The Essential Dad

Tips for fathering — from infancy to adolescence.

I recently caught an episode of TV’s old “Leave it to Beaver” show, and I found myself intrigued by the way the family patriarch was portrayed. Ward Cleaver came across as the quintessential father, integrally involved with the lives of his boys.

But real life often tells a different story. When it comes to involvement with their children, far too many men devalue the importance of their own roles. They worry that there is no adequate way to balance the demands of work and family. Then they sell themselves on the false notion that child-rearing is and always has been a woman’s domain. In doing so, they miss out on their children’s key developmental years, and they may feel envious of their offspring’s relationship with their mother.

According to Henry Biller, a long-time researcher of fathering, the average American father spends less than 30 minutes of one-on-one time with his child each day. So for all you dads interested in making fathering a priority in your life, here are some tips for getting involved and staying involved in your kid’s lives, from infancy through adolescence.

New dads

new_dadIn the early years, involvement means diapering, cooing, talking to your infant, and waking up in the middle of the night for feedings. Fathering an infant requires sacrifice and patience. You may feel envious of the baby, who’s getting what seems like all of your partner’s time and attention.

Instead of becoming discouraged and retreating, talk to a father who’s been through this already. He can share his insights and reassure you that this is a common experience for all new dads. Remember, your child’s mother is your “teammate,” that she needs all the support and strength you can muster. Take time to do some financial planning — it’s never too early to start preparing for your child’s education.

Pre-school years

Now you have begun to appreciate the numerous demands that fathering places on your time, energy and patience. As a father of young children, you’re strengthening your commitment to this challenging role. Pre-schoolers are eager to learn a variety of games, sports and other activities. Being your child’s playmate comes naturally to most dads, so you likely won’t need much help in this area.

father_and_sonBut children at this age will begin to challenge your authority. So be prepared to set boundaries, and carry out appropriate disciplinary measures as necessary.

School-age years

The school years are an amazing time. For most children, this is their initial venture into the world outside the safe and familiar confines of home. Because most kids this age are natural explorers, fathers should express pride, offer encouragement and positively reinforce them at every legitimate moment.

Growth is rapid during these years, and children seem to have boundless energy. Be prepared for what will seem like an endless array of music recitals, field trips and sporting events. Help your children maintain a positive outlook on school and develop a sound relationship with their teachers. Discuss expectations for what they will learn and achieve. Assign your child chores around the home; it helps them learn about taking responsibility – and it lightens your own load!

Fathering Your Teen

Adolescence can be a battlefield. No period in life is marked by more tension, self-doubt, self-consciousness or angst. Each emerging facial blemish serves up an opportunity for another crisis. These are indeed the times that try young men’s (and women’s) souls.

Work at communicating with your teen, and try to be their sounding board. Patience is key. Let them sharpen their decision-making skills when it comes to haircuts, body piercings and tattoos. Your teen will inevitably rebel against your authority; that’s what teens do. Your job is to maintain self-control.

Convey trust by letting your teen shoulder reasonable amounts of responsibility. Look for teachable moments when it comes to straight talk about sex, drugs and alcohol. Decide to be approachable when it comes to answering their questions or sharing their views. Guide your teen vocationally by educating them about your own work environment. Explain the importance of work with regard to meeting the needs of the family.

Three Reasons to Get Involved

First, it’s good for your kid. As pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton says, “When men are involved with their children, the children’s I.Q. increases by the time they are six or seven.” Brazelton adds that with a father’s involvement, “the child is more likely to have a sense of humor, to develop a sort of inner excitement, to believe in himself or herself, and to be more motivated to learn.”

family_involvementSecond, it’s good for you. Research indicates that actively involved fathers are more likely to have satisfying marriages and rewarding careers.

Third, it’s good for your partner. Make no mistake about it, child-rearing is high on the stress list. The more support mothers get from fathers, the stronger the partnership.

So dad, you are indeed in a unique position to make the word fatherhood synonymous with more than merely bringing home a paycheck. And there is no better time to start than right now!


Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at, or e-mail him at