“Off to Neverland!” What young boy hasn’t wanted to say those words? Peter Pan’s playful and adventurous spirit, his youthful innocence, and his sense of fun are what capture our imagination. Whether it’s battling Captain Hook, rescuing Tiger Lily, or going after Wendy and the Lost Boys on Hook’s ship, as dads we can identify with Peter, because there is a little bit of him in all of us.
We’ve all undoubtedly dreamed at some point about being a knight in shining armor, rescuing damsels in distress, or taking off in a star ship and voyaging to other planets. We’ve been on playground forts, pretending to be Davy Crockett at the Alamo or making the game-winning home run in the World Series for our favorite baseball team. Men often dream of a world of rough and tumble adventure, just like Peter, which is probably why we connect so easily with his light hearted and simple look at the world. One of the great things about being a dad is the way in which we can share that adventurous spirit with our children.
As fathers, we are built with unique gifts to offer our kids and, believe it or not, how we play with our children is one of them. Studies have shown that fathers play with their kids in ways different than their mothers, and the way fathers play can offer children lessons on behavior and important social skills. Rough-housing with the kids, a dad specialty, is not only good for giggles and laughs, but it gives kids an understanding of boundaries and self-control. They learn how far to take things, what’s “too far,” and how to manage their emotions. It’s in this playful spirit, this sense of adventure, that fathers contribute to their children’s well being.
That same sense of adventure is what challenges children to succeed, to take that extra step and venture into the unknown. The way we play with our kids encourages independence and pushes them to self-achievement. In fact, a 2001 study by the Department of Education showed that children with involved biological fathers were 43% more likely to get mostly A’s in school! How’s that for a positive impact?
Sometimes we dads sell ourselves short and forget that our role in the family isn’t limited to what we achieve in the outside world. This goes to the very heart of J.M. Barrie’s story and Disney’s film version of Peter Pan. If we deny and shut out our Peter Pan side completely, we could become the agitated, closed off, grumpy Mr. Darling. We must not be afraid to lead our children into the world of imagination, or to let our inner Peter Pan come out to play with our own kids.
I think about this when I’m building LEGOs or racing Hot Wheels in the kitchen, or riding bikes around town, playing games on the Wii or playing tennis against the garage door with my daughter Emma. These moments are some of my fondest with her. The adventurous spirit we share together is a gift I receive from her just as much as she does from me.
To read the studies I referenced above, check out this page from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services.