A nurturing father expresses caring. He is attention giving. He is a hands-on trainer. He is an influencer. Notice that this definition seems to be focused on what a nurturing father does--his behavior.
This is an important point because there is a myth that nurturing starts with an emotional state, attitude, or frame of mind. However, we cannot identify the nurturing father if he is motionless. We must identify him in action in order to know that he is nurturing.
If nurturing is a behavior, then it is a simple matter of learning behaviors and having the discipline to choose that behavior.
Another way to describe this process is developing a skill. The only way to learn that skill is by developing your knowledge base and practicing.
Developing your knowledge base is simply learning, whether through watching others or reading. Practice of course would include applying techniques, making mistakes, as well as fixing mistakes.
There are limitations to leaving the definition of nurturing confined to behaviors (or skills). Although we may be able to use our will-power to learn skills of nurturing, behavior eventually needs purpose or inspiration.
With authentic nurturing there is an action and there is a purpose. The overall purpose of nurturing is not just to do but to connect in the moment. When engaging in nurturing behavior (i.e. express caring, give attention, train, or provide) the intention is to build a strong bond with a spouse or child. By investing in them, they will become more invested in me. That bond gives fathers credibility and transforms us into better men, better fathers.
It is becoming clearer then, that there are two major parts to nurturing. There is what happens on the inside of us (the purpose, meaning, inspiration, or positive emotion) and there is what happens on the outside of us (the nurturing behaviors).
Where does change start, on the inside of us or on the outside of us through behavior?
Each person may be different. Sometimes doing regardless of emotion is the practical first step; on the other hand, others may feel inspiration for some time before they act. My perspective is that change for stronger more positive relationships through nurturing can begin in either place--and can even occur simultaneously.
The goal is that nurturing begins, it is authentic, and it is repeated with positive results. Being a nurturing father can look significantly different from one man to another because each father and child relationship is unique. Some of us are more creative and artistic. Some fathers have a great sense of humor. Some fathers are much more comfortable with affection. Some fathers are very athletic or enjoy the outdoors.
No matter where your strengths lie, you have the ability to exercise your skills of nurturing in those areas and expand to other areas.
The definition of nurturing is not confined to emotions and emotional connection. Yes, emotions are AN area that nurturing should take place, but there are other areas as well. Our children have many areas to nurture. Consider this partial list of areas that children can be nurtured in:
- physical health
- emotional health
- relationship skills
- humor and recreations
- volunteer service
- pursuit of goals
- outdoor life
Learn to use your nurturing skills (express caring, give attention, teach) in an area you are already strong in. As you spend time with your children, try to determine if they would benefit from more nurturing in another area of their life.
For example, suppose you are an outdoorsman and you decide to spend time with your daughter hiking and orienteering. Through spending time with her during these activities, perhaps you realize that she is struggling with the loss of her grandmother and could be helped by engaging in spiritual activities. She is more likely to engage in them because of your support and encouragement. Even if you are not particularly spiritual, your open-mindedness, caring, and spending time with her during those activities are all ways that would be nurturing for her.
Looking back, was there anything your father did specifically that you see as nurturing? Or, is there anything that you do specifically with your children that you now see is quite nurturing?
It is important to continue to develop ideas around nurturing and manhood. It is important that we redefine the role of men and fathers nurturing in our own way.