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Whatever happened to father?

Do your children know you and respect you?
Are you the major influence in your child's life?
If not, why not?
This article shows parents how to avoid a generation gap in their family.


My parents fight . . . they don't understand me . . . my father doesn't talk to me . . . I really hate both my parents . . . my father's away a lot . . . I have no rapport with my father."

These are the confessions of increasing numbers of teenagers. But why? Why should one of the closest, warmest human relationships end up on the rocks?

One of the biggest social problems today is the parent-child problem. A communication gap has separated teenagers from their parents. How does it come about? How does this wall of misunderstanding develop? When does it start? And what can one do to correct it?


teenagers Speak Out

Interviews with teenagers, once the loved, cuddled, played-with. and talked-to children, reveal some surprising points.

"There are a lot of things that I don't know about my parents." says Chris, a sixteen-year-old sophomore from New Jersey. "My father goes out on the road. He never talks about what he does, but I have to wonder sometimes. My parents fight . . . they fight all night" (The Music of Their Laughter, Thorpe and Blake, p. 1).

Sandy is sixteen, the second of three girls. Here is how she views her parents: "My father works for a chemical firm. I don't know what he does or how much he makes, but it must be a lot, because we live well.

"My parents are concerned with what other people think. It's really not my mother. It's mostly my father. She's really nice. He's all right but he just doesn't understand, He says that he wants to understand and everything, but I don't think he ever could, really. He's just not like — he just won't understand. I guess he's really concerned about his job, and he's in the Lions Club business. I don't know what that is. He's some head of it or something. He goes to that a couple of days a week, and I don't know . . . I don't know how to describe him really" (ibid., p. 3).

How pitiful! Here is a young girl who does not really know her own father and does not know how to express herself well enough so he will understand. Obviously there is little family contact. She does not even know what his job is or what his club responsibility is.

Sandy's family lacks conversation and cohesion. Sandy has contact with her mother and feels that her mother is "really nice." But she feels that her father "doesn't understand," couldn't understand, and "won't understand." She started the thought. "He's just not like. . . ." Then she interrupted her words. We can only wonder to whom she was comparing her father. Perhaps she wished her father could understand like one of her teachers does.

But in any case, we can plainly see that Sandy has virtually given up hope that there will ever be any understanding with her father.

In just sixteen years, starting from birth, here is a girl who has just about ended all fellowship with her father. How can this be?


What's He Really Like?

If you were to meet and talk with Sandy's father, you would probably like him. He is no doubt esteemed highly among his associates at work and in the Lions Club. He is likely to be regarded as a stalwart member of the community — an active, contributing member of society.

In all probability, he doesn't really know what his daughter thinks. He evidently works hard, giving lime and energy to his job to provide for his family. He sees his daughter at home, getting ready for her activities, school socials, etc. Sometimes he must feel frustrated and may comment. "I just don't understand these kids today." At times he may try to come up with something to say to his daughter but is at a loss to find any rapport. So, finding no common ground, he buries his face in the newspaper or hurries off to his club duties.

The above situation describes thousands of homes where there is virtually no father influence. The trouble is that too much time is spent trying to pin the blame on someone, instead of solving the problem. Parents accuse the teens:

"They're young, rebellious, and won't listen." The teens accuse the parents: "They're square, hard-nosed, and won't listen."

The common denominator? Neither will listen! Each usually feels the other is at fault. For teenagers, the subject of parents is so charged with emotion that many do not even want to discuss it with interviewers.


Results of Another Survey

Bibs Wein, author of The Runaway Generation, reported: "There was more reticence and emotional charge on the subject of parents than on anything else covered in the interviews." She further explained that the teenagers interviewed spoke more openly about their sexual activities, drugs, etc. than they did about their parents.

She continued: "Rather than expressing hostility, anger or condescension for the elder generation, most kids just didn't seem to want to talk about it."

teenagers were asked, "Was there a time when you liked your parents better than you do now?" Miss Wein reports: "Most answered yes, but could not say when that changed, or what had happened. . . . About 65% said their parents did not know much about their attitudes and feelings."

Miss Wein then asked a series of questions to discover the attitude of teenagers toward their parents.

"Question: Do you want them to know more?

"Many answered yes. Those who said no did so not because of secrets or fear of punishment, but because of fear of disillusioning and disappointing their parents, or because they felt that there was simply no possibility for more understanding.

"Question: Would you like to know more about them?

"Almost all said yes.

"Question: Was there a time when you decided it was better not to tell your parents personal things?

"I never talked to my parents, was one fairly common answer. Others said there once was such a time, but they could not recall it. Many seemed to feel that time had been around the age of six. There was a strong feeling that parents didn't want to know more about their children and were unwilling to receive communications on any subject where there might be disagreement" (ibid., pp. 307-308).


When Communication Breaks Down

Parents start losing communication with their children about the age of six — about the time they enter school. It seems at this point that parent and child begin to live in two different worlds. Their interests part. Their lives become more enigmatic to each other until there is really nothing to talk about.

