Pediatrician and best-selling author Dr. Meg Meeker offers dads practical suggestions for communicating, listening to, guiding and spending time with their kids in a discussion based on her new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. (Part 1 of 2)
Dr. Meg Meeker: But what he needs to understand is, every child's time his child, whether he's 5 or 15 or even 25, walks into a room, and dad is there, that child is saying to him if he could, "Please, please, please dad, look at me. Give me what you can."
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John Fuller: Dr. Meg Meeker, talking about the importance of fathers and what it means for you to be a hero to your children. I'm really looking forward to the conversation today. This is "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, in so many ways fathers are marginalized in the culture today. Oftentimes when we do a broadcast, speaking about women and the challenges they face, we'll get criticism from folks saying, "How come you always put men down?" Hey, today is your day, because we're gonna lift dads up and we're gonna talk about the power of a father. And even though you may have made mistakes, there's no better way to start, than to start today, right? Let's improve those things.
John: One step just today.
Jim: One step; have you made a few mistakes, John?
John: Today, yeah.
Jim: Not to put you on the spot. (Laughter)
John: Today I've made a few already.
Jim: Man, I'm tellin' ya, the thing that I'm always looking to do. How do I improve being the best dad I can be with my two sons? And we are gonna have an expert talk with us today about the mission of a father and what he needs to be cognizant of as he is those wonderful kids.
John: Yeah, the influence of dad cannot be overstated, and Dr. Meg Meeker has a new book called Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. Just by way of bio, she's been practicing pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years now and I'm not sure that we've ever had her on the broadcast.
Jim: Yeah, Dr. Meg, welcome to "Focus."
Meg: Thank you for having me, gentlemen. Fun to be here.
Jim: Yeah, what I love about your story and the book, Hero, is how much---I think "accolade," is the best way to describe it---the accolades that you give your own father, and what you saw in him. Describe that.
Meg: Yeah, you know, my father was an enormous figure in my life, and many people who read Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters 10 years ago, or in the past 10 years said, "Oh, your father was perfect." No, my father wasn't. My father was a bit eccentric. He was very quiet, didn't have a lot of friends, but I admired him and looked up to him, and I knew that my father always believed [in me], and I don't know how I knew this, but he communicated it to me, that I could be and do anything I wanted. And this is back in the '60's and the '70's
Meg: Remember when we didn't have a lot of women's, you know, feminism growing and so forth. And my father really in one sentence changed my life and I will share that just very quickly, because he was very instrumental in the father work that I do now, which I've been doing for 10 years.
When I was 16, I decided I was gonna go to medical school. That was it. You know, get out of my way, everybody. I don't know why. I just decided. I applied to a lot of medical schools my senior year in college and I got, if I applied to 12 schools, I got 12 rejection letters. And I felt my life was over at 21.
And I thought, what do I do now? I have no Plan B. And I devoted everything, five years to getting into medical school, and I came home one day after a jog to clear my head and I was living back at my parents' house, which no 21-year-old one wants to be doing, even at that time
And I overheard my dad talking to a friend in the other room on the telephone. And I heard him and he was talking. I stopped outside the door because I heard him on the phone and I heard him say my name. And so, being a woman, I just put my ears to (Chuckling) the door.
Jim: Oh, yes, I think a lot of men would do that, too, so don't be too worried.
Meg: Oh, yeah, but we admit it. (Laughter)
John: Yeah, we'd all stop and listen.
Meg: We admit it and so, I stopped and I heard my father say, "Yes, yes, my daughter, Meg will be going to medical school in the next couple of years." And I can't tell you the sensation that came over my mind and my body, and I thought, it's a reality. My becoming a doctor is a reality because my dad said so.
Jim: It was that concrete for you.
Meg: It was huge. It was life-changing. And I can still hear him saying it now. That was over 30-some years ago. I went on. I picked myself up. I did my applications again. I reapplied and sure enough, I got in and you know, history. I'm a physician now .
Jim: Meg, let me ask you though, 'cause some people listening did not have that great relationship with their dad.
Jim: They're even saying, how could you even feel that? I mean, my father never said a good thing about me. Why did it make such an impact on you? Describe it.
Meg: I'll tell you why, because fathers have an authority in a child's life that has a capital A. And a father uses that authority for good or ill. And when he does something well, even if it's just a little bit well, it's enormous in a child's eyes. And when he hurts you, even if it's a little hurt, it's enormous in a child's eyes.
