Every dad is different. Wiesia’s father phones and texts her every day no matter how busy he is at work.
On the other hand, Maya’s dad is very formal. When she was growing up, he was always out, working or playing golf and tennis. Now, years later, when her mum calls her for a chat and hands the phone over, Maya’s dad just asks how she is before hanging up.
Over the years Maya, a beauty therapist, has thought he’s completely disinterested in her life and, at times, felt rejected.
Whether good or bad, healthy or not, experts agree that our relationships with our fathers are important ones, imprinted on our minds long after childhood.
‘Our parents are our first role models and they’re the biggest core influences in our lives,’ explains Becki Houlston, a life coach based in the UK. ‘Our fathers are our first male role model. When we are babies, we watch them and see how they deal with stress and interact with other people, for example.
‘Our sponge-like brains learn from everything they do, even though we may not understand it. And we take what we’ve learnt from our parents into our own lives and relationships.’
Understanding ourselves and the choices we make, then, has much to do with figuring out our parents. So, what type of dad you have?
The distant dad
This dad may be physically remote and working long hours at the office or away from home, or he may be emotionally distant, and put up a barrier between you and him.
‘He prioritises work above everything else, because that’s where he feels most comfortable,’ says Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai. ‘He tells himself and others he does this for the family, and when people suggest that he slow down or spend more time with his children, he defensively says that someone has to pay the bills. He points out that they don’t complain when he’s paying for family holidays in Monaco.
‘Even when he’s with his family, he’s distracted, and dinners and car rides are interrupted frequently by calls and e-mails that he claims are urgent. Family time always gets pushed to a magical place called later. Because of his guilt at not spending time with his family, he provides all that money can afford – luxurious holidays, cars for the children when they’re old enough to drive, and unlimited funds for his wife.’
‘You reap what you sow,’ says Dr Afridi. ‘No one who is old and fragile has ever said: “I wish I’d worked more”, but many have said: “I wish I’d loved and lived more”. There will always be things that are urgent so where possible, prioritise your time with your family.
If this is your father, ‘telling him that you’d like to spend time with him and that it’s important to you is a good place to start’, suggests Dr Afridi. ‘You might call his secretary and schedule lunch with him. Try to speak his language – use e-mails and organise 30-minute meetings and keep as connected as you can until he learns that his family is important.’
The critical dad
This dad started criticising you as soon as you were old enough to understand him. He focuses on what’s wrong in your life. If you get six As and a B in your exams, he’ll focus on why you didn’t get seven As.
As an adult, if you make him a coffee, it will be too weak or too strong. If you’ve decorated a room, he’ll point out mistakes. He picks holes in your work, relationships, the way you bring up your children, even the car you drive. His criticism will erode your self-confidence, and it could stay with you throughout your life.
‘Nothing is good enough for such a father because he never sees the good in anything,’ says Dr Afridi. ‘He’s usually very rigid and black-and-white in all areas of his life; his criticism isn’t limited to his children! He evokes feelings of fear and discouragement at work and home, and people often stop trying to please him because they know they never will.
‘Eventually, kids stop doing anything around this dad for fear of being criticised and assume a learned helplessness.’
‘Start looking at the process rather than the end result,’ advises Dr Afridi. ‘Comment on your child’s hard work and effort, instead of the B he got in Physics. Do daily exercises where you put on your rose-tinted glasses and point out all the things that the people around you and your kids in particular, are doing right.
‘Also, talk about the things that are going right in your day. This will soon become a habit. You’ll become happier and people will be happier around you.’
If it so happens that your dad is of this type, Becki says fight back and ‘explain how bad his criticism makes you feel. It’s important to protect your sense of identity. Tell your father you feel sad when he criticises your driving or your clothes, for example. Try asking him if he’s aware that when he points out where you went wrong in an exam or presentation, you feel really sad about it.’
The doting dad
From the moment this man becomes a father, his children are the centre of his universe. You’re his princess, whether you’re five or 45, and he’s always there for you. He’ll rescue you when your car breaks down, bring his toolbox when your tap is leaking and transfer funds when you have a big bill. He wants nothing more than to please you, so his favourite word is yes. ‘This man is present at every parent-teacher conference,’ Dr Afridi says. ‘He always orders after his children at the restaurant and gets home from work in time to help kids with their homework.
‘The pitfall with this type of father is that they dote so much, it can be suffocating. He might protect his children to the extent that it becomes a handicap, and as a result, they might not learn to fend for themselves.
‘Children need to form their own identities and a father who dotes on his children in this manner can sometimes lose perspective about what is good for them in the long term.’
‘When you dote on your children and help them with everything, you could be sending them a signal that they are incapable of doing anything themselves,’ explains Dr Afridi.
‘Your job is not to protect your children or provide for their every need. It’s encouraging and supporting them as they learn to protect and take care of themselves.
‘Even though it feels great to be under the protection of your father, step out of your comfort zone and take risks without him standing next to you. If he tries to protect you, gently tell him you need to learn for yourself. You may never realise how powerful and resourceful you are unless you take the wheel and be captain of your own life.’
The perfectionist dad
This man has incredibly high standards and he puts a lot of pressure on you to achieve various goals. He’ll push you to be top of your class, the captain of the hockey team and head girl at secondary school, and if you can represent your country at schoolgirl tennis or play in an international orchestra, so much the better!
He wants the best for you – the most luxurious car, the best university, the highest degree. Once you start work, he’ll expect you to climb the corporate ladder really fast, and he’ll want you to have the best address and wardrobe in town.
‘He’s very opinionated and he’ll tell you exactly what exam choices you need to make or how you should develop your career,’ says Becki.
‘He’ll be a high achiever himself and probably trying to share his recipe for success with you. He will try and coach you and there will be constant debriefs about your performance. Nothing short of brilliance will make him happy.
‘The problem is, he will get frustrated and impatient very quickly if you don’t take his advice, and when he’s not around to push you, you might find it hard to motivate yourself.’
‘Instead of pushing your ambitions onto your child, talk to him or her and really listen,’ says Becki. ‘Find out what they want from their life, and in which areas they want to achieve. That way, you can support them in realising their own dreams without bulldozing them into achieving your ambitions.’
‘If this is your father, organise to just hang out with him. Instead of having a purpose, go for a coffee and wander aimlessly around the shops or a mall together.
‘If you can share some relaxed fun with each other, you can take the emphasis away from achievement. Even playing a board game with him will make him focus on himself and take his attention off you for a while!’