Don’t be surprised if Dad has a new perspective on Father’s Day this year.
“The life and family slowdown caused by the pandemic has made obvious the uber-busy and chaotic family schedules pre-pandemic,” says Wright State University’s Josh Francis, who teaches in the College of Education and Human Services. “I feel families have become over-active, over-busy and overly disconnected due to the prevalence of school, sports and social activities. These have also created an increase in stress and a decrease in contentment and happiness.”
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In recent months, Francis has watched people become more intentional with their family time, whether it be through meals together, family games and activities, or outdoor projects and exercise. All these activities, he believes, are bringing families back into the small-band units that we are hard-wired to find satisfying and rewarding.
A case in point is Therman Caesar Sampson II, who lives in Dayton with his wife, Renee, five children and a boxer named Sugar Ray. Since the pandemic, he’s discovered what many other dads and grandpas have as well. “I am learning that each day is a blessing, and we have the choice to appreciate all of the wonderful things we have while we have them,” he says. “There are no do-overs.”
In the past few months, in addition to juggling responsibilities as pastor of Dayton’s New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and principal of Roosevelt Elementary School, Sampson has been spending a lot more time at home. In a recent aha moment, he realized his kids appreciated his time with them more than any material thing he might give them.
“Prior to COVID-19, I spent most of my time away from home,” he explains. “I would generally leave and get to the gym by 5 a.m. and would not get home from work until 6 p.m. Because I pastor a church, my weekends would be tied into preparation and church.”
The quarantine dramatically changed daily life for the family. “My wife is a teacher for Dayton Public Schools and she had the task of setting up her Google class in one room, while I would spend time in my home office monitoring the Google class projects happening in my school,” he says. “The kids had to find their way of figuring out their schedules, too!”
Now mornings begin with a bike ride with his wife. “The time I would spend at the gym and rushing to work is now filled with a nice bike ride followed by coffee,” he says. “We are working in the same place. I’ve been able to show off my skills as a chef and each evening the family is able to sit around the table, eat and talk.” He heads to his church and a Facebook Live Service on Sundays.
Sampson says the Black Lives Matter issue and COVID-19 have provided deeper conversations and more time to discuss them. “I was able to sit down with my children and explain to them that not all police are bad people. I had the time to listen to my oldest child’s concerns and clear up my younger one’s confusion. The time for those needed conversations is priceless.”
Cabin fever has been a challenge. So has letting go. “Things felt pretty safe because we were all together, but the challenge is to remind the children to keep their masks on in public,” he says. “They also don’t think it is fair that other kids are allowed to interact and visit one another but they have to stay home. I am sure restrictions will ease up and allow them to have more independent time outside the house.”
Father’s Day has always been tough for him. “My father and I were very close, and he died New Year’s Eve 2014,” says Sampson. “I lost my mother unexpectedly to cancer in January. But I am extremely grateful to have a wonderful family so I would like to celebrate Father’s Day this year with a big meal and just enjoying them.”
Centerville dad Michael Vriner predicts he’ll look back at this period as a blessing. “This time has proven how loving and resilient we are as a family,” he says. “We inherently turned to each other when things were difficult and trust each other to make bad times good.”
The months at home with his wife and two daughters have also been challenging. “While it’s wonderful to be able to spend so much time with them, time I treasure, we have also been at home with 6- and 4-year-olds for months!” he says. “Both my wife, Kate, and I need to continue to work and earn money while in quarantine and the kids need to be kept busy. Before we got into a nice routine, it was tough on the kids to be taken out of the school schedule unexpectedly and they showed frustrations, which caused frustration on our parts as well.”
Once he figured out he wouldn’t be travelling for work and would be able to be home to help, the family adopted a dog. “This has really helped to give the girls some responsibility,” Vriner says. “They let her out of her crate in the morning, fill her food bowl, pick up their toys so the dog won’t eat them, and play with her.”
As a Father’s Day gift, his wife gave him a quiet house for a night. She took the children camping with her siblings and the kids’ cousin. Today they’ll be grilling, do something outside and visit his father-in-law.
“We are very lucky that we didn’t have added pressure of not having an income, or getting sick, or having sick family members to deal with,” Vriner concludes. “All-in-all, even if there was a tough moment or day, we recovered quickly and figured out ways to make it work better the next day.”
Not always easy
Francis, the father of five, says the parent-child dynamic has changed dramatically in recent months, especially for those who’ve been laid off or furloughed, or are working at home remotely. “Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have compelled fathers to interact and relate to their children more than ever as a parent,” he says. “Many of these changes have created stress and exaggerated previously existing problematic behaviors or patterns in families.”
One major modification, he says, has been assisting with their children’s schooling. “These challenges are also occurring at a time where parents have extreme interpersonal stressors about their own jobs, finances, relational/marital tensions, and health concerns,” he says. “The dangers and pitfalls of these stressors require fathers to be on-guard and diligent so they can prevent these from negatively impacting their relationship with their children.”
How to re-frame negative thoughts
One of the primary tenets of talk therapy is helping clients modify their perspective of various life challenges and obstacles. Francis says the current pandemic has created the need to “re-frame” our negative thoughts in an effort to see the “silver lining” of blessings and opportunities that have emerged for fathers during this time.
“A simple re-framing exercise that I actively do with clients (and myself) is this: instead of saying “I have to stay home and be my kids’ teacher” say “I get to stay home and actively learn with my kids.”
Francis says it’s not necessary to be a super-dad. He says kids’ needs are actually very simple: they need love, affection, support, nurturance, and quality time.
He recommends keeping it simple: family projects around the house or yard, outdoor exercise and long walks, trips to the park, preparing meals together, a family game night. “If you make it special, it will be special in their eyes,” he says.
He also suggests parents guard against the over-use of technology and social media. In these ongoing times of “social distancing,” he also promotes “social media distancing” as well.
What about grandpa?
Grandfathers also deserve some recognition during this holiday and have been impacted the most by the restrictions and dangers of the virus. “Although it may not be as good as a real hug, grandchildren can still reach out to grandpas through Facetime or various video chats, phone calls, or even drive-by waves and smiles,” Francis says.
Other ideas? Writing letters and creating art that grandparents can hang on their wall.
“The current pandemic has forced us to simplify and uncomplicate our lives,” says Francis. “This simplification can be incredibly powerful in identifying the wonderfully important role that all fathers have in the lives of their children. Beyond the challenges of the pandemic, the current racial and social tensions also create powerful opportunities to connect, communicate and teach children the power of love, tolerance, empathy and compassion for others. Nothing is more important for children during this time than loving parents being stable and consistent models of these principles.”