What Mandrills Teach Us About Fathering
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Last week my children and I took an impromptu field trip the zoo in our homeschool. Around this time of year it becomes difficult for all of us to pay attention and work hard, so I tend to work for four days a week, and do something fun on the fifth. So we headed to the Toronto Zoo, one of the best in the world.
It was a whole lot of fun, especially the primates. Unfortunately, the very first thing we saw was a large, male macacque(a kind of monkey from Japan, I believe) who was in the process of becoming "intimately acquainted with himself", if you get my drift. It was a little awkward, so we moved on!
But some of the other apes really intrigued me, too.
Let's start with the orangutans. On display that day were a mom, two children (one was 3 and one was 10), and the large father. Here's what the display looked like:
Some other were off display. The 10-year-old, who is an adolescent in orangutan years, would hang upside down on a rope and swing himself over the dad's head, where he would periodically swat him or pull his hair. This annoyed the dad who would swat back, but not look at the adolescent.
The boy didn't do this with his mother. With her he would wander around periodically and touch her or snuggle, and then walk away. But with the dad he just tried to get some attention. And failed rather miserably, unless that's what orangutans were supposed to do.
The 3-year-old was just as funny, but the dad seemed to pay a little more attention to him.
Here's the 3-year-old contemplating the dad:
And here's the dad trying to get away from the kid:
When it came to the mandrills, our camera gave out so I don't have any pictures. But they were awfully cute, too. There was a baby less than a year old who was scampering all over the enclosure and in general making a nuisance of himself to every adult present. And he would try to engage them all, running right up to them and jumping on them or leaping over them.
But with the dad he would stare at the hulking frame, and then creep, like a cat, ever closer, until the dad made a sudden movement with his hand and the baby would scamper away.
He was trying to get the dad's attention, too.
Isn't it interesting how animals seem hard-wired to need a father's approval? In the animal kingdom, of course, many dads are distant, like that father figure in Bambi. But the children try anyway. It's a way of discovering their identity or cementing who they are in the group.
Our children do that, too. They really do need their father's attention. I don't know if your children have a super-engaged dad or not, but regardless, you've probably noticed times when they lurk near his chair, or excitedly try to tell him something. They need his affirmation.
They need it from us, too, but in a different way. From us, I think, children learn love. From dads they figure out their identity and who they are. So we need our husbands to be engaged in the fathering process.
And there are things we can do to help. First, don't assume that you know more about parenting than they do. I think, especially when we have babies, we may push men aside without realizing it. We don't think they know what they're doing, so we take control, or if they try to do something we tell them all the things they're doing wrong.
I remember when Rebecca, my oldest, was born. I cradled her and snuggled her. Keith picked her up and jiggled her. I wanted to tell him to give me my baby back and stop being so rough, but he was a pediatrician!
The first time she smiled, when she was around a month old, was when he was jiggling her.
We can also create things that only the dad does, like read the stories or put the kids to bed. Or you can encourage him to take the kids with him while he goes to the hardware store, or let the kids help him fix something. They just want to be with him.
I might turn this into a Wifey Wednesday post next week (I already have a different topic picked out for tomorrow), but in the meantime, what is some advice you'd give to women who want their husbands to be more engaged with the kids? And what is it that we, as women, often do wrong in this area? Let's talk about it!
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posted @ 8:21 AM