So, the pains that we get from our fathers are huge, but the accolades that we get from our fathers are equally huge. And I will tell women, listen, my dad was not a perfect dad. My dad had his own demons he fought. And I could've written a book talking about all the mistakes that my father did, but at some point in my life, I chose to capitalize and focus on the positives, because here's the thing. Any father can be a great dad to his child. He can be in jail and be a great dad to his child. He can write that child letters, because every child wants desperately for their fathers to say something positive. And when a father says something positive to a child, that child hangs on it.
Jim: Let me ask you this, because what I see is a denigrating of fathers. Fathers, I think we, ourselves even see us as not a capital [letter] "Father."
Meg: Of course.
Jim: We see ourselves as a lower-case "father."
Meg: Of course, of course.
Jim: We have inhibitions. We don't feel gifted. We don't feel taught.
Jim: Our dad didn't do well with us, so how are we supposed to be a good father? So, we have a lot of apprehension, insecurity.
Meg: Of course, yes.
Jim: How does a dad look beyond all of that and still aim to be a good father?
Meg: Here's how. Well, our culture has done a number on fathers and women have done a number on fathers, not intentionally, but we've all gotten swept up in championing women over the past 30 years. And hey, I went to an all-women's college in 1970. I get it. I get it. You know, we wanted equality at everything.
But what has happened is, we've thrown good men into orbit in their homes and we can no longer do this. When I say any father out there can be a great dad to his child, this is what I mean. If he can understand how his child sees him, then he will parent very differently.
And so, what I'm describing to you as I talk about listening to my father in that conversation, as a child, as a 21-year-old child, when I heard my father say that, it changed my life. Now interestingly, years later I told my father about that conversation. He doesn't remember saying that.
Jim: That's typical of us dads. (Laughter)
Jim: We don't remember a lot.
Meg: But I said, "Dad, dad, you saying that to me when I was 21 helped me write books when I was 40 and 50 and 55. It helped me get up on stage in front of thousands of people and give lectures." And he kinda looked at me quizzically though. "What are you talking about?"
Once a father understands what he looks like behind his child's eyes, his life will never be the same. So, here's the easy part. Don't listen to what your wives are telling you--wives like me who are well-intentioned, but we are really controlling, particularly when it comes to parenting.
Jim: Have you noticed that?
John: I have friends.
Meg: Yeah. (Laughter) But I can get away with saying this, but we do. We swoop in. We swoop in and go, "No, no, no, no, no. I got it. Thanks. If I need you to talk to the kids about that, I'll let you know."
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Meg: And then we sort of push him away. I've done it with my own husband. But what we need to do is say, wait a minute. I'm a pediatrician. Children need their fathers engaged in their lives, even if the wives don't think the father's a great husband. That child needs parts of his father, and my job in Hero is to communicate to all men, there is something great that you have that your child wants.
Jim: And that is so well-said, Meg. Let's apply this, the research to it.
Jim: And then I want to come behind that and talk about gender differences of having a little boy, having a little girl and are there differences in those needs?
Jim: But hit the research. What does a father provide to a household and to those children in terms of their success, their ability, their future?
Meg: Yeah, well, across all demographics, socioeconomics, in all strata, fathers improve every aspect of a child's life if he is living in the home. Now there are a lot of parents that are going, "No, no, no, no, no. You didn't know my dad. My dad was horrible." But listen; all the research out there says that if a dad is in the home--
Meg: --present, it doesn't say if he's a really good dad, if he's a really good listener, if he's a very good communicator, if he's very empa[thetic][ it doesn't say that. If father is present in the home, a child is less likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem.
If a father is present in the home, the child is far more likely to graduate high school and go on to college and graduate school, [with] a father who's engaged with his child from the time he's 6-months-old on, is more likely to test higher on IQ tests when he's 3.
Meg: So, fathers impact kids when they're 6-months old until their 3. They test higher on IQ. Kids are less likely to get involved in sex, drugs and alcohol in high school. They're less likely to end up in jail with a father in a home.
And a lot of parents or mothers will say, "Yeah, but you don't know my husband." I say, "Yes, I do. I've met him." "No, you haven't." "Yes, I have." I've met every type of father you can imagine and I'm telling you, you may disagree with him and you may not like what he does, but your child needs something from him. And as a good mother, you owe it to your child to allow that man to give it to your child and for the child to enjoy it. That's what good parents do.
