We dads can be pretty dumb. I offer myself as Exhibit A, one who, only minutes after witnessing my two-year-old son swallow half the local swimming pool, put him down for his nap forgetting to change him into a nappy.
In my defence, I'd say I was exhausted from a string of interrupted nights and, while tucking him up, was already mentally sitting at my desk, swooping upon the promise of an hour's undisturbed work. Too tired and too stressed to be the parent I could have been, I may have had to clear up the mess but it was really my son who, dripping with misery, paid the price for my stupidity.
In a recent survey by Munch Bunch investigating parental creativity, the very same excuse was proffered again and again: whether 'creativity' meant making up a story or composing a song, smearing paint across the kitchen table or littering beads across the floor, more than half of the parents polled were just too tired or too stressed to engage that way with their children.
What's worse (and no doubt yet another cause for the perennial parental guilt) is that those exhausted, stressed-out parents probably knew the value of what they were missing. Because it's those often frustratingly messy pursuits that help to instill in our kids a sense of creativity that in turn develops into something far more fundamental than an ability to make a play-dough tractor actually look like a tractor. It's creativity that allows us to recognise a set of circumstances, perhaps when others have not, and to identify which skills and actions will help us make the best of it. As such, creativity - that starts in 'childish' pursuits - is a crucial life skill, one that sets apart the truly successful. Fail to encourage it, and our children pay the price.
One of the best ways to foster creativity in children is to read to them or, better yet, to make up stories with them, and fathers in particular have an important role to play in this: it's long been recognised that the more a dad reads to his children, the greater their verbal intelligence, academic success and emotional wellbeing.
Yet it's a fact that dads aren't reading to their kids as much as they should. For many, it's because they're simply working too late. But for others, according to research released by the Institute of Education, it's because some dads think reading to kids is a job for women.
Now I can be unthinkingly stupid, and sometimes that impacts on my kids. But my stupidity is not a blinkered chauvinism, and the consequences are usually short-lived. To claim that reading to children is in some way feminine is so staggeringly short-sighted, it makes me quiver with rage. Because quite apart from robbing themselves of the fun to be had, those dads - throwbacks from the days when men couldn't work washing machines and would rather be down the pub than witnessing their child's birth - are stealing something from their children.
I may have failed in the nappy-dressing stakes, but at least that was after reading my son a story. It's an inviolable part of the naptime routine, and that's thanks in part to my own father. Because as strongly masculine as he was, as bearded and broad and brawny, he regularly read us stories. Not only that, but he was forever reading books himself. One of the strongest images I have left is of him sitting at his desk, now my desk, with a book open before him. Reading, it was always clear, was one of his greatest pleasures, one that endured right up until the night he died.
So, dads, think of it as your manly duty to read the Sunday papers. Point out words wherever you see them: on billboards and sports gear, cereal cartons and road signs. Be the best role model you can be, and help redefine manhood for the children of those unfortunate enough to have lived a life without the richness of reading and all the creativity it inspires. That way, while we parents will always be tired and stressed and unthinkingly stupid, a life without the benefit of books will be one price our kids needn't have to pay.
Andrew Watson is author of Down to Earth With a Bump: The Diary of a First Time Dad and judge for the Munch Time story writing competition, which aims to encourage parents to write a children's story and is open to anyone over 18, up to 31 May 2013 at www.munchtime.co.uk
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