by Pamela Awad and Ken Anderson
Some of the almost 200 fathers who came to the auditorium of the Hewitt School on the second Monday of March did so because their wives told them to come, others came of their own volition. Everyone in the standing room only crowd who attended this year’s NYC – Parents in Action’s signature Fathers Only event, stayed to see excerpts of the Academy Award nominated film Boyhood and hear a panel discussion moderated by George Davison, Head of Grace Church School. The evening, hosted by PIA Board member Chris Theodoros, proved that indeed, Fathers Matter, the aptly titled book by author and panelist Paul Raeburn. Along with Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a child and adolescent psychologist at the National School Climate Center, and John Sloss a producer of Boyhood, the panel proved that fathers are among a child’s most valuable asset.
A lively discussion was punctuated by the viewing of several key scenes. Here are some of the salient points made during the evening:
● Fathers, get to know your children’s activities and interests and be willing to share your own daily experiences. The best time for sharing is dinner time according to one Dad, when everyone can talk about the high and low points of their day.
● Communication is vital to all relationships and the key to a long term dynamic relationship with your children. Dr. Cohen emphasized the importance of being open and honest with your children, regardless of age.
● Fathers bond with their children in unique and quotidian ways.The non verbal rituals between fathers and children are the stuff of which grown-ups are made, as illustrated in a scene from Boyhood where Mason Sr, played by Ethan Hawke and his young son played by Ellar Coltrane, share a campfire ritual.
● Fathers are sometimes bewildered by their daughters prepubescent and adolescent behavior and mother daughter conflicts can leave fathers further bemused. Panelists uniformly agreed that parents need to show a united front and fathers should never keep secrets from their children’s mother, even when privy to confidential information. “There should be no daylight between parents,” said one panelist. It was also noted that fathers can play a useful role in softening the messages between mothers and daughters.
● Fathers, just showing up makes you a winner. Having a father present in the home makes a difference in a child’s life, said Mr. Raeburn, noting the results of several studies.
● Mason Sr.’s growth as a father and the development of the bond between father and son in the movie were noted as realistic examples of how a father’s relationship with his children is dynamic and can grow over time with dedication and willingness to change.
● Fathers play a valuable role educating their children about acceptable social behavior although talking about sex with their daughters is difficult. Dr. Cohen lamented the lack of discussion about date rape at many high schools. Panelists agreed that both parents play an important role in this discussion and Mr. Davison noted that the Grace Church School has been addressing this issue for years.
Father’s Only in the words of one father, was “valuable, provided some tangible insights and was memorable. We want more.” Save the time next year, Dads, the dialogue continues.