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The Characteristics of a Great Dad

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This Father's Day we want to give a shout-out to the Aka people.

The dads who make up this hunter-gatherer tribe from southwestern Central African Republic and northern Congo are officially the best fathers in the world. It's quite the honour - one bestowed by Fathers Direct, a UK information centre on fatherhood.

This is no construction paper, glitter and glue award you made in second grade. It's also not something determined by the "Greatest Dad Olympics" that measures strength or speed or barbequing ability.

Individual dads in the Aka tribe have these qualities but Fathers Direct found something more important - an emphasis on nurture and love.

Aka fathers either hold or are within arm's reach of their infants 47 per cent of the time - the highest rate in the world. The men take their children with them to social events. They settle the baby when it wakes up at night. Snuggling is both a sign of affection and an activity shared by dad and baby for hours at a time.

Sadly, the Aka are the worldwide exception.

In the same report, Fathers Direct found only 20 per cent of the 156 cultures studied encourage a father's close relationship with their infant and only 5 per cent with their young children. Interesting considering a British study found high levels of paternal involvement leads to higher marks and lower likelihood of a criminal record.

In far too many cultures though, masculinity is measured by ability to bring home the bacon rather than affection. It's believed real men should always be in control. Showing feeling is a sign of weakness.

For the Aka though, physical closeness is not only essential for baby, it's something that both parents take great joy in. Children are a blessing, not a burden and the affection both soothes the baby and brings energy to the parent.

When you think about it, is that so unmanly? To us, at least, it seems the Aka are not only some of the best dads, they're experiencing the best part of being a dad - spending time with your child.

In the Western world where our jobs often revolve around a nine-to-five schedule, matching the amount of time the Aka dad spends with his child isn't easy without jeopardizing your career.

In Central Africa, the Aka men and women share in the hunting and gathering. While men still dominate the traditional hierarchy of the tribe, their familial responsibilities are shared equally almost immediately after childbirth.

Here in Canada though, that's most often not the case. Many of our policies and social norms could be more father-friendly. It's still largely Mom who is given the responsibility of childcare.

That's despite changes to Canadian shared parental leave benefits which increased from 10 weeks to 35 weeks in 2001. By 2006, the percentage of fathers claiming the benefits jumped from 3 per cent to 20 per cent. It's a far cry from the Aka tribes, but it means more dads participating at levels their African counterparts have experienced for years.

Now, neither of us have children of our own - but, we do have a dad. And, we'd proudly enter him into this figurative "World's Greatest Dad" competition. Our fondest memories of him have nothing to do with a pay raise or accomplishment at the office. They involve him acting as our Scout leader by spending time with us camping and canoeing. Or, teaching us how to catch a softball. A favorite tradition was sitting at the kitchen table, newspaper open in front of us. We'd talk about the issues before our eyes. Then, we would sometimes talk about ways to make our mark on those issues.

They were lessons of kindness and compassion. There's nothing unmanly about that.

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