A lunch conversation brought to mind a few more thoughts about fathers and their importance in the life of a child. As we talked about the roles mothers and fathers, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time that they are indeed different. Mother Nature coded us differently from the “get-go’ and that 23rd pair of chromosomes continues to affect our thinking and behavior throughout our lives.

While there are exceptions to this, women are the nurturers. Men are the fix-it people, the ones who see a problem and want to solve it right away. Women want to make things all better, and men want to tackle the issues head on. This way of thinking even affects the way parents handle issues with their children.

Parents look ahead to the future and feel uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps even downright fear when they consider their children stepping into it. The world is fraught with danger and peril, and each parent wants to prepare the child for it. Their ways of preparing youngsters for the world of tomorrow is different, however. Mothers are more likely to see the possible dangers and warn the child to be cautious and careful. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to tell the child to step up to the plate and be strong.

The different parental approaches remind me of the difference between justice and mercy. Both are good; both have their value. And yet too much of one without the other is potentially harmful for the development of a well-rounded and responsible individual. When our children were small and would wail, “That’s not fair,” I was inclined to commiserate with them and agree that while it isn’t always fair, that was just the way it was. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I’d say. Their father, on the other hand, would often quip, “Who says life is fair???”

Sometimes parents can switch off and take turns between nurturer and tough guy, but a child needs both approaches. He or she needs justice AND mercy. Sometimes she needs a big dose of TLC and sometime she needs a reality check. When my daughter Carrie was a college student, she was having a little too much fun, and her grades were slipping. I gave her some encouraging pep talks and reminded her of the importance of education. Truthfully, I don’t think it fazed her at all. Her father told her that if her grades didn’t improve, the gravy train was over. That got her attention, and she immediately began to turn things around.

Maybe some single parents are able to be both the nurturer and the task master, the one who tries to make things “all better” and the one who encourages the child to “man up” (even with female children). But me? I needed both  mercy and justice when raising children, and I think most households do.

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