What It Means to Be a Fully Present Father

The best present is being a present father.

Make this the year you become a better dad by being a present father and more intimately engaged in your child’s life. In this post, we will explore the concept of presence. We will provide actionable tips you can practice daily. Let us begin by considering what being a fully present father means.

Being a fully present father for your child isn’t just about being physically there; it’s about stepping into their world with your entire being. It’s about putting away distractions, silencing the inner chatter, and tuning in to them. It involves listening not just to their words but to the unspoken language of their expressions. It’s responding with empathy, validating their feelings, and mirroring their excitement.

In moments of mindful connection, you build a bridge of trust and understanding. That is when we show our children that they are seen, heard, and valued. You become a safe harbor in their ever-expanding world, a constant source of love and support. Once achieved, intimacy with a child must be safeguarded. Nothing must be allowed to distract you from maintaining that vital closeness.

The Dangers and Potential Consequences of Distracted Parenting

In the state where I live, a law was passed that bans distracted driving. The tough new Ohio law, in effect since April 2023, makes it illegal for drivers of all ages to hold or use cell phones or electronic devices while operating a vehicle. While exceptions exist for hands-free calls and GPS use, texting, browsing, gaming, and video activities are completely banned. This stricter legislation aims to significantly reduce accidents and fatalities by minimizing distractions behind the wheel, and initial data suggests it’s already making a positive impact.

As far as I know, no laws ban distracted parenting, and there likely will never be any. Yet, just as not fully focusing on the task of safe driving can lead to disaster, failing to be fully present while fathering also has consequences, sometimes devastating. The after-effects are more subtle and are not necessarily immediate.

Activities like browsing social media sites, posting, watching video reels, excessive TV viewing, and gaming command our attention, taking away from a father’s most important responsibilities. Among the most critical tasks of a father is raising his child with attentive, nurturing care. Besides electronic devices, other distractions such as sports fanaticism, gambling, drugs, alcoholism, and other addictions take focus away from your children and communicate that you are indifferent toward them.   

Over time, failure to be fully present with a child can lead to difficulty in establishing and maintaining closeness with the child.

Make time, not excuses to be a present father.

Potential challenges that might arise for failing to be a fully present father for the child:

  • Difficulty with emotional regulation: Children lacking a secure attachment figure might struggle with expressing and managing their emotions, potentially leading to increased emotional outbursts or withdrawal.
  • Social difficulties: They might find it challenging to form healthy relationships with others and experience decreased trust and intimacy.
  • Low self-esteem: Feeling neglected or emotionally distant from a parent can negatively impact a child’s self-worth and confidence.
  • Academic and behavioral issues: The lack of a secure support system may lead to decreased motivation, school struggles, or behavioral problems.

Potential challenges that might arise for the father for not being present for his child(ren):

  • Missed opportunities: A father who doesn’t actively bond with his child misses out on fatherhood’s unique joys and rewards.
  • Regret and emotional strain: The lack of closeness can lead to regret, frustration, and emotional distance within the family.
  • Negative impact on family dynamics: The father’s emotional unavailability can create tension and imbalance within the family unit.

These are potential challenges, not guaranteed outcomes. Every child-father relationship is unique, and other factors play a significant role in development. If concerns exist, we recommend seeking professional guidance from a qualified therapist or family counselor. The focus is on inspiring, encouraging, and supporting fathers on their journey toward building a strong father-child bond through being fully present in your child’s life. For more information on the long-term consequences of growing up without a father, please take a look at our blog post.

Top 2 Tips for Maximizing Your Time as a Present Father

You don't need to be superman to be a present father

The following are some actionable tips for developing a practice of being fully present for your child. These disciplines will help you remove barriers that can get in the way of your being in the moment with your child.

Tip #1: Eliminate All Distractions

When your child seeks your attention, acknowledge them immediately in a loving, welcoming way. Taking the following steps to eliminate distractions will communicate to your child “I love you more than anything else I am doing”, “I am here for you”, “You are a priority for me”, “I value my time with you”, “You are the most important thing in my life at this moment”, and “Talk to me. I am listening.”

  1. Stop scrolling, close the app, and put down the phone – screen down.
  • I know it may be hard, but it’s worth it. You’ll thank me later.

2. Turn off the TV and/or game system.

  • Just muting the sound doesn’t work as well. Eyes will likely wander toward the screen.