Here, in many cases, is the beginning of the problem. As long as all members of the family share everything in common and the children are not affected by outside interests, all seems to go well. The tack of communication, genuine interest, and outgoing concern between members of the family has not yet shown its weakness at this point in a child's life.

But when children enter school and grow older, new interests and influences begin to make their marks. As time progresses, the weakness allowed to develop in the family unit becomes more evident. Not all parents realize they are out of contact with their children — that school influences are stronger than the family.

Our youth need direction and a consistent set of guidelines. Every parent should be doing everything possible for preschool children in laying the foundation of discipline and right teaching.

One teen-age girl summarized the feelings of many teenagers when she was asked: "Do you have private moments with your father where you sit down over coffee and he tells you something?"


"Do you wish you did?"

"No, I try to avoid that sort of thing . . ."

She continues: "I have no rapport with my father. I don't think there's anything binding my father and me. I never got any sex education when I was younger. I came by it, I guess, like most girls my age do, in school, dirty jokes, dirty books." .

Does this describe your home?

What have you taught your children?

In an interview, Mike, a Penn State Junior, made a candid statement about his parents: "1 never got one iota of sex training from my parents. . . . I think parents are very naive."

He says further about his mother:

"I can't sit down and talk with my mother about something that's bugging me."

These young people are not unusual. These parents are not, unfortunately, a rarity in our society. These family situations are typical.

When we consider the breakdown of the home, the terribly unhappy marriages, the declining role of father, and the changed role of mother, is it any wonder our societies are literally coming apart thread by thread? The fabric that underlies a healthy society — the home itself— is being ripped apart.

What can you parents do to see that this generation will grow up to be sound, respectful, useful citizens in a world run-amuck?


What Can You Do?

The answer involves one basic consideration. You cannot be a good father unless you are first a good husband. And you cannot be a good mother unless you are first a good wife.

The climate set by the husband and wife definitely influences the climate in which the child will be reared. If a child is reared in turmoil, strife and confusion, how can he learn stability and peace? Children learn by imitating. When the only thing they have at home to imitate is constant bickering and strife between father and mother, they become hostile and aggressive toward others and lose the sense of security that comes from a warm home relationship.

The two people a young child loves most in the world are his father and mother. The child wants to see them happy, to see them together. But when they are torn apart by strife, the child's whole world seems insecure.

The emotional effects of this insecure environment on a child are just beginning to be realized. We are now experiencing a generation that has been reared — or rather, allowed to grow up — in homes devoid of love and affection, in homes without proper rules of conduct or organization. No wonder we have a "runaway generation."

If you are married, you have as your first responsibility your mate. You should make your marriage a happy one. Nothing is more worthwhile to your own child. Loving your husband or your wife totally is one of the greatest benefits you can bestow on your child.

Next, parents and teenagers alike must begin building the bridge of communication. In a survey taken with young people, this question was asked; "What do you do when you are at home?"

"The activity most often mentioned was listen to records. About half mentioned having some household chores, but in general, 1 got no sense of any activities that were not solitary ones, including watching TV. In most cases, I sensed little participation in family life'' {The Runaway Generation, Bibi Wein, p. 308).

Too often while parents are home with their children, they might as well be a hundred miles away. If you're going to spend time with your children, spend it profitably. Make it memorable.

You need common interests in order to have conversation. If you and a close friend separate for quite a while, it is difficult to converse when you meet again. You may find that you have little in common. You will have to spend hours bringing one another up to date on your various activities and experiences. Each will have to do a considerable amount of talking as well as listening!

This is the key to rebuilding a bridge of communication with your children. You will have to find out what their interests are. You will also have to bring them into contact with your experiences. But even here you will need a common bond of experiences and interests.

One very helpful activity is game participation. A family can purchase games that can be played by two to eight people. These can provide a number of happy hours spent together. It brings about a closeness and a common bond — and provides common interests.


Whatever Happened to Father?

Men tend to involve themselves in their work, hobbies, and careers. If a father isn't careful, he can soon find himself consumed with all kinds of outside activities, leaving little, time for his family.

Many wives complain that their husbands leave them alone too much. They have virtually no companionship with their husbands, and the marriage suffers.

In the course of planning his life, a man must recognize that he committed himself to certain definite responsibilities when he married. And these responsibilities take priority over most personal preferences in his life. He must insure that he takes enough time to spend with his wife. This should include taking his wife out occasionally — having time alone with her for conversation.

If he fulfills these major responsibilities and has time left over for personal interests, well and good. But what happens in most cases is that a man wants to "have his cake and eat it too." He wants to spend most of his time working or engaging in his favorite recreational activities and hobbies. Then he hopes he has enough time after work to devote to his family. And it is usually his family that is left without the proper attention.

The course each nation will take depends on whether fathers and husbands in that nation have the courage and the fortitude to fulfill family responsibilities by putting their job of father and husband in its proper place as one of life's most important responsibilities.

If men would recognize how important their responsibilities are as husbands and fathers and give the proper attention to their wives and children, then children wouldn't have to ask the question: "What ever happened to father?