Young father plays guitar for his little daughter while she is jumping in bedroom, displaying her unique identity.

Discovering your child’s unique identity

Each child has a unique identity; a combination of personality traits, talents and passions that combine to equip them for their life purpose. It’s your duty as a father to help them discover what their skill set is and how this melds with their heart’s great passion to form their unique identity.

As fathers we need to identify who our children are, what their unique gifts and talents, likes and dislikes are. Most of us project on to our children in some way what we would like them to be and so restrict our ability to truly see them as they are, rather than how we would like them to be. We see our children as a reflection of ourselves. Their success represents our success. As a result, many fathers live out their ambitions and unfulfilled desires through their sons. Your child may have an identity and purpose which is completely different from yours. It takes a big man to recognise in his son something fundamentally different from himself, to connect with this, love and accept it and to nurture it. A man who is a sports fanatic will often have a hard time accepting a son who is more academically inclined, with no interest in sport. It is crucial, however, that he recognises who his son is and doesn’t project what he would like his son to be.

Wanting our children to be something that they are not, something that we want for them and that is not necessarily what they want for themselves, is a rejection of who they are and will seriously damage their self-esteem. This point is highlighted in the tragic story in the film, Dead Poet’s Society. The son was passionate about drama and yet as hard as he tried he could not get his father’s approval. His father demanded that his son become a corporate man. Haunted by his father’s rejection of who he was at his very core and unable to subvert his essence to be something that he truly was not, the son eventually took his own life.

Once you make the effort to truly discover who and what your child is, it’s amazing what you will find. My daughter Blythe is many things: tomboy, budding model, writer and social activist, athlete, compassionate nurturer, loving daughter, loyal sister, deep thinker, faithful friend, sensitive soul, brave adventurer. For her to fully develop into all God created her to be she needs to explore the many facets that make up who she is and she needs me as her father to create the environment and opportunities in which to do so.

One of the ways of helping your children discover who they are is by exposing them to as many different opportunities and experiences as you can. This means taking them away from the TV set, and the Xbox, getting them to step away from whatever form of social networking they are engaged in and exposing them to such diverse activities as theatre, hiking, travel, museums. Through exposure to different experiences they will discover what they like and don’t like and, with luck, even uncover a lifelong passion.

It’s no great revelation to state that we are all different. I love the outdoors. Hiking through a forest or up a mountain with my family is one of my all-time favourite activities. Luke also loves hiking and we often head out into the hills together. Blythe, on the other hand, does not; in fact, she feels quite strongly about not wanting to hike (hopefully not due to an enforced overexposure from a young age by her hike-happy dad!). Her view is that if you can drive somewhere, why walk? As much as I want her to come hiking with me, it is just not her thing and that is absolutely fine. Blythe loves dancing and has done ballet, hip hop and ballroom lessons. Luke loves motor cross biking. I much prefer getting on a mountain bike and cycling. Luke and Blythe discovered these and many other interests, likes and dislikes through exposure to them. Had they spent their childhood glued to the TV or lost in a social networking maze, they may never have discovered some of their great passions. As fathers we need to create experiences for our children that help them discover who they are, what they like and don’t like. This will often take them out of their comfort zones but that is a good thing as it will grow and stretch them as they discover who and what they are.

Another way of effectively identifying your children is to actively observe and feed back to them what you see. When Blythe was just over two years old I spotted her reaching out curiously towards a red hot heater. I quickly said to her, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot”. She gave me an imperious look and said, “I like hot”. A beautiful and funny moment and one that made me realise that she would be no pushover. Later in her life I was able to relate the story back to her and make the observation that she had a strong will and liked to discover and make up her own mind about things. This led to an intense discussion about her and the many facets of her identity.

It’s a thousand small moments like this that give us insight into our children and help us and them build an understanding of who they are. Someone aptly said, “A woman doesn’t want to be solved, she wants to be known”. Recognising and calling out the identity of your child is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give them. It will set them on course for a meaningful and fulfilled life; a life of purpose. This is not only a gift to your child, it is a gift to the world.

– A reading from Dad, Discover the Power of Fatherhood’

Craig Wilkinson

Craig is a bestselling South African author, award winning social entrepreneur, sought after inspirational speaker and Dad Coach. He is passionate about equipping men to be great fathers and leaders. Craig has worked extensively in the Non Profit sector in the areas of experiential education, socio-economic development and the development of men and fathers as well as a consultant to the corporate sector in strategy and human resource development. He is the founder of Father a Nation (FAN), an NPO which restores men to true masculinity and authentic fatherhood. An avid hiker and mountain biker, Craig lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with his wife Martinique. His two adult children, Luke and Blythe, have both recently left the nest.

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