffers who have experienced the joys – and sometimes the uncertainties – of fatherhood share lessons they have taught to – and learned from – their young children.
“When my daughter was 1 year old, we would go to the park to play. We would swing, climb, and run! I love the bond it would create. I would also like to take my basketball and shoot and play with the other guys at the park.
“One day I was picking her up to go to the park and something special happened. The moment she saw me, she smiled, her eyes lit up and she said her first word, ‘ball’! I was surprised since I had expected that her first word would be ‘dad’ or ‘mom.’ She had associated the basketball and our time together in the park.
“That day I realized two important lessons. First, I learned the importance of modeling. As much as you want to teach and prepare your child, it is what you do that matters most. The second thing I learned was that she would be a baller, just like daddy.”
—Luis Rivera, Best Start Program Officer
“What I learned from this experience, and what I strive to teach my daughter every day, is that it’s okay to be afraid, but you cannot let fear alone guide your choices. Be brave. You may end up having an experience that will change your life for the better.” – A Doting Dad
Pets and Puppets Teach Peaceful Play
“When my two daughters were young (between 3 and 7), we had a male cat and a female dog. My wife, Gail, had created a male voice for the cat and female voice for the dog as a way to entertain the girls. We quickly noticed how focused the kids were on listening when the animals ‘talked’ to each other. We used that process whenever we needed to teach the kids lessons on playing together without fighting or sharing their toys. The cat usually played the selfish one and the dog the nice one. Some of the skits were hilarious, and I wish I had videotaped them. The kids were so in tune with the animals’ conversation that sometime they would chase the cat because he was being mean or selfish. Poor cat had no idea why he was being chased.
“Gail now uses the same technique with our grandsons when she babysits them at their house (they have a male cat and a female dog). When we babysit them at our house, she uses talking puppet stuffed animals. She probably has 10 such puppets and they each seem to have a unique voice. The latest addition is a rooster she got for her birthday from my youngest daughter, now 26, and the voice is awesome! My grandsons are 4 and 2.5, and when they fight over toys whichever puppet is nearby comes alive and settles the issue.”
—Roozbeh Hamouni, Director of Information Technology
“One of my everyday pleasures is reading to my two youngest before I tuck them to bed. Every night, Kalixto, 3, and Luxiano, 2, go to their book stand, select two books each and together enter a fantastic world of pictures, words, sounds and imagination.
“On many occasions, I’m stopped mid-sentence with a barrage of questions: ‘Why is the wolf not friends with the pigs?’ or ‘Why are dinosaurs so big?’ As I attempt to answer, Kalixto stops me again and begins to answer the question himself while going into a whole diatribe that seeps into another story from another book! Meanwhile, Luxiano is crawling on the floor with his stuffed animals howling, oinking and making all kinds of wild sounds. I round them back up and read a last book before they go to dreamland. It’s a wonderful ritual we’ve created for ourselves.
“What I’ve learned from reading to my children is the ability to focus my attention on the present moment. As I’ve seen with my eldest, Maximo, 16, children grow up so quickly and if I’m rushing through a book or not interacting with them in silly ways then I’m going to lose out on who my children really are and the gifts they possess. I’m utilizing this learning to help me become more self-aware as a person, not only at home but at work and in the community. I am grateful to my children for slowing me down and teaching me a few things about living in the moment.”
—Rafael González, Director of Best Start Communities
Sleepless in San Gabriel Valley
“My 18-month-old daughter has rarely slept through the night. She often wakes and cries until we come to put her back to sleep. My wife and I have struggled greatly with this. We have struggled with frustration and annoyance in our endless exhaustion. We always look online to find out the latest strategies and techniques for parenting. Teaching a child to sleep is one of the most common and surprisingly controversial discussion topics. In the end, we decided to push through our frustration and respond to her cries with attention and soothing.
“One of the greatest pieces of advice I learned was ‘It’s not her fault.’ By adopting this attitude, I have found it easier to push past my initial negative attitude in order to seek out what is happening with her. I have learned that there are a number of potential issues that could interfere with her sleep – being too hot or too cold, indigestion from new foods, oncoming colds, adjusting to a new sleep environment (when we moved or traveled) or the most common culprit – teething.
“In each case, I have found her sleeplessness to be completely understandable and the twinge of guilt I felt in my frustration helps to remind me how dependent she is on me to care for her and actively seek to understand her until she develops the ability to communicate clearly on her own. In essence, she has taught me to be more loving and less self-focused.”
—Adam Freer, Best Start Program Officer
From Fear to Fatherhood
“As we were planning for our next in vitro fertilization attempt, my wife got a call asking if she was interested in adopting. I had brushed off the idea of adoption as some sort of consolation prize. This perception was shaped by anger and fear. Knowing it would cause a rift if I refused, I said yes, let’s meet this expectant mother.
“We hit it off. She told us she wanted something more for her daughter that she knew she could not provide. While we learned more about each other, I was still afraid. What if this baby didn’t love me? She’s not my blood – will that matter to her? To me? How will she feel when she learns she is adopted? Will my extended family accept her?
“Two months later, we witnessed the birth. As the nurse placed my baby girl in my arms, all of these fears, these doubts that ate away at me, were gone. It was as if I, too, was born that day. She is my daughter. I am her father. No questions. No doubts. What I learned from this experience, and what I strive to teach my daughter every day, is that it’s okay to be afraid, but you cannot let fear alone guide your choices. Be brave. You may end up having an experience that will change your life for the better.”
—A Doting Dad