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My favourite summation is one from a 6-year-old that I’ve used before.
"A father is someone who’ll play with you, even though he’s got friends his own age to play with."
Well, Dad hasn’t had access to his friends to play with lately and many children appear to have benefited. Witness the homemade videos showing fathers interacting with their kids in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.
In the process, they are creating a father-child bond that’s different from a mother’s, which tends to come through nurturing.
Dads tend to generate more unexpected activities and changes of direction and tempo, tease more and elicit more squeals of delight and laughter. Exciting games like tongue-poking and peek-a-boo set a tone for the games, rough and tumble and pure physical energy to follow.
Rough and tumble is fun, can happen anywhere, anytime, doesn’t need equipment and can be carefully controlled to keep it safe, for the child at least. Dads do get the odd broken tooth, poke in the eye or kick where it hurts.
Simple chasing, tackling, tickling, crawling games generate high-energy excitement for toddlers. Dad can control wins and losses, managing the level of motivation so that it’s possible to beat Dad, but also ensuring that losing is part of the fun and not demoralising — you just get up and have another shot.
Go to any playground where fathers are in action and from the swings you’ll hear, "Push me harder, Dad"; the climbing towers, "Look at me, Dad"; and the grass, "Catch, Grandpa".
Dads push swings at crazy angles, and stand in front so little feet kick them in the chest, "throwing" them to the ground. They catch jumpers from trees. Little ones are swung at arms’ length, piggy-backed, put up on branches and tackled in dramatic fashion. Rugby balls are passed and cricket balls bowled at just the right pace. Dads make the roundabouts go faster than Mum would like, are great for jumping on, and aren’t so fussy about getting clothes dirty.
In these ways, a father can show his love and affection and add to his youngster’s emotional development. There’s Dad’s attention, interaction at an emotional level, physical contact and another side of Dad exposed. And this is also groundwork for managing the teenage years as well as memories made for the future.
Long may this aspect of the lockdown continue.