Diapers and wipes. Runny noses and temper tantrums. Feet and legs smacking the back of the car seat while screeching or singing at the top of their lungs. Aversion to napping, taking a bath, or brushing teeth. And don't even start on screen time.
Imagine this is a very brief snapshot of the day of a typical parent/child interaction. Now imagine that very same day, but with only one parent. Now imagine it is the father -- and he's divorced.
It's easy to default to the mother as the primary caretaker and the one who knows the children the best -- after all, they were the ones who carried them, gave birth to them, and most likely spent the first year of the child's life getting up every 2-3 hours to feed, soothe, and rock them to sleep. They have hard-wired intuitions and are extremely sensitive and attuned to their child's needs. I get that. But can't dads have the same opportunities, too?
As a single father, I say yes, loudly and boldly.
According to an Art of Manliness article titled "The Importance of Fathers," there are many compelling reasons for why fathers, now more than ever, play an extremely important role in a child's development and success. Among its findings: Children with fathers are "less likely to live in poverty, do better in school, are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol…[and] are encouraged to take more healthy risks…"
The article concludes with this: "Dads everywhere have the opportunity to leave a big impact on the world. Don't underestimate your influence on the lives of your children."
I take those words to heart every single moment I have with my children.
Please understand that I am not trying to convince you that dads are more important than moms. I merely want to open everyone's eyes to how important Abba -- Dad in Hebrew -- is to children, no matter whether their parents are raised by one parent or multiple parents, married, divorced, gay, or straight.
I am no rabbi or Jewish scholar, but according to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the firstborn son), a father's primary responsibilities are the following: to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, to teach the child to swim (both literally and metaphorically how to navigate the world), and to teach the child a trade. At a minimum, a father's obligations mean ensuring that his child's basic necessities are met.
In my time as a single father so far, here are a few nuggets of wisdom I have learned along the way:
Find time and ways to weave in spirituality into your child's everyday routine. For my children, we say prayers and bless our loved ones every night before bed. We light Shabbat candles every Friday night we are together, and I place my hands on my children's heads and bless them with the priestly blessing. We attend services whenever we can, and I try to educate them with Jewish values through fun and engaging technological resources like the YouTube channel "Shaboom!"
Teach Jewish values in every moment
Abbas can live Jewishly and teach Jewish values by example -- through modeling politeness and kindness towards everyone, giving and helping others less fortunate, finding joy in all things, showing gratitude, and learning the importance of patience and tolerance.
Love, no matter what
Unconditional love from dad is critical. However, children need to see how both male and female authority figures and role models interact, deal with problems, and manage stress and other emotions. Most importantly, children need to understand that everything we say or do comes from a place of love -- or should as often as possible. Dads are an undervalued, untapped resource in this area because too often mothers are pinned as the primary or majority affectionate, sensitive, and caring parent. Dads carry more inside of them besides a strong moral and ethical compass and a desire to protect and provide for their children. There is a large, strong, beating heart overflowing with love and desire to prepare the next generation for everything life has to offer.