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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

'Weekend Dads' Should Still Be Parents

So The Darling G and I were in Yo! Sushi on Saturday, and sat opposite us was a father with a somewhat uncooperative teenager. A bit of eavesdropping over our makis indicated that what we were seeing was a Weekend Dad.

They finished lunch quickly - Dad trying (and failing) to communicate, and in doing so showing a woeful lack of understanding of his son's life and activities. They then rolled off, with Dad asking directions to the cinema. I suppose the cinema made it easier for him - after all, one doesn't have to talk when watching a movie.

This is, I would imagine, a scene repeated in burger bars and tourist attractions across the country every weekend. And it got me thinking - does it really have to be like that?

I am one of the many Weekend Dads in this country. But I don't believe that being a dad at weekends means you have to be a Weekend Dad.

I see my son every Thursday evening to do bedtime stories, and we have him overnight for three weekends in every four. Additionally, we also take my former stepson, as his father only visits once every five weeks (if he's not doing anything else) and let's face it - every boy needs a regular male influence. Both The Darling G and I (and, I'm proud to say, the rest of my family) make a point of ensuring that Josh and Jay are treated absolutely equally, and both are referred to and treated as my sons. (But that's another post).

I think it's important, though, that weekend visits and the like don't descend into the 'easy stuff' - cinema, wildlife park, McDonalds and so on - because in doing so, the Weekend Dad is making it easy for himself, not his child.

Rather, I believe that it's better to take the harder route - involve the children in the normal minutae of weekends, with the normal treats that would come to a child in a normal relationship. For us, this can mean taking the boys to Argos to choose some new bedding for their bunks, then to buy some new shoes for Joshua, and stopping for a drink in Mostly Books in Abingdon rather than a fat-laden snack at Burger King. We do Jason's homework together and in the evening we eat together at the table, with no TV (and no multiple-choice dining either, there's only one choice). They get a joint bedtime story, with Jason helping me read to Josh, and they don't get outlandish bedtimes.

We keep to the same rules and discipline as anyone else would, with the same consequences.

Instead of the guilt-trip overload of expensive substitutes, the boys get regular love and affection as a child should. They get stability, a degree of routine and the ability to talk about things normally rather than, as Mr Weekend Dad was doing, an interrogation on what's happening devoid of emotional understanding.

Being a Weekend Dad is not an easy thing to do (it's even harder when one of the children has no biological link to either of you at all). I wouldn't profess to have all the answers. But I do think that by creating a family unit for the times you see the kids, rather than making every time a special occasion, you get to know your children better and establish a more stable, lasting and positive relationship.

(Published on Dad-O-Matic 14/10/2008.)

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