Book review ‘Vadervuur’ by Jeroen de Jong, Part 1

Once you get into circles of attachment parenting and responsive, sensitive parenting, there are some people you will meet again and again. One of those people is Jeroen de Jong. