Dad: Look Below the Surface

When was the last time you were surprised by your own impatience or insensitivity?

Maybe you were in a store or a restaurant and the people on duty were not very attentive to your needs. The situation dragged on long enough to make you pretty frustrated—you deserved better, right?—and you were convinced that it was time to do something or give someone a piece of your mind.

But then you received more information about what was really going on. You saw clearly that there were problems going on that were much bigger than your need, and the server, cashier or attendant was having a much worse day than you were.

Sometimes we see what’s going on below the surface, and it gives us a whole new perspective on the people around us and what we expect of them.

Sometimes fathering can be like that.

As dads, sometimes we get upset and blow things out of proportion when there’s really so much to the picture that we don’t see or don’t want to admit. Can you identify?

Maybe the issue under the surface is something going on in your child’s life. You might get on him about something and not realize that he has other things on his plate or hard issues that are bothering him. Although there are many times when he does need to clean his room or shape up in some other way, maybe your response is louder and less sensitive than it needs to be. (And maybe it happens with your child’s mom, too.)

Or maybe the issues under the surface are inside you.

Maybe you’ve had a hard day, or you’re focused on some issue or difficulty. Something gets stuck in your craw, and you respond to your loved ones based on an issue that has nothing to do with what your child has done in the moment. Maybe you’re angry and impatient, and he’s wondering, “What did I do?”

Sometimes it happens when a child has disobeyed or done something wrong, and we’re carrying out consequences. It might look black-and-white—she did this, and now she’s grounded for a week. But there are times when the child has good intentions but lacks the ability to follow through.

None of us are perfect fathers, so missteps and misunderstandings are going to happen. But in those situations, there are some ideas you can keep in mind and things you can do that will help:

Ask yourself some key questions.

“What’s really going on here with my son or daughter?”

“Why did she really do this?”

“How can I address the real issues instead of just what’s on the surface?”

Look for good intentions.

Maybe your child had noble plans in mind that simply went wrong—and that’s worth noticing and taking into account. Maybe she still needs to learn something through the experience, but that means you take a different approach than if she were being defiant or disobedient.

Remember: the relationship is more important.

A window can be replaced. A wall can be repainted. A friendship can be healed. But don’t make one of these day-to-day issues the occasion when your relationship with your child was severed, even a little bit. Instead, view it as a chance to grow closer and let that goal guide your actions.

Dads, if we want to connect with our kids in a real way and truly get through to them, we have to start looking for those deeper issues and meet them there. It may seem easier to solve the immediate issue by yelling at them or punishing them, but we do our best fatherly teaching and training when we slow down, try to look below the surface, and make the effort to help our children become responsible adults.

When have you learned about deeper issues that affected your child’s behavior? And what lessons did you learn? Share your insights and connect with other dads at our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • Go out of your way to be polite and helpful to people around you in public—because it’s the right thing to do, and because you’re a role model for your kids and others.
  • What’s a memorable time when you didn’t understand the full picture and mishandled a situation with one of your kids?
  • How do your family members perceive you during tense situations at home? Are you approachable? If you don’t know, ask them.
  • Take intentional steps to leave work at work—or at least limit work time when you’re home and give focused time to your kids. Maybe turn off your phone during certain hours, leave your laptop on the other side of the house, etc.
  • Another good question to keep in mind next time you’re correcting your child or dealing with a behavior issue: “How can I help him learn or grow through this experience?”

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.