Meg: That's hard for women who carry a lot of animosity towards men, even towards their husband.
Jim: Well, and I want to get to that, but I do want to cover the gender differences.
Jim: So, with having a little boy, little girl, how does a dad father them differently, or should he?
Meg: Of course he should, because they're different people.
Meg: Oh, yeah.
Jim: The culture would not tell us that.
Meg: Of course.
Jim: So boys and girls are different? (Laughing)
Meg: Leonard Sax, great friend of mine, fabulous book, Why Gender Matters,it's a fabulous book, and it really talks about anybody that's parented more than one child and particularly, you know, more than one sex of a child, by the time the child's 6-months-old, they're very different. They just come out; boys come out moving and building and smashing.
Jim: (Laughing) It's so true.
Meg: (Laughing) You know, girls come out staring at your face, you know, adoring you.(Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, it's so true.
Meg: It's true and studies show, you know, you put a moving object in front of an infant boy and in front of an infant girl. The boy stares at it. You put a face in front of an infant boy and an infant girl and the girl stares at the face and the boy looks around it.
Jim: Looks around it.
Jim: This is boring. (Laughter)
Meg: So, yes, and of course they are and so, they're very different and wonderfully so. We should celebrate the differences in the maleness and femaleness and it's so wonderful. Fathers parent boys very differently than they parent their daughters. Fathers tend to be harder on their sons. Mothers tend to be harder on their daughters, because your son as a dad is a "mini" you, and you're gonna push him.
Meg: And you're gonna make him man up.
Meg: And mothers push their daughters. Mothers protect their sons. Fathers protect their daughters.
Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guest is Dr. Meg Meeker, her new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need. As I said at the beginning of the program, this is one of those days that we're lifting up the power and the influence of a father and I'm proud to be a dad. I know you are, too, John.
John: Best role I've got.
Jim: Meg, you said something a moment ago I want to come back to, as well and that was the bad experience. And when you look at, even the feminist movement, which you talked about being a part of quickly, you just mentioned it, but I want to come back to that. I know.
Meg: Yes, yes.
Jim: I know, but you know being in the '70's, in college in the '70's and going to med school, wanting to go to [college] at that time, I mean, you probably had a lot of head winds, because that was a male-dominated profession.
Meg: Yes, very much so, yeah.
Jim: And I just want to ask you when it comes to those experiences where women have had a bad father relationship. Is a lot of that animosity, as they grow older and go to college and develop attitudes toward men, maybe their husband is not the guy that they really thought he would be, is that rooted in that father relationship originally?
Meg: Well, you know, very much so.
Jim: Is that some of it?
Meg: Very much so and I believe that Jesus calls us into absolute truth and truth in our relationships, truth in our history, truth in what we wanted and truth in our needs and what we didn't get. And look, it's a broken world and fathers are broken and their relationships with their children are broken.
And so, every person carries father wounds. And I used to say when I was talking about my father-daughter book, that every woman takes one man to her grave and that's her dad, for good or ill. If you have pain from your childhood, you carry that pain to your grave. And if you have joys with your father, you carry the joy. By the time you end your life, you always want more time with your dad, if you have a good one, more healing if you had a painful relationship.
The reality is that women who experience pain in the relationships with their fathers, who don't recognize that pain, who don't reconcile that pain, carry that forward into their relationships with their husband. And there are a lot of women who have intimacy problems with their husbands because of pain with their fathers.
Meg: And a lot of men who just heard me say that go, "Wow! Maybe that's why every time I try to be kind to my wife or hug my wife or be intimate with my wife, I get that the thorns come out and I don't know what I'm doing." And my suggestion is, "Maybe you're not doing anything. Maybe this is a remnant from her relationship with her father," because we all carry wounds.
And my point is, women, if you want to enjoy the rest of your life, you want to enjoy your family and your marriage with your husband, you've got to face up to the pains that you had with your fa[ther]. I had pains with my father that I reconciled and I was fortunate to reconcile them with my father in his later years of life.
Meg: And this is what Christ calls us to do. But what our culture has led women to do is this: If you were hurt, by golly, you just turn around and you use that power for good, that energy. And you go out and you beat 'em at their game—men, that is.
Meg: That's what we were taught in the '70's and '80's. And I remember listening to Gloria Steinem say things like that. "Listen, if a man is a surgeon, you go be a better surgeon. And whatever he can do, you can do better, and go beat him."
