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Review: Dads for Life Conference 2012

“I would rather stay with my family and be a dad than go to a conference to hear about other fathers.”

That was one of a few responses I got when I was trying to garner support to purchase the Dads for Life Conference 2012 tickets at a group discount. And I need to qualify: I only got a few responses.

I did in fact agree to a certain extent; as a father contented and happy with how my family is doing, why would I need to learn how to be something I already felt I was good at – and for that matter, in a conference? Furthermore, fatherhood is such a personal experience; what would other dads have to offer that might apply to me?

If it wasn’t for the need to find something to talk about in Blogfathers!, I would most probably have avoided the event for fear that it might turn into a very large self-help group meeting complete with confessions, crying and excessive group-hugging.

But go I did, and I found about 800 men (plus a handful of wives) apparently not sharing the sane trepidations i had about the event. Regardless, I found myself leaving with much more than I bargained for.

Wilfrid C. Hoecke: Why Men and Women Don’t Understand Each Other

Just the first keynote alone sought to address the one biggest mystery of the universe for men – women.

While Mr Hoecke did not delve into how fathers can gain a better understanding of the mothers of their children, he did succinctly and knowledgeably explain why we don’t understand our wives, drawing particular attention to maternal vs. paternal parenting processes.

For example, mothers will continually communicate guardedness and safety while watching over their child during playtime words like “Be careful”, “Don’t do that”, and “You’ll get hurt” are very common phrases you’ll hear from mothers. Fathers naturally do the exact opposite; while playing with their child/children, they seek to push limits and achieve greater heights in play, using encouragement such as “Climb higher”, “Don’t be scared” and “You can do it!”

It’s a stark contrast in parenting style between genders – while mums protect their children from the dangers of the world, dads will prepare them for the real world, and we are naturally wired to do so because despite the conflicting sensibilities, both approaches are essential for the children’s rounded growth and development. It’s why parenting is always deemed a team effort, and not as adequate if done solo (and also a main source of family squabbles if not understood properly).

Dr John Ng – The Mediation Expert Who Needed To See a Psychiatrist

The second keynote, led by mediation expert and leadership guru Dr John Ng, spoke of understanding and dealing with parent-teen (and parent-to-parent) conflict. The premise set forth by Dr Ng was that conflict itself is a neutral entity, and it is the management of conflict that commonly determines the negativity of the experience. By understanding that conflicts reside on neutral ground, (coupled with research showing that 68% of conflicts arising from the home are unresolvable), you may be able to avoid the fighting, cold wars and general discontent that arises from disagreements at home.

The highlight of this second keynote came from Dr Ng’s 18-year-old daughter, who gamely came on stage for about 5 minutes to give her perspective on family conflicts seen through the eyes of a teenager. Her message to her father – and the audience – was frank and very clear: listen to your kid, and respect your kid’s expressed opinion, or face the consequence of being shut out by your child in return. As far as I was concerned, the well-spoken young lady stole the show from her dad, and I am sure her father is very proud of that.

This would be the 3rd year the Dads for Life Conference has been held. The event looks to be growing from strength to strength, with a foundation of credible fathers-turned-experts and experts-turned-fathers feeding the cause with well-researched information, and strong support from men (and women, too) who care enough to want to see their parenting abilities improve despite their masculine selves. More importantly, Dads for Life understands and drives the point that being a good father is more than being a dad; it involves being a good husband, a good listener, a good caregiver and a good student.

That being said, the event does show a little room for improvements and possible enhancements, but then again, who am I to talk? Before this event, I was a good dad. Now I know I can be better.


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