Steven Buhagiar asked his kids how he could improve as a dad, and they didn’t hold back
True vulnerability entails an openness to the possibility of being wounded. In the case of being open to receiving advice, the stakes may not be physical, but they can certainly strike us where it hurts most… our ego.
Over the past couple of years, I have tried to make it a habit to ask my wife to give me pointers as to how I can be a better husband. It hasn’t always been easy to hear about my deficiencies of character, but I know that it’s her keen identification of my personality faults which have certainly helped, and even fast-tracked, my road to improvement.
So having used this particular strategy to improve my ‘husband-ing’ skills, I wondered how it would work in the sphere of intentional fathering. One evening I sought to put my thinking in this regard to the test.
“Young people… my children”, I ventured. “What advice can you give me on how I can be a better dad to you all?”
The silence that followed was quite awkward and I started to think that this wasn’t such a great idea after all. Maybe they just hadn’t paid attention to the fact that I was trying to be a better dad… maybe they just took it for granted that being a dad was a justified expectation on their behalf. Well, I soon found out that I was wrong and very much so at that!
“Dad, I think that maybe you could be a bit calmer”. Silence.
“Dad, maybe you could have a bit more patience.” Silence. But notably less this time.
“Dad, you could spend some more time at home with us on the weekends.” No silence, in fact the response time had now considerably quickened.
“Dad, when you ask us where we were, you could trust that we are in fact doing the right thing.”
“Yes, dad, maybe you could trust us more?”
The youngest now decided that this was the right time to chime in; “Dad maybe you could share the chores with us?”
“Whoa there everyone!” Slow down a bit will you!?
“Dad, maybe you could listen a bit more to what we have to tell you. There are so many other bits of advice that we could give you. It will make you the best dad ever!”
I sensed a bit too much tongue in cheek in that last comment and as I looked up to see who it was that had spoken up so outrageously, I saw a beaming face that was actually delighting in having the opportunity to give it to dad in such an open manner. I smiled back and noted with somewhat less authority than usual I must admit, that the lot of them were taking advantage of my show of generosity in letting them speak their mind.
I gave it a second go. “Ok, seriously now, what REAL advice can you give me?”
It came back pretty much the same.
I took on board the fact that vulnerability in the intentional fathering stakes necessitates the need for humility. My children were speaking in a sense, truth to power. Here was an opportunity to say things as they saw it. But they did so, as noted previously, with a genuine concern in wanting to help me become a better person. And in wanting to be a better dad myself, I had to open my ears and listen to all of what they had to say.
At the end of the conversation that night, and believe me it could have gone on forever so taken were they with this rare opportunity, I learned some hard truths about the defects in my personality that my children really had been taking notice of. I appreciated their honesty.
In light of this, I took the decision to offer them the invitation to feel free in letting me know in the future if they saw in me something that could be improved. Maybe I was hoping that they might afford me the opportunity to offer them some of the same advice in return. That didn’t happen.
As I walked away that evening to make myself a brew of that ever-comforting and much needed cup of tea, a voice behind me spoke up once more. “Dad, I have another idea… how about you wipe down the bench once you are done using it?”
“Son”, I replied with a bit too much animation in my voice, “how about you go to your room and clean up that blooming mess you and your brother seem to have forgotten about for the past week?”
“Ok dad”, was the reply in a more subdued tone.
Oops, did it again. I still have a lot to learn it seems in sustaining this intentional fathering approach.
On a positive note, the cup of tea did its job very nicely as always.
Steven Buhagiar is Team Leader of the Life, Marriage and Family Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.