Involved Fathering … or Connected Fathering?

Here at NCF, we often talk about involved fathering. Dads need to be engaged in their kids’ lives. Involvement is the “I” in the I-CANs of Fathering, the four key fundamentals dads put into practice.

And it’s no surprise that research shows a strong link between a father’s involvement in his child’s life and the stability of that child’s values, personality, and conduct. Children with highly involved dads demonstrate greater cognitive abilities, increased empathy, more self-control, and less sex-stereotyped beliefs. Additionally, they are more likely to have solid marriages later in life.

Unfortunately, the term “involvement” isn’t always easy to define.

In past generations, many people thought an “involved father” basically stayed around for his kids, kept a steady job to provide financially, and administered discipline once in a while. And that was enough.

More recently, father involvement has appropriately focused on time spent with children, as that’s an easy and measurable answer for how to be a better dad. How we spend our time reveals our priorities, and that time with our kids sets the stage for building relationships and making memories together. But even spending time with our kids can fall short, since we can be with them for long periods of time but not really engage with them. Fathers can and should be so much more.

So, while involved fathering is good, connected fathering is even better.

Let’s all try to think of connecting with our children. Maybe this example will help:

What happens when you step onto an elevator with a group of strangers? Everyone stares at the door, few words are spoken, there is very little eye contact, and no one really engages with other people. You’re spending time together, and involved in the same journey, however brief it may be.

Now, imagine stepping onto an empty elevator with a close friend. There’s no barrier of artificiality. You talk, joke, and make direct eye contact. You aren’t just passing time in proximity, you’re really involved. You’re connecting.

That’s an important difference between successful fathering and just coexisting with your children for a few hours every day.

The father who’s truly seeking the best for his kids puts his knowledge and his aspirations into action. Simply stated, he connects. It isn’t enough to be around them; he wants to engage with them, whether it’s through humor or comfort or something in between. He sets down the phone, the remote, and any other distractions. He forgets about his golf handicap for now, limits his overtime at work, and mixes it up with his children. He remembers to ask himself annually, monthly, even weekly:

“How much time am I spending with my son or daughter?”
“Would he or she benefit from spending more time with me?”
“More importantly, what am I doing with that time I get with my child?”

This can be a sobering exercise, especially if you ask those same questions to your child’s mother or to your children themselves.

Be a successful, connected father. Really connect with your child.

And that can’t happen in a few minutes each week. You need to intentionally carve out a half hour here, an hour there, and a full day of hang time every chance you get.

How would you differentiate being involved with your child from being connected? Share what works for you and join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • What notions of an “involved father” did you have growing up? What did that involvement look like from your dad or a father figure in your life?
  • Do you consider yourself an involved father? Would you say you’re closely connected to your kids?
  • What does your involvement usually look like? Is it based on what works for you, or what your kids need from you?
  • For most of us, our kids would benefit from being more connected to us. Come up with one step you can take to make that happen, whether it’s spending more one-on-one time together, being more intentional about having deeper conversations, being more physically affectionate, or something else.
  • Schedule some time with each of your kids, doing an activity that’s new to them or something you know they will enjoy.

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.