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6.01.2024

Discovering Your Way Through Fatherhood

Photo of Jesus Acosta - light skin, bald-headed adult male.

The ongoing benefits of an early connection between dad and their child(ren)

By Jesús L. Acosta, DAD INC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a Play & Learn session at our Learning Center at DAD INC. The presentation began with a fascinating question that all fathers may enjoy exploring as we celebrate fatherhood this Father’s Day; “How much of your child’s brain is developed between 0 and 5?”

As a dad to two boys, I reflected on many of my fatherhood's attempts and strategies during these early years. An area I found vital was ongoing engagement. It’s important to mention that we don’t need to stress about it either. Fathering in practical ways is key.

Although I’ve never given much thought to such a question, I recall hearing during this stage that kids were like sponges—taking everything in. That’s right, everything! The good and the not-so-good. Hopefully, I won’t find myself standing alone in a great deal of humility.

I was surprised to learn that “90 percent of their brain has taken shape” during this stage. “Wow, the opportunity for dads,” I immediately thought. Then, it hit me, “What did I miss?” “What could I have done differently in my parenting?”

Now I can look back with grace and laugh at myself. My wife and I do this often. We all need to. You see, a key to fatherhood I have found most useful is to refrain from perfect parenting and lean on strengthening connections.

Regarding father and child(ren) relationships Loritts (2020) emphasizes that “The first gift a dad must give his children is the gift of relationships. We cannot lead effectively those we are not connected to intimately” (p. 27). As people, our hearts long to connect. So why not approach these opportunities with a great deal of intention?

But I get it. Dads may often find themselves on the short end of the stick. Their understanding of fatherhood may have left them stuck in time—perhaps lost in a downward spiral of fatherhood shortcomings.

Although today, simultaneously you find dads more engaged. There is more presence in daily activities such as school, medical visits, and simply hanging out with their kids in the park or at the pool – “quality time with Dad.” Often, I catch myself witnessing other fathers. I  wonder what childhood experiences influenced their passion and engagement with their kids.

I was one of these dads who had to face many gaps because of my childhood. My father wrestled to find his role and define his fatherhood. He certainly tried but struggled often.  Early on though, I developed a desire and determination to be a different kind of father.

I knew fatherhood had much more to offer than what I had received. I also realized that the opportunity began before my kids’ arrival - this is why I found myself inspired to take the time and attend every prenatal care visit. I wanted to set myself up for more. 

We can all relate in some way or another that our parents may have unwillingly missed some parenting opportunities. Opportunities that could have helped us prevent some of our parenting casualties. I know I have. As challenging as these parenting moments can be, it's helpful to seek understanding and awareness. And by the way, it’s perfectly fine to experience some uneasiness. After all, as people, we all get to experience gaps.

As a dad of 13 years, I can offer engagement to my kids, but learning to be intentional about it is on a whole other level and is more attainable than one may realize. 

A  great opportunity for dads during early childhood development is regular engagement. Consistent engagement is vital because of the relationships and positive outcomes both fathers and children obtain.

Research indicates that “father engagement positively affects children's learning and development in unique and complementary ways,” states Jones (2013). It’s also practical where a “father’s engagement with his child begins with a look, a touch, and the full presence of mind to position himself next to them and respond when called” (Jones, D., 2013).

It’s also worth mentioning that engagement by dads helps children in their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Likewise, fathers can expect to strengthen improved attachment, increase confidence, and enhance parenting skills. All of these topics are worth further exploring by dads and moms alike.

A recommendation I’ll make is to save this exploration for a later time. Now let’s dive into strategy—and what early fatherhood engagement may look like for a dad.     

So how does a father/father figure strategize for fatherhood engagement? It begins with equipping. One statement you will often hear amongst the DAD INC team is, “You don’t know, what you don’t know.”

It’s possible that dads don’t know their fatherhood toolbox exists. More than this, what gear is available in this toolbox, and what works and doesn’t work? Like all great craftsmen, the tools of the trade can lighten the load of parenting. If you are short of knowledge or skills, it’s time to gear up and upgrade your tool belt. What dad doesn’t appreciate upgrades?

Also, when shopping around, avoid the com-parent-son! Comparison can sabotage your motivation altogether! Fatherhood discovery is more about your untapped strengths as a father figure.

Some strategies to consider include creating a positive environment, daily interactions, active listening, positive reinforcement, (and my personal favorite) shared activities. These are just a few considerations. With creativity and motivation, you can identify your favorite strategies!

Being an engaged father can begin with education. They can be informed and obtain the status of the world’s expert dad. Still, dads and children can gain much more when a dad decides ongoingly to ‘discover their way through fatherhood.’ Yes, fatherhood is achieved to some degree, but it’s most likely to thrive when it continues to be discovered.

The connection of a caring father figure will increase a child’s capacity to share this engagement with others. It’s this connection between fathers and children that keeps giving—generationally.  

As much as connecting is important to the child, a father should be intentional about connecting. I value this engagement/connection analogy because of my former geek-like background in the technology field. Anyone in technology can tell you that connectivity is much more than a simple plug-and-play.

Let’s consider the greater relationship taking place because it is where the wonder occurs.

Technologies work diligently in conjunction to establish or provide a good or service to people. Even within a typical home, when Wi-Fi connectivity is compromised, kids are amongst the first to take notice and inquire. This connection means the world to them when its unavailable. How much more important is this connection to dads and their families during these formative years? Fatherhood engagement goes beyond the connectivity it provides and begins with a defining moment in the life of every individual dad.

As I’ve shared, dads who choose to engage early receive added benefits. They also have unique challenges. Especially when it comes to fathers and helping them realize there is greater capacity within fatherhood than the role, they may find themselves in.

It’s good to remind oneself that no one or nothing can replace who you are or what you bring to the table as the dad to your child(ren). Be you. Be dad. But please reach out if you desire more—you’re one decision away from discovering a greater deal in early fatherhood engagement.

As part of a team building a support network for dads in Nevada, I get to raise awareness in the community about DAD INC’s services and workshops on Fatherhood. Not one individual goes by without a raised eyebrow of curiosity or relief; especially when they learn that an all-inclusive opportunity for dads exists where they can learn to engage and strengthen their role.

Next time you doubt what fatherhood can offer during the early childhood years, know you don’t stand alone. Today, more than ever dads in Clark County have begun to see themselves as who they can be—empowering them to see others; especially their own.

 

References:

Jones, D. (2013). Father Figures Making A Difference. DadTalk Blog. fatherhood.gov
Loritts, B. (2020). The Dad Difference. Moody Publishers.

 

Jesus L. Acosta is the Outreach Coordinator for DAD INC. DAD INC. is a federally funded program that promotes the benefits of fatherhood engagement through relationships, parenting, and financial stability to fathers/father figures with children 0-24 years of age. To learn more about DAD INC’s no-cost services and workshops visit www.godadinc.com or text/call (702) 707-7646.


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