Jim: So kinda gender warfare.
Meg: Total gender warfare. It's still going on.
Meg: It's still going on. But where does that lead women? It leads them to a dark place. It doesn't lead them anywhere healthy. And what we end up doing is isolating from men, isolating from fathers and from husbands and taking our kids with us.
Jim: And it's interesting to think of it in those terms, but when you look at the church particularly, how has the world seeped into women's thinking within Christianity? where are those boundaries? Have they bought into some of that worldly perspective? Maybe with good reasons, because their husbands have been not good.
Meg: Yes, yes.
Jim: And what does a Christian woman respond with?
Meg: Well, I don't know and I will confess my ignorance here, 'cause I don't read a lot of Christian women stuff. I don't know that Christian women, as the church, has adequately taught us how to, in a healthy way, reconcile pain with men.
Because we either tell women what your role is to do, and this is what I learned as a wife, your role is to submit to your husband and just sort of take a big deep breath and pray about it and God will be your husband and He'll help you. Endure your marriage. I don't think Jesus wants to do that.
And then we have on the other extreme, we have, okay, well, you know what. Jesus wants to empower you. He's gifted you. He's championing you. He is your husband, so go out and set the world on fire.
But the truth of the matter is, women really don't want to do either of those things and I don't know that Jesus wants us to do either. Jesus wants us in a healthy intimate relationship with men. And He wants us to embrace our femininity and all that means. And He wants us to embrace out husband's masculinity and all that it means.
And as confused as our culture is about what is masculinity and what is femininity, even as those in the transgender [movement] like femininity, because you know, transgender men want to become feminine and feminine want to become men. So, we just don't know how to reconcile all this, but Christ can.
Women in the church, I know, have pain from their relationship with their dads that they have brought into their marriages, but they don't even recognize. Their husbands are dealing with it. They are dealing with it and Christ says, face it; deal with it so I can free you up to have a healthy, wonderful relationship with your husband and that's how you really lead family into fruitful relationships.
John: Dr. Meeker, along those lines, talk to the dad who's got an older child, son or daughter and he knows he's the reason for the distance in the relationship. He made some mistakes. What is something he can do to start building that bridge so he can have a healthier relationship with his kids and they can have healthier relationships?
Meg: You know, that's a great question, John. Thank you for asking it, 'cause I deal with that quite a lot. So many men call in and say, "I am estranged from my adult daughter. She's 35. I haven't spoken to her since she was 17. She wants nothing to do with me and I get it, because I really made a lot of mistakes. And she won't answer my texts. She won't answer my calls. What do I do?"
And I say, here's the deal. In any father-child relationship, even if that child is 50-years-old, that child perceives you as the grownup in the relationship, the one to take the lead. So, you don't wait for your adult child to lead. You lead. You're always the leader and I have a whole chapter on, "You're the Leader, Not the Coach" in my Herobook.
I expected my father to still lead when he was 80-years-old. You know, why? I don't know. I just did, because I was always the kid. So, you take the initiative to reach out to your child and you persevere and you persevere and you never, ever, ever give up, because this is what you need to know. Every child, son or daughter, no matter how old they are, wants and needs reconciliation with their father, because those are child wounds.
Those wounds happen when that son or daughter was a child and you were an adult. So, they will always feel like a child wound, not an adult wound. So, they are motivated to reconcile with you, but their anger and contempt that's gotten so thickly encased around their heart has to break down before they're willing to engage you.
So, that's why you never give you, but you constantly lead. And you go at them. And then you come to them and say, "Look, I really messed up, and I really want to reconcile with you. And I really need God's help and your help. Will you help me know how to help you heal from what I did to you? And I will do my best to stick with you along the way."
Here's the thing. A child, particularly a daughter of a dad who has wounded her is gonna be the most forgiving person that man will ever meet. It won't be his wife. It'll be his daughter, because the daughter wants healing with her dad. And then will be the son, because the son wants healing with his father. So, they will come around, but it may take years, because they have built up this wall around them of such anger.
John: So, he just needs to keep trying and trying.
Meg: Keep at it, never, never, never give up. And if he needs to get on a plane and show up at their house, do it.
Jim: Meg, let me pull that a little further into the man's thinking.
Jim: Because so many dads—and I want to know if you agree with this or disagree; please do either (Laugh)—but as men, we often when we are emotionally wounded, we hide.
Meg: Of course, sure.
Jim: We do it in marriage and I think we do it in parenting.
