In a time and age where technology and devices work together to keep us connected with friends and strangers on the other side of the planet, the very same things can ironically keep us from even having conversations with our family members sitting across the table.
As a dad, I often fall prey to the great temptation of connecting emotionally with friends via Facebook and messaging apps instead of the ones with whom I’m living under the same roof. Why? For one – when it’s online, there’s only one context; one point of reference for the conversation – and that’s whatever I choose to present. My carefully curated Instagram post will create the conversations I want to have, and probably will enjoy having.
On the other hand, my wife and kids get the real deal. My life is not just a happy, VSCO’ed snapshot. They see me at my unfiltered, unedited worst. Those conversations are much needed, and also much harder to have. And yet we need to have them if we are to connect at a deep, emotional level with our loved ones.
My wife and kids get the real deal. They see me at my unfiltered, unedited worst. Those conversations are much needed, and also much harder to have.
On my own journey of learning how to be an emotionally connected father, here are three essential lessons I’ve learnt:
1. You’ve got to WANT it
Men are generally typecast as unthinking, unfeeling brutes who respond either with animal-like grunts or monosyllabic answers. I don’t know about you, but there are days I’m happy to fit into that stereotype. As an introvert by nature, it takes a lot for me to open myself up to others, listen to them and understand where they’re coming from, and consistently have such life-giving conversations.
And that’s why I’ve got to keep on reminding myself – I need to WANT connection. I can’t be content or happy with building superficially when it’s with my family. I need to remember that desire precedes destination; if the destination of healthy and whole family relationships is my end goal, then change needs to start with me. The status quo, the “this is how I am” arguments cannot be my final rest stop.
If the destination of healthy and whole family relationships is my end goal, then change needs to start with me.
2. You’ve got to EARN it
The other reason why it’s much easier to cultivate an online persona instead of building our offline connections is because the latter takes effort. A single funny post on Facebook which takes me 3 minutes to think up and type out can get me 40 likes and haha’s in an hour.
But in order to bond with my family, I need to work much harder. I can’t spend 30 minutes with my son at the foodcourt, spend half that time reminding him (angrily) to sit still and finish his food, and then expect him to connect with me emotionally and tell me how his day really went at school.
No, heart-to-heart conversations take time, intentional time – and lots of energy to put up with his latest collection of lame jokes – to really be able to get into his world and discover his most honest thoughts.
The same goes for my interactions with my wife. If all of our conversations only revolve around our kids, and we don’t create conducive moments to share our hearts with each other on a regular basis, then our marriage merely becomes a vehicle for child-rearing. And when our kids eventually grow up and move out, we can’t be surprised when we find only an empty shell left behind.
If we want authentic connection, we need to take time to listen, build trust, respect each other’s views, and show unconditional acceptance. These are the drivers that build and sustain loving relationships.
If my spouse and I don’t create conducive moments to share our hearts with each other on a regular basis, then our marriage merely becomes a vehicle for child-rearing.
3. You’ve got to SHARE it
I played a lot of video games growing up, and one of my favourites was a game called “The Sims”. In the game, you manage the lives of one or more simulated game characters (“Sims”). What really got me hooked on the game was the ability to build houses for your Sims to live in. Thanks to cheat codes that gave me unlimited in-game currency, I would spend hours and sometimes days designing, building, and then furnishing giant, lavish mansions that would put the ones you saw in Crazy Rich Asians to shame. And when I was done, I’d get my (real life) sister to come check out my crib, which would inevitably be an invitation for her to design something even bigger and more extravagant than mine.
My point is this – whatever you’re willing to build, you must be willing to share. Don’t be afraid to let others in on how you connect and have fun with your family. Maybe some will point out the rough edges in your construction or highlight how the tablecloth doesn’t go with the curtains. That’s okay. Learn from other master builders. Listen to interior design tips from those who are on the same journey as you are. And maybe inspire others who are considering giving their own houses a makeover.
When we are willing to be real and vulnerable about our family relationships, we are opening the door to opportunities for improvement; and we help others see that the destination is indeed worth the journey.
This Father’s Day, I hope that fathers everywhere will give themselves and their families the gift of emotional connectedness, that they would be willing to pour more time and energy into their own relationships, and in so doing find that they themselves are the real beneficiaries.
Elvin has been equipping families and running educational children's programmes since 2017. He spent 12 years in the RSAF serving in the area of Strategic HR Planning. Believing that strong families are the backbone of strong societies, he left to work with children and parents, encouraging parents to be more involved and intentional about their parenting.
Believing that families are strong when husbands and wives put each other first, Elvin initiated the project Hand In Mine, to encourage dads to love their spouses as wives first, and moms second. He has been married to Esther for 11 years, and is the proud father of 2 beautiful children.
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