Hello fellow dads. As a dad myself, I feel the need to share something that has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart lately: children need us and they need positive male role models. Often, the responsibility of being such a role model falls onto us, the dads. It is critically important that we look after our physical and mental health. Why, you ask? Because we are likely the most influential figures in our children’s lives. Everything we are, our children will absorb and learn from. Your child needs you.
In my day job, I frequently encounter individuals struggling with various issues. A common thread among many of them is the lack of positive role models during their formative years. Conversely, I also meet people who, despite significant life challenges, seem to maintain a relative sense of well-being, often thanks to a stable figure in their lives, be it a dad, grandfather, brother, or uncle. While I don’t have specific data to back this, I strongly believe that those who have positive masculine role models, exhibiting virtues of positive masculinity, are more likely to experience better health outcomes.
For the record, I don’t have a concise definition of ‘Positive Masculinity’, but I recently came across a paper by Barry et al (2020) that describes it as men’s behaviour that is socially beneficial. This definition resonates with me because it encompasses a wide range of traits and characteristics. These include respect, strength, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, decision-making, independence, trustworthiness, reliability, empathy, resilience, kindness, and integrity. I believe that when these traits are used to enhance our interpersonal world, through direct or indirect actions, the results are incredibly positive.
The role of fatherhood in the 21st century has taken on more significance than ever before. It’s no longer just about being the primary earners or the stereotypical tough guys. It’s about being present, emotionally available, consistently reliable, and most importantly, a positive role model. The impact we have on our children is immeasurable. They are constantly observing us, soaking in how we behave, handle emotions, solve problems, take care of ourselves, and yes, how we bounce back when life throws a curveball. From reflecting on my life and the experiences I aim to provide for my children, I’ve learned that while academic skills are important, learning how to exist in the world, manage emotions, navigate difficulties, develop problem-solving and interpersonal skills are equally, if not more, crucial. I can’t help but beam with pride when I see my son interacting kindly with his younger sister, mimicking behaviours that I and partner have modelled for him.
When we manage our emotions effectively, we’re teaching our children that it’s okay to feel, and more importantly, that feelings can be handled in a healthy way. When we face a problem head-on, we’re imparting the importance of perseverance and critical thinking. Working hard and taking care of our physical health shows them the significance of self-care and resilience. On the flip side, if we consistently respond aggressively to challenges or avoid difficulties, there’s a good chance our children will pick up on these behaviours.
Now, some of you might be thinking – “But I’m not perfect.” Well, neither am I, nor is anyone else. It’s not about being a flawless paragon of health and wisdom. It’s about showing our children that despite our individual trials and tribulations, we’re doing our best with the resources we have. It’s about demonstrating that life is tough and will throw us curveballs, and sometimes we might struggle. What’s important is how we handle these situations, as our children are watching and learningfrom us. If we falter in dealing with a tough situation, what do we want our children to learn? We want them to see that regardless of setbacks, we keep pushing forward. We want them to understand that it’s okay to ask for help when needed. We want them to realize that the outcome of trials largely depends on our actions, and we are responsible for these actions. This teaches them resilience, an essential life skill we can pass onto our children. What we don’t want them to see is someone who gives up, blames others, doesn’t take action, displays poor problem-solving skills, and waits for someone else to fix their problems.
As a mental health nurse, I feel compelled to include the importance of mental health. One of the most crucial lessons a child can learn from us dads is that we all face our personal challenges – be it a stressful job, a strained relationship, financial difficulties, or physical or mental health issues. Despite these challenges, we can ask for help and we’re not alone. There’s support available, and it’s absolutely okay to seek it. In my experience, telling men to reach out often seems too little, too late. It can be difficult to encourage someone to change their approach to dealing with problems, especially if it’s not in their nature and they have had little exposure to alternative methods. But imagine if we, as role models, demonstrated more openness when we are suffering, then actively sought help and support. Imagine the impact on our children if they witnessed us managing our emotions, instead of acting out aggressively, or expressing our distress and then reaching out for help or engaging in activities to boost our mood. Maybe, just maybe, taking care of our mental health isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a testament to our strength. And when our kids see us seeking help when needed, we’re teaching them the value of emotional courage.
Fellow dads, our kids are observing us, learning more from our actions than our words. We owe it to them to demonstrate how to navigate the complexities of life with grace, resilience, and a healthy mind and body. Let’s recognize that our health, both mental and physical, is important. Not just for us, but for the little eyes watching us. Remember, it’s not about being the perfect dad; it’s about being a dad who tries his best. Believe me, to our kids, that’s the best kind of dad to be. Here’s to embracing the beautiful journey of fatherhood and being the role models our kids deserve. Let’s lead by example, one step at a time.
Dadtras - Dad Mantras for the Modern Father
Not all of us have the time or the inclination to delve into academic papers, detailed studies, psychological theories, or extensive psychology texts. So, I’ve put together a list of easily digestible mantras, grounded in various theories that I’ve encountered over the years. Please keep in mind, though, I’m a hardworking dad and mental health nurse, not a psychologist, parenting expert, or child development specialist. These mantras are broad and there is obviously more to these theories than I can ever do justice. I’m just a dad who likes to dive deep into these topics. So, these mantras are my interpretations, and they may resonate differently with you.
