Avoid Dad Deficit Disorder at all costs

  • FathersDay
Father’s Day is all about dads – appreciating fathers, and grandfathers. But aside from being that all-important person in the family who fixes things, makes braais, and “deals” with spiders – dads play a vital role in bringing up boys.
by JULIE LEIBOWITZ | Jun 14, 2018

Much research has been done, particularly in Australia, that shows how important fathers – or positive male mentors – are in bringing up well-adjusted young men.

Mothers are usually paramount in the life of babies of both sexes up to the age of six. From the age of six to14, boys “lock onto their dad, stepdad, or whatever male is around” to learn how to be male. This is according to Steven Biddulph, who wrote the seminal bestseller Raising Boys.

During this time, “the father’s job is to progressively step up his involvement”, Biddulph says. And if there is no father around, then other positive male mentors need to be found. Often male teachers, sports coaches or youth leaders fill this gap, although sadly, there are fewer and fewer men in the teaching profession.

This doesn’t mean that mothers should step back, indeed moms are very important for inculcating the ability to be tender and affectionate in their sons, he says. Moms need to continue to hug them, whether they are five, 10 or 15 years old.

However, this is the window of time in which dads have the opportunity to have the most influence on their sons. They are the ones who build a healthy sense of masculinity in their sons – as well as respect for the women in their life.

“All children, and especially boys, need us fathers to demonstrate what healthy masculinity looks like,” says Marc Loon, the Principal and founder of the Kairos School of Inquiry in Johannesburg. “Achieving maturity is an innate desire in a child, and the physical journey of becoming an adult does not guarantee the psychological journey from immaturity to maturity. Children need mature adults to make [this journey].

“Even with all our human weaknesses, even as we unintentionally wound them with our flaws, even as we journey along our ever-incomplete journey towards mature masculinity ourselves, we are necessary and vital mentors to our children,” he says. “When we model what it means to be a learning human being, holding ourselves accountable when we make mistakes, while simultaneously offering firm boundaries and a consistently loving presence, then, it seems to me, we are fulfilling the role of a healthy father.”

“Little things count,” Biddulph says. “Playing in the backyard on summer evenings; going for walks and yarning about life and telling him about your own childhood. Also, working on hobbies or sports together for the enjoyment of doing it. This is when good memories are laid down that will nourish your son for decades to come.”

Biddulph has coined the term “DDD” – as opposed to ADD – which stands for “Dad Deficiency Disorder”. He talks about cases of boys with absent fathers who developed the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder or even more serious illnesses. These issues mysteriously seem to clear up when fathers returned from eight months of trucking on the road, or endless medical conferences.

“Enjoy this time when he really is wanting to be with you. By mid-adolescence, his interests will pull him more and more into a wider world beyond. All I can do here is plead with you – don’t leave it too late!” Biddulph says.


•     Start early by getting involved in caring for the baby. If the mother needs to be away for the weekend, you need to be able to manage without her. Caring for your children helps you to become more in tune with them from birth.

•     Make time to hang out with your children. Biddulph doesn’t mince his words when he says: “If you routinely work a 55- or 60-hour week, including travel times, you just won’t cut it as a dad. Your sons will have problems in life, and it will be down to you.”

•     Be physically demonstrative by hugging, holding, tickling, wrestling, or just sitting together telling stories, singing, or playing music.

•     Tell your kids – often – how great, beautiful and intelligent they are. It’s about programming them to be great.

•     Enjoy being with your kids by choosing activities you both enjoy. Don’t spend time with your children out of a sense of guilt or obligation.

•     Lastly, develop ways of disciplining your kids that are calm, but firm. Avoid violence at all costs, but get involved in discipline and decision making – don’t just be a good time dad. Parenting is a team sport.


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