CELEBRATING FATHERHOOD: PARENTING IS A JOURNEY

A father of four, UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan shares his thoughts on being a father

Arthur van Diesen
Representative in Kazakhstan Artur with his child
UNICEF/Family archive of Arthur van Diesen

17 June 2019

As we prepare to celebrate Fathers’ Day on 16 June, UNICEF is calling attention to the important role of fathers in raising their children. Sadly, fathers in many parts of the world are often not very involved in the day-to-day upbringing of their children. Kazakhstan is no exception, with some numbers suggesting that only 6.6 per cent of fathers are actively involved in the lives of their young children. This is unfortunate not only because it leaves too large a share of the childcare task to mothers, but also because children and fathers miss out on so much if they do not take a big part in raising their children. As a proud father of three daughters and a son, I thought I would share some of my own reflections and experiences.

Anyone who claims to have all the answers on what it means to be a father probably does not have children.

Parenting is not an easy job. It is a journey of discovery, which involves many moments of elation as well as deep frustration. We grow as parents, just as our children grow. We learn from falling down and getting up again. And none of it is easy, at least not the first time around. I have often thought that one of the challenges us fathers face is that many of us do not have ready role models in our own fathers when it comes to parenting.

My dad was a good father and loved me dearly, but he was never very present in our lives when we were children. He worked hard, would come home late and when he was home he was often too tired to pay much attention to us. I doubt he ever bathed me or changed my nappy and I can still remember the few times he put us to bed, because I can count them on one hand.

 

Arthur as a young child
UNICEF/Family archive of Arthur van Diesen

My dad was a good father and loved me dearly, but he was never very present in our lives when we were children. He worked hard, would come home late and when he was home he was often too tired to pay much attention to us.

When I became a father, I tried hard to take part in all aspects of parenting, but it did not always come easy. Sometimes I was really at a loss of how to successfully complete the most simple child care tasks. But I learned and while I am far from the perfect father, I have taken a massively more active role in raising my four little ones than my father did. I know it has had a huge positive impact on me and I believe it has been beneficial to the children too. This means that change from one generation to the next is possible. We, fathers of today, can be change makers if we want to be. Let’s be a better role model for our sons as they eventually become fathers themselves.

If any father is at a loss of where to start, I would say that the most important thing is to simply start spending more time with your children. And I mean dedicated, attentive time, not just being in the same room and watching TV or spending time on your individual gadgets. The easiest is to start with things you really enjoy. For some dads, this may be engaging in sports, for others it may be going for a walk, and others again may want to help with homework.

For me, reading to my kids has always been something I greatly enjoy. From childhood, I have been an avid reader myself. And reading to my children is something I still keenly look forward to every evening.

Arthur reading to his daughter Laura
UNICEF/Family archive of Arthur van Diesen

I have taken a massively more active role in raising my four little ones than my father did. I know it has had a huge positive impact on me and I believe it has been beneficial to the children too. This means that change from one generation to the next is possible. We, fathers of today, can be change makers if we want to be. Let’s be a better role model for our sons as they eventually become fathers themselves.

I started reading to my children almost from the day they were born. Some of my friends and relatives found it odd, saying that ‘your child cannot understand what you are saying’. But they were not aware that reading to your children stimulates language development way before children start engaging in verbal communication. And the bond that grows as a result of a daily reading ritual is very precious. As the children grow, reading also stimulates their imagination and creativity. I remember how my daughters acted out their favourite fairy tales in role play over and over again. I also believe that reading builds children’s respect for books and instills their own reading habit early on, which will benefit them for a life time. But most of all, I simply enjoy the cosy closeness and the warm bond I feel in those 15 minutes before bedtime. Every bedtime story builds our father-child bond stronger. I like to think that, when my eyes are old and tired, my children will read to me.

Sometimes life puts us in situations where it is exceptionally hard to be present as a father.

Some of us travel excessively. Others of us are faced with separation or divorce or experience other circumstances that prevent them from seeing their children on a day-to-day basis. I experienced some of those situations myself. While nothing compares to physical presence, thanks to great advances in technology, we can still play an active role as fathers. My two eldest daughters have lived with their mother in a different country after divorce for many years. But through video calls twice a week, I have been able to stay very engaged. We chat, I help them with homework, we play games, and have even attempted to make music together online. Through this, I have managed to make sure that this sub-optimal situation has not completely wiped out my role as father to my two eldest daughters.

To the fathers of Kazakhstan, I want to say – you can give yourself the most precious present this year. Spend more time with your children every day. Even if it is just an additional five minutes for a chat, a story, a game, you will benefit tremendously and so will your children. Happy Fathers’ Day!