“I am my child’s safe haven” – Attachment Theory
This theory suggests that a child’s sense of security comes from their relationship with their primary caregivers. By being emotionally available and responsive, we can help our children feel safe and secure, which encourages them to explore, play, and grow.
“Basic needs come first” – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This concept, which was emphasised a lot during my training, suggests that a child’s basic needs like physiological needs and safety must be met before they can focus on higher needs like self-esteem and self-actualization. If we want our children to flourish, we need to ensure these basics are met: adequate sleep, proper nutrition, a sense of security, and an abundance of love lay the foundation for self-esteem and personal growth.
“Words matter, but my actions matter more” – Social Learning Theory
Children often learn by imitating the behaviours they see. By demonstrating positive behaviours like kindness to strangers, saying thank you, working hard, looking after oneself, and expressing love, we can encourage our children to adopt these values and actions.
“Failure is just another stepping stone towards success” – Resilience Theory
It’s not the challenges or obstacles we face, but how we deal with them. By modelling resilience in the face of setbacks, we can teach our children that making mistakes is a natural part of life and can lead to growth and learning.
“I am not perfect, and that’s okay” – Humanistic Psychology
This perspective emphasises the inherent worth of each person and the importance of individual experience and personal growth. By showing our children that making mistakes and learning from them is a natural part of life, we can teach them about personal growth and self-acceptance.
“Emotional expression is strength, not weakness” – Emotional Intelligence
Encouraging our children to express their feelings and modeling the same helps foster emotional intelligence. By showing our children that experiencing emotions is a natural part of life and expressing them constructively is important, we give them the tools to navigate their own emotional landscape.
“All I can control are my thoughts and actions” – Stoicism
One of the central tenets of Stoicism, expressed by Marcus Aurelius, is the distinction between what we can control – our thoughts and actions – and what we cannot: everything else. As dads, teaching our children to focus their energy on what they can control can help them maintain peace of mind in challenging situations.
“Thoughts are not facts” – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT, introduced to the world by Aaron Beck, operates on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected. We can change our behaviors and emotions by identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts. As a father, this mantra can serve as a reminder to both you and your child that our thoughts don’t always accurately reflect reality. It’s a crucial lesson in understanding that our negative thoughts can distort our perceptions, but we have the power to challenge and change these thoughts.
“Nothing worth doing is ever easy” – A Nod to Theodore Roosevelt
Although this quote isn’t part of a specific psychological theory or approach, and it’s not a verbatim quote from Roosevelt, it captures a valuable sentiment. In a letter to his children, Roosevelt wrote, ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.’ Despite not knowing much about the former US President, I feel the world could benefit from more individuals with his spirit and resilience.
So there you have it, fellow fathers, a set of mantras to guide you on your parenting journey. Our kids are watching us, learning more from our actions than our words. We owe it to them to demonstrate how to navigate through the wonderfully messy journey of life with grace, resilience, and a healthy mind and body. It’s about recognizing that our health, both mental and physical, is crucial. Not just for us, but for those little eyes that are always watching us. Remember, perfection isn’t the goal here. Instead, it’s about being the best dad you can be, the ‘doing-your-best’ dad. To our kids, that’s the best kind of dad to be. So, here’s to embracing the beautiful journey of fatherhood and being the role models our kids deserve. Let’s lead by example, one step at a time.
Barry, J., Walker, R., Liddon, L., & Seager, M. (2020). Reactions to contemporary narratives about masculinity: A pilot study. Psychreg Journal of Psychology, 4(2), 8–21. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3871217
“I am my child’s safe haven” (Attachment Theory): Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Basic Books.
“My child’s basic needs come first” (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs): Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370.
“Emotional expression is strength, not weakness” (Emotional Intelligence): Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. Bantam.
“I am not perfect, and that’s okay” (Humanistic Psychology): Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centred therapy: Its current practice, implications, and theory. Constable.
“My words matter, but my actions matter more” (Social Learning Theory): Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall.
“Everyone’s feelings matter” (Emotion-Focused Theory): Greenberg, L. S., & Paivio, S. C. (1997). Working with the emotions in psychotherapy. Guilford Press.
“Failure is just another stepping stone towards success” (Resilience Theory): Werner, E. E., & Smith, R. S. (1982). Vulnerable but invincible: A longitudinal study of resilient children and youth. McGraw-Hill.
“All I can control are my thoughts and actions” (Stoicism) Aurelius, M. (2003). Meditations. Penguin Classics.
“Thoughts are not facts” (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. Guilford press.
“Nothing worth doing is ever easy” (A Nod to Theodore Roosevelt) Roosevelt, T. (2006). Letters to His Children (J. B. Bishop, Ed.). Project Gutenberg. (Original work published 1919)
About the author
I have been working as a mental health nurse since 2016 and have been around the block working in a lot of different areas. At present I work in a service where I assess people and provide interventions. I love my job, I love learning and talking to people about mental health and wellbeing. This article represents my personal opinion and is certainly not medical advice. If you have concerns about your mental health please speak with a GP or health professional.
The CALL helpline – 0800 132 737 or text HELP to 81066. Sometimes reaching out for support whether it is a friend, family member or GP is the hardest thing to do, but a good way to do this is by talking to someone through a confidential and impartial service. CALL Offers emotional support, a confidential listening service and information/literature on Mental Health and related matters to the people of Wales and their relatives/friends.