3. Fold up the newspaper or close the magazine or book. (For the OGs. 😊)

  • It will still be there when you get back to it! Taking these steps to be a fully “present father” is the most meaningful “present” you can give your child. If your child is older and you are just starting to practice these nurturing disciplines, be patient. They need to be convinced that this is “for real.” Be consistent. It is worth it. Doing so will strengthen your bond and open a channel of communication that will last both of your lifetimes if you faithfully maintain these practices.

The following tips will help widen the communication channel and deepen your bond with your child.

Tip #2: Practice Active Listening

  • Make and maintain eye-to-eye contact as you listen. Sit face-to-face in a relaxed, non-confrontational posture. This may require getting down on the floor to achieve eye level with a little one.
  • Tune in to them. This requires tuning out everything else going on in your head. It’s like fine-tuning a radio to hear a distant am radio station without static interference. (Ask an OG about that. 😊)   

To kickstart a conversation, ask an open-ended question. The best conversation starter questions are appropriate for the child’s age and interests.

Best conversation starter examples based on the age of the child:

For younger children (3-5 years old):

  • Ask about their day: “What was your favorite part of playtime today?” “Did you learn anything new at school?” “Tell me about the funniest thing that happened today.”
  • Imaginative questions: “If you could talk to animals, what would you ask them?” “Let’s pretend we’re pirates! What kind of treasure are we looking for?” “If you could build a magic house, what would it look like inside?”
  • Questions about their interests: “What’s your favorite book character and why?” “What kind of animals do you like the most?” “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

For middle-aged children (6-9 years old):

  • Questions encouraging sharing their thoughts and feelings: “What’s something you’re really excited about right now?” “Is there anything that’s bothering you today?” “What challenge are you facing and how are you trying to overcome it?”
  • Questions that spark curiosity and exploration: “If you could invent something new, what would it be and how would it improve the world?” “What’s something you’ve always wanted to learn more about?” “Tell me about a historical event you find fascinating.”
  • Questions about their friendships and relationships: “What makes a good friend?” “How do you handle disagreements with your siblings/friends?” “Who’s someone you admire and why?”

For older children (10+ years old):

  • Thought-provoking questions that encourage critical thinking: “What’s a current event you’re interested in and why?” “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” “What advice would you give to your younger self?”
  • Questions about their future goals and aspirations: “What are you passionate about?” “What kind of career are you interested in?” “What are some steps you’re taking to achieve your goals?”
  • Humorous questions to lighten the mood: “If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?” “What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?” “If you were a superhero, what would your name and powers be?”

Building a Strong Connection with Your Child

Take the pledge to be a present father

Remember, the most important thing is to create a safe and comfortable space for children to express themselves and build a strong connection with you.

Three Tips to Becoming a Present Father

Tip #1: While your child is talking…

  • Fully listen to them.
  • Don’t try to interpret what they are saying, nor assign a motive.
    • Withhold judgment.
  • Avoid formulating a response.

Tip #2: Provide feedback for clarification. For example:

  • “So, what I hear you saying is…”
  • “Really? You mean…?”

Tip #3: Ask more questions to keep them talking. Such as:

  • “That is interesting! Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Why do you think that is?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What do you plan to do about that?”
  • “How can I help?

Special Bonus tips:

  1. Avoid asking yes/no questions whenever possible.
  2. Be playful and silly sometimes!
  3. Let them lead the conversation and share their thoughts and experiences.

These suggestions will help you make the most of your time with your children – maximizing your ability to be a present father. By practicing these things consistently, you will find that your children will be open to receiving your words of wisdom, counsel, and correction.

Guidance from the Holy Scriptures

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

– Ephesians 6:4 Amplified Bible

Build Your Fathering Skills by Joining Fathering Strong

The Fathering Strong community is here to help you improve your becoming a present father and have a great beginning to the new year. By joining, you can connect with other dads for mutual encouragement. Discuss the content of these blogs. Share your stories, learn from others, and maybe even mentor a young dad. Be as involved as you choose to be. Register, download the free Fathering Strong app, and turn on the notifications. Do it today and become a part of the Fathering Strong Community of Dads. It’s FREE!!

To see the research done on a father’s impact on his family and community, go to the blog post “Helping Fathers Build a Better World for Children and Families.”

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Eli Williams