Steve Biddulph column | Dadding around

We know a lot now about how beneficial dads are for kids.

By Steve Biddulph

One of the good things about being old is that I can figure out exactly what I should have done 40 years ago, after finally having time to think about it.

It’s definitely true for fathering – if I could have it over again, I would do it so differently. Although in parenthood this also applies to the last 24 hours too!

Being a man and a dad, there are some key things to remember (and hello to all dads reading this, much love to you).

Almost always, we men are the largest and loudest person in the family. We don’t think of it that much but it’s a key feature for everyone else, especially the littlies. So a dad often sets the mood in the whole house when he is around. For good, or for ill.

I am not sure if you remember being a small boy and your dad kind of looming like a mountain wherever he went. So the ‘weather’ on that mountain had a big effect on you. Sunny was wonderful, stormy was not good.

Luckily my dad was gentle, because he was also huge. I remember being in the bath, and him coming into the bathroom for a pee – it was like being beside Niagara Falls!

But mostly with dads it’s their voices that kids are aware of. When researching my book Raising Girls, I discovered that some girls have far more acute hearing and they hate it when dad is too loud, and love it when he speaks gently. Our idea of normal sounds like shouting to them, and that sets off their adrenaline.

Being very serious for a moment, somewhere deep down a small child knows that an adult that big could badly hurt them. This only comes into awareness if they ever see us really out of control, but then that memory remains with them for life. A boy who is hit is three times more likely to hit his wife when he grows up. Luckily people who read magazines about parenthood are generally pretty gentle, but some of us remember being a child in a home like that.

For most of us, it’s just anxiety that we bring too much of into the family environment.

I am pretty sure I spent the years between 28 and 48 – my parenting years – being always that bit too rushed, worried about being a provider, radiating a feeling of ‘person doing urgent and important things’. And kids pick up on that. If I had that time over again, I would dial it way down, trust that we’d get by, and just plain enjoy life more, and give them more of the feeling that life was fun, at least most of the time.

We did have lots of fun. My kids had me around a lot more than many dads, and I was affectionate and close to them, but I was still too wound up.

So my take home message? You’ll have your own view, but my idea of a wonderful dad is someone who young kids think hasn’t a worry in the world. He is amiable, slow, takes time with them, listens, and is good fun, while also being clear about boundaries. He is good mates with their mum. Only when they get older do they figure out you did all that other stuff like saving the world. And be impressed that you never let on!

Steve’s renowned talks on Raising Boys and Raising Girls are now being hosted online. Have a look at his website for more info.

Steve Biddulph AM,

Author – 10 Things Girls Need Most, Raising Girls, Raising Boys.

Complete Secrets of Happy Children, and The New Manhood