Jim: When we don't feel appreciated, respected, whatever it might be, many men simply go to the corner emotionally--maybe not physically--we're involved and we're engaged, but not in the same way. A, is that true and how does a woman better understand that? Because I see women responding differently. Women typically want to get to it. Let's talk through. Tell me what's goin' on and they want to reconcile, like you said.
Meg: Right, right.
Jim: Even daughters, I think that's something about the women's brain wiring. They're more willing, more engaged, more verbal.
Jim: Men, when they are wounded in some way, they back up, 'cause we don't want to be embarrassed. We don't want to be disrespected and so, we just check out.
Meg: Yes and I think there's one more thing. I think that--and I've seen this in my husband--I think the kinder the man, the more he hides his feelings. And I think that men, too, don't want to feel, because they're afraid if the anger comes up, it can be overwhelming and they're much bigger than everybody in the house, and my husband said, "You know, when you come at me and you're trying to get me angry, I just have to go away because I can't be that angry in front of you."
Jim: That's called "pushing buttons."
Meg: Exactly, so men, for our good, hide. And when a man hides his hurt, a woman understands it as coldness and distance and lack of understanding and lack of compassion. And it's really quite the opposite.
Interestingly, I find that high school boys often have a harder time getting over broken relationships than the girls do, 'cause girls talk about it; the boys don't. But back to the husband who hides his feelings, because he's so wounded, fathers get their feelings hurt very deeply by teenagers, particularly teenage girls. Dad comes to hug his adorable 13-year-old, who always loved to sit on her dad's lap and hug her [sic] and now she stands there like a telephone pole with spikes all over her. And he tries to hug her and she repels him and he says, "Ooh! What's happened?" And he goes away. So, he doesn't hug her because he said, "Clearly she doesn't want to be hugged anymore, right?
Meg: --right? So he goes away for years. And I say, dads, no, no, no. What she is saying is, "Dad, I don't feel very good about myself. This is horrible. Please don't take me personally." But he says, "Well, you just told me you didn't want to be hugged."
Meg: So, we think so very differently.
Meg: So, what fathers need to know when they're quiet in their homes, and their wives are telling them they don't feel, and that they're distant and they're cold and they're disengaged is this. Your child is screaming at you every single day, "Dad, please come out. I need you." "Dad, whatever you have, please give it to me; I need you." That is so important, because the wife won't tell the father, the husband that because she's mad because he's not doing his job.
Meg: He's not helping her out and engaging with the kids and what's wrong? He's back into orbit.
Jim: He's got an F on the report card.
Meg: Yes, and he's going, "I just don't know how to deal with this. I don't know what you people want. You know, you tell me you don't want me and so, I orbit the home and all you do is complain." But what he needs to understand is, every child's time his child, whether he's 5 or 15 or even 25, walks into a room, and dad is there. That child is saying to him if he could, "Please, please, please dad, look at me."
Meg: "Give me what you can."
Meg: And if a father can understand that his child always needs that, his parenting will turn 180 degrees. And that's my job I feel as a pediatrician, is to scream that to fathers from the rooftops. We want you back.
Jim: Yeah and we need to be back.
Jim: And that's the key. Dr. Meg Meeker, I've got some more questions for you, but we have run out of time and incredibly this has flown by. Your book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need, it's packed with great content for us dads to take seriously. I want to come back next time and ask you some practical questions for dads. You have in the book three questions we need to know those kinds of things, so can you stay with us?
Meg: Yes, I'd love to.
Jim: Okay, let's do that.
John: And in the meantime, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call 1-800-A-FAMILYto get a copy of that book, Hero by Dr. Meg Meeker or a CD or download of today's broadcast. It's worth listening to again, maybe with your kids so you can unpack some of these things if they're older or with a Sunday group or a small group. We have other helps, as well, www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And if you can make a generous donation today to the ministry of Focus on the Family, we'd like to say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of this book for you or to pass along to somebody else. It's a great book. Donate generously today. Again, our phone number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening along today. Join us again tomorrow as we continue the conversation with Dr. Meg Meeker and once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Dr. Meg MeekerView Bio
Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers. "Dr. Meg," as she is popularly known, is the founder of The Strong Parent Project, a unique online learning community to equip and encourage parents. She resides in northern Michigan where she shares a medical practice with her husband, Walter. They have four grown children and four grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Meg by visiting her website, www.megmeekermd.com.