Carol Craymer reminds us that fathers must find ways to engage with sons and daughters

The importance of being a father

shutterstock_160082846The past three years have flashed by and once again we have faced a nation­al elec­tion dur­ing which, inev­it­ably, edu­ca­tion was under the spot­light, with a raft of ideas ban­died about to lift outcomes.

Edu­ca­tion, it seems, is the answer to all of our prob­lems. Wheth­er we have chil­dren at school or not is irrel­ev­ant: improv­ing edu­ca­tion­al out­comes ensures New Zealand’s future prosper­ity and civil­ity, and so this is of interest to all of us.

Of course, we must con­tin­ue to improve teach­ing and learn­ing using all of the tools at our dis­pos­al — research, data and tech­no­logy — but we must also acknow­ledge that a child is not at school 24/7. There are many influ­ences, both pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive, bey­ond the school gate that impact on learn­ing. Last month reminded me of one of the most import­ant influ­ences — a father.

In the lead-up to Father’s Day my let­ter­box was cluttered with leaf­lets advert­ising suit­ably mas­cu­line presents to buy dad: a new bar­be­cue, handy­man tools or socks. The hyper-com­mer­cial­isa­tion of this event is an unfor­tu­nate by-product of liv­ing in the mod­ern world, but this should not detract from the ori­gin­al pur­pose of this occa­sion: to hon­our dads who play a vital part in the devel­op­ment of their children.

For boys, the import­ance of hav­ing a strong male in their lives as a role mod­el is widely recog­nised and there are many books (for example, Rais­ing Boys by Steve Bid­dulph) that explore the all-import­ant father–son rela­tion­ship. No school can be a sub­sti­tute for a fath­er, nor can any gov­ern­ment party devise policy that can make up for an absent fath­er. The increas­ing num­ber of single-par­ent fam­il­ies, most typ­ic­ally with a moth­er being the main carer, means that sadly there are many boys grow­ing up without strong male fig­ures in their lives. To address this defi­cit, pro­grammes such as Big Buddy have been set up to provide male ment­ors for fath­er­less boys.

The role that fath­ers play in their daugh­ters’ lives is just as import­ant but less often dis­cussed. From child­hood, a girl draws con­clu­sions about what the oppos­ite sex is like from the men in her life. Her fath­er becomes her stand­ard for meas­ur­ing what to expect of men and their atti­tudes toward women. His rela­tion­ship to her moth­er is a touch­stone for what her rela­tion­ship with a man will be when she grows up. What all this means for a fath­er is that he counts a lot in the social­isa­tion of the next generation.

Over the past three years, Mike Egan, a Wel­ling­ton res­taur­at­eur, has been ask­ing Wel­ling­ton fath­ers to par­ti­cip­ate in Dad and Daugh­ter Date Night. This is an annu­al event fall­ing on the first Sunday of August and is ded­ic­ated to cel­eb­rat­ing the spe­cial bond between dads and daugh­ters. The concept high­lights the fun­da­ment­al need for fath­ers to spend time with their children.

Close to Father’s Day, my school held a num­ber of break­fasts for daugh­ters and dads. These rein­forced the vital import­ance of the father–daughter rela­tion­ship. Let’s hope that rela­tion­ship was also cel­eb­rated in your fam­ily on 7 September.

About Carol Craymer

Car­ol has an MA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury and has been prin­cip­al of Queen Mar­garet col­lege since 2004. Pri­or to mov­ing to Wel­ling­ton, she was assist­ant prin­cip­al at Orewa col­lege and deputy prin­cip­al at Taka­puna Gram­mar. How­ever, Car­ol is not all about ‘dotting the is’ and cross­ing the t’s’. She has also worked for Radio New Zea­l­and as an announ­cer, acted in Eng­land in a theatre troupe tour­ing schools and raised two daughters.

About Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

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