A fleece blanket lies softly over the harsh, carpeted floor. My infant son coos, and I find myself laughing out loud at his antics as he wiggles about. I must have spent hours in my first years as a father lying on the floor of our apartment doing absolutely nothing. Back then it was my choice to be a stay-at-home dad, now, not so much. It was purposeless play, connection on a very elementary level — building the bond between father and son, and two years later, father and daughter.
Now after more than 15 years here we are again, rekindling the connections that have ebbed and flowed through the years of my return to work and their busy days of schooling and extracurricular involvement. I am not alone, though for some less fortunate fathers, it took a global pandemic to provide the first opportunity many have had to strengthen relationships with their children. For me it’s back to the future, a reclaiming of what once seemed progressive. For other dads it is a rare moment to deepen their connection to their kids — and new preliminary research from my colleagues at Harvard’s Making Caring Common project suggests that many dads are doing just that.
Making Caring Common’s new report, How the Pandemic Is Strengthening Fathers’ Relationships With Their Children, found that nearly 70% of fathers report feeling closer or much closer to their children since the pandemic began. Despite the considerable challenges many families are facing right now, one silver lining appears to be these strengthened relationships between fathers and children.
Large numbers of fathers report:
- Having more meaningful conversations with their children.
- Getting to know their children better.
- Sharing more with their children about their own lives.
- Appreciating their children more.
- Discovering new shared interests with their children.
Undoubtedly these are troubling times in our nation. COVID-19 has caused great loss and struggle for many individuals and families, and that should not be overlooked while we work to heal and reopen. As we celebrated Father’s Day, however, even some of the fathers who have faced significant hardship have benefited from closer ties with their kids. I acknowledge that I come from a place of great privilege in finding the silver linings of this crisis — I have a secure job in a school and healthy family.
With two teenage children who will be off to college sooner than I care to accept, I feel like the past three months were borrowed time. We paused and took walks together, played sports in the yard, and had meaningful conversations. Our questions of each other went deeper than “How was your day?”, “What’s for dinner?”, “Did you do your homework?”, or “When are you picking me up?”. There was no running around or seeing how much we could fit into a day. We got more sleep and we took better care of ourselves. Even more importantly, we took care of each other and had intentional conversations about how we support others who are less fortunate. We made time to talk about pressing global, national, and local issues. We marched in protest together to declare that Black Lives Matter. We strengthened the foundational bonds that we established over a decade ago when we first stayed home together.
As the country begins to open back up and we wander farther than the end of the street, it will be too easy to take the first train back to the way things had become. Everyone keeps talking about getting back to “normal,” but there was nothing normal about the pace of our lives or the growing disconnection. The report’s authors caution that “it’s vital for fathers not to let these new, often very meaningful interactions with their children evaporate.” I am committed to allowing the lessons learned during this renewed time at home to endure. Though we don’t lie around as much these days, we are moving slower and I still laugh out loud at my kids’ antics. I am proud of the young adults they have become as they stand by my side in the world.