Fathering Matters: A Time for Reflection

From time to time I try to remind myself of the huge task of being a father. The following reflections I hope will do that and will be useful to all fathers out there. We all hear many stories about dead-beat fathers who are not living up to their responsibilities and fail to become good examples for their children to emulate from, but all fathers are not the same. There are some fathers who take very good care of their children. When the mothers are not around they have to assume that responsibility as well.

The following are my thoughts on being a good father, or “fathering”. (Note: Lately, even the noun “parent” has been made into a verb, “parenting”, as in “parenting skills”.) “On the ground”, as anthropologists say, many Muslim fathers leave the parenting to their wives during the child’s first six or seven years of life. And even many fathers do not fulfill their parenting commitment due to their own commitment at workplace. “Urban lifestyle” – as the term is used – becomes an excuse for fathers who are actually clueless as to what role exactly they have to play to ensure effective communication with their children.

Unfortunately, this is one of those many cultural deviations we have from the model of our Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) sunnah, so many of us are blind to what is actually unIslamic in our cultures-of-birth. The Prophetic model is clear. It is an active involvement of fathers in their children’s upbringing.

Before referring to the sunnah of “fathering”, let us mention some recent scientific support for the concept of fathering even before the birth of a child. According to research, it seems the Right Hemisphere of the human brain is already formed at birth, whereas the Left Hemisphere, which notably includes language skills, takes a while yet, after birth, to begin to function.

What this means is that baby’s communications skills are entirely nonverbal at birth. Nevertheless, fathers can and must communicate with their babies, at whatever levels they are capable. Fathers should hold and carry newborns as often as possible. A bonding will then occur at the level of Right Brain, which is capable of withstanding many later disturbances to father-child relationships. Recent studies of right-brain function fully support this hypothesis. Indeed, left-brain- dominant fathers may in fact LEARN from their babies.

Among anthropological field data, there are reports of fathers who are aware of the conception of their future children even before confirmed by medical tests. Such a father may in fact INFORM his wife that she will soon have a baby.

Such reports are in line with the phenomenological model of male parenting as being the “channel” through which the child arrives at the “vessel” of its mother’s womb. There is no reason why such “channeling” must always remain unconscious and surprising later on.

As to early childhood itself, we have a number of Hadith regarding the nurturance of small children by the Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him):

The Prophet (s.a.w.) kissed Hassan and Hussain in the presence of a Companion. This Companion confessed, “I have ten children and I have never kissed a single one of them!” The Prophet (s.a.w.) looked at him and then said, “One showing no mercy will be shown no mercy.”

We learn from modern science that that infant monkeys deprived of body contact with their mothers will simply dwindle and die. This is scientifically verifiable. What ALL fathers must understand is that a great deal of life-nurturing communication takes place between any infant and the adult who holds and caresses him or her. Just as we are all sustained by the Mercy of our Creator, our babies are sustained by various expressions of mercy from us to them. The Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) teaching in the above Hadith was confirmed by modern science.

What for us might be a real test of patience was endured by the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him)anytime small children climbed on his back while he was performing Sujud in his prayer. He simply remained prostrated until the child of its own will climbed off his back.

We have several Hadith relating the perfectly manly shedding of tears by the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), such as when a child was brought to him on the verge of death. The Prophet wept, and then said, “This is mercy that God has placed in the hearts of His servants, and God will only show mercy to His servants who are themselves merciful.

Our Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him)was playful. He organized races with the children. He let them crawl over him as he lay on the ground. He patted their heads and kissed them often. Abu Hurayrah (ra) relates that he saw the prophet (saw) takes his grandson al-Husayn hands, place his feet on his feet, and then swing him up until he landed on his chest. He then kissed him and prayed, “O God! Love him, for surely I love him”. In all these examples, Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) taught the men of his community true manhood. He challenged the concept of “machismo” that is often found still in modern life, or in ultra-conservative Muslim communities who think that child-rearing is the exclusive responsibility of the mothers.

To be sure, the Muslim male must be adept at leaving his outside work behind him when he returns home, so as not to affect his children with his professional disturbances. This requires a certain flexibility of cognitive modes that is only now beginning to be understood from research in the scientific laboratory.

The Malay-Muslim men of many areas in Kuala Lumpur used to follow a very nice routine by coming home after work, finding time to play with their children at home, relaxing with his children for the evening meal, and then adjourning to the neighborhood mosque for Maghrib. His prayers would then be followed by group or individual recitations of Al-Qur’an, studying with scholars, attending study circles (usrah, halaqah) and others, and he would return home again after the Isha prayer.

By this means, all of his professional, family, and religious responsibilities were reinforced and continually strengthened, and neither his children nor his wife would ever have to complain about his absence in the home. It seems that modern-day Malay-Muslims imagine that they “have no time” to do what Malay-Muslims did easily and routinely only a few years ago. What a pity.

Azril Mohd Amin

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