Allen Shedlin might be on to something in differentiating between fathering and what he calls “daddying.”
He considers the act of fathering to be solely biological, involving little time and even less commitment. Daddying, he says, is what happens — or is supposed to happen — after a daughter or son is born. Mr. Shedlin has given a lot of thought to such observations; in addition to being the parent of four children, he is founder and president of REEL FATHERS and is involved with the New Mexico Alliance of Fathers and Families.
He notes that 25 million children are waking up today in “daddyless” homes, and that on this Father’s Day, it’s worth remembering that 11,000 babies are born in the United States every day — and that while all have fathers, not all have dads.
Our sense is that regardless of the terms one uses, reasonable people know the difference between fathering a child and actually being a father. And we’ll bet that no man who’s invested his time, money, and especially the love that is part and parcel of being a father would trade the experience for anything in the world.
Not that it’s easy. It isn’t. It’s difficult for fathers to know all the answers — much harder than pretending to know all the answers. Fathers make mistakes, plenty of them, and they make some decisions realizing that the wisdom or folly of those decisions might not be apparent for a long time, perhaps years. But they err on the side of what they think is best for their children.
Fathers are, among many other things, teachers. They (and mothers) teach their children right and wrong and try, sometimes with more success than others, to model the behavior they expect from their children. And when they apply discipline, they try to include guidance. They answer more questions than they thought existed and do what they can to foster imaginations.
Fathers (and mothers) teach their children how to tie shoes and how to tie a tie. They help their kids learn to help others as well as themselves, teach them to do their best, how to play checkers and play baseball, how to compete — in school and in games — and how to win and lose with grace.
And they teach their kids trust and love and to respect others.
If fathers are lucky, those tiny people they took responsibility for grow into responsible, caring adults who can handle all kinds of things.
Also if the fathers are lucky, they learn a few things along the way, about their own strengths and capabilities and about their shortcomings. Maybe they learn they’re not finished growing themselves.