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"Lifelong DADDYING"
an Interview with Allan Shedlin, Jr.

"Spending more time raising their children, many men are challenging cultural stereotypes about what it means to be manly." - Shedlin

Allan Shedlin is an educational reformer and was founding Executive Director of the National Elementary School Center. A former school principal, he is the father of three adult "children" and three young grandchildren.

Allan has been exploring the role of fathers for his forthcoming book Lifelong DADDYING: Practical Guidance for Being the Parent You Want to Be. In his conversation with CreativeParents, Allan Shedlin shares some of the insights he has gleaned from his observations and research.

Q: What inspired you to explore the role of fathers?

A: Working with kids and families for 40 years I was struck by the general absence of men in the lives of children and by the absence of children in the lives of men. It's clear that it's not only important for children to have fathers in their lives, but is equally important for fathers to have children in their lives.

Studies show that children have a sensitizing effect on men and enable them to lead more fulfilled lives. Of course the joy I experienced raising my own children was also a major factor.

Q: You use the word "Daddying." Can you describe why you use that word?

A: I coined the term "daddying" in a 1994 magazine article because I felt that the traditional concept of "father" was too limiting and did not capture the involvement and commitment to their children that many men are choosing today.

"Daddying" occurs when fatherhood and nurturing converge. "Fathering" is a one time biological act requiring no commitment --- merely the contribution of sperm. But the ongoing process of daddying requires a life-long commitment to one's child. The term connotes connection, nurturing, emotional involvement, support, advocacy, protection, and informality. Because we most often hear "daddy" spoken by young children, it might bring to mind a soft, wimpy image.

Daddying, however is anything but wimpy. It takes strength and courage to redefine male success --- and thousands of men are doing just that. Many dads are trading higher pay, and even promotions, for more time with their kids. Spending more time raising their children, many men are challenging cultural stereotypes about what it means to be manly.

Q: Your own experience as a father had a dramatic start.

A: My "birth" as a dad was very traumatic. My first child, a daughter, was born after an arduous delivery with the umbilical cord wound tightly around her neck --- she was not expected to live. By the time she was only 5 hours old she had stopped breathing four times and she needed to be transferred to a hospital with more sophisticated neonatal facilities. Making the decision for the transfer was my first responsibility as a dad. I held the incubator in the ambulance during what seemed like an endless journey to the new hospital. That wasn't the way I imagined parenting would begin.

Q: How have other family roles informed your view of daddying?

A: Writing this book has caused me to reflect on my experiences as a son-- thinking about what roles my father did and didn't play when I was a kid and into my adult life. I'm seeing the challenges of growing up and parenting in the 21st century from new perspectives now that I'm a granddad of three children under age four, a dad of adult "children," and a father-in-law.

Q: How have you gone about studying the roles of fathers?

A: I began by interviewing 162 kids in "daddying discussion groups" in three countries (the United States, England, and Switzerland). During my career as an educator I learned to value the opinions of kids. As kids are the "consumers" of daddying, they are in an ideal position to offer suggestions about how to improve the "product," daddying. I spoke with kids ages five to 21, in 28 like-age groups. Seventeen qualities desired in a dad came up over and over again. My book discusses these qualities --- many of them are a lot easier to accomplish than generally imagined.

Q: What did kids say about their fathers?

A: Kids talked about the qualities most desired in a dad. In the kids' own words, here are some of the 17 desired daddying qualities the kids identified:

1) Be there for us, really be there, and give us your undivided attention.

2) Take us as seriously as we take ourselves.

3) Be a passionate advocate for us.

4) Show us you love us and be affectionate.

5) Provide us with security and protection.

6) Trust us and have faith in us.

7) Set clear and firm limits.

8) Admit your own mistakes and don't try to be perfect.

It was somewhat surprising to me that so many kids added, "And don't argue with Mom in front of us."

Q: Of course you also interviewed fathers.

A: I've held intensive interviews with dads throughout the country. I found fathers not only willing to talk, but almost desperate to share their experiences. I was gratified by the candor and tenderness with which they spoke to me about daddying.

Q: Were there any similarities between what kids and dads said?

A: I discovered what I call "the bookends of daddy yearning": Kids yearning for more time with their dads --- much as I learned that their dads had wished for more time from their fathers . Similarly, dads wished, in hindsight, that they'd spent more time with their kids. Discovering this yearning provided ongoing incentive to write my book in hopes of diminishing the sadness that inevitably occurs when parenting is disappointing. It's my goal to enhance opportunities for children, parents, and families to thrive.

Q: What would fathers most like their wives, their children's mothers, to know?

A: Some of the things dads most wanted to communicate were:

o a genuine appreciation for what their partner has done and is doing.

o "Please be patient with me. I'm learning."

o "Don't only tell me when I'm doing things wrong. Tell me when I'm doing things right."

o "I may not do it the way you do it. But I'm doing it okay."

Q: During your long career as an educator, what parenting issue came up most frequently?

A: Setting limits. As parents spend less time with their kids, they are more eager to have these times be "happy times." But many parents mistakenly see setting limits as interfering with these happy times. Actually, establishing limits enables kids to feel safer and there is a sense of freedom that ensues when limits are clearly in place.

The goal of establishing limits is not to control children, but to help children learn to control themselves. When kids (and adults) know what the boundaries are, they are better able to understand what they can and can't do. The older kids told me that they needed to know what the limits were so "we know what rules we can SAFELY break."

Q: Has the presence of fathers changed much over the years?

A: There appears to be an emerging national dichotomy: on the one hand, many fathers are becoming more involved in their kids' lives than ever before. On the other hand, there are more "daddyless" children in the increasing number of father-absent families. I was recently told that there are as many children being born into single parent homes as end up in single parent homes due to divorce. Men are dramatically absent in the lives of young children. About 50% of marriages end in divorce and the vast majority of children --- between 87-90% --- who live with one parent, live with their mother.

Q: Do young children have other male role models besides dads?

A: Unfortunately, very few. As a man, working as a professional with children, I always have been in a very small minority. It's hard to find completely accurate statistics, but estimates suggest that about 95% of the teachers at the elementary level are female. If a kid is lucky enough to have a male teacher, that teacher most likely teaches 5th or 6th grade, physical education, or science. We have a national deficit in viable male role models.

Q: What about the involved dads? How are they managing? Have roles really changed much?

A: Now dads are expected to be nurturing and more emotionally involved. These new expectations are add ons, the old roles (breadwinner and disciplinarian ) are still expected, even though they are more often shared with Mom. Many men seem to feel unprepared and overwhelmed by these new expectations.

The changing expectations for dads are not unique to the United States. Tony Blair, England's Prime Minister was challenged by his wife to take paternity leave; the Prime Minister of Finland recently took paternity leave and proposed that new fathers get an extra month of paid paternity leave --- on top of the 18 days they already receive. There seems to be a global evolution in the way we are thinking about the roles of fathers with their children.

Q: What about the role played by grandfathers?

A: Grandfathers are increasingly involved with their grandchildren. Many seem to realize that they missed something because of their intense early focus on their careers. And because early retirement is more common, more grandfathers now have more time to be involved. This has caused some interesting reactions from their own "kids," who are asking their dads, "Why weren't you more involved with ME, when I was growing up?"

When you become a parent it is natural to view your own parents in a new way. The instant you become a parent for the first time, your identity is changed forever, so is your father's identity changed as he becomes a granddad for the first time. And you and your father now have the parenting role in common. It's no wonder so many role adjustments are needed for new parents and their families.

Q: What is the approach to daddying you take in your book?

A: You can be the dad you want to be, the one you always wanted to have. What it takes is not as mysterious or daunting as you may think. Appreciating the difference between fathering and daddying, there are three primary sources for improving daddying:

Talking with and listening to kids (the consumers of daddying) as well as other dads, granddads, friends and professionals. You can learn from conversations, books, articles, tapes and workshops.

Listening to yourself as you reflect on your own youthful memories and how they can be applied to your parenting.

3)Your Children
Interacting with your children so you get a sense of who they are, their interests, temperament, propensities, and what they are good at, and not good at.

Lifelong DADDYING will offer practical guidance as it raises the bar on male parenting and helps dads over it. The book will identify and explain areas of responsibility and conflict. It will help dads overcome hurdles and provide suggestions and support so that every father can become the dad he wants to be.


Read Allan Shedlin's article From Father to Daddy on

To learn more about Allan Shedlin and Dads Unlimited go to

If you would like to share your reactions to the interview or your own experiences, please contact us.

Copyright© 2001 Dr. Istar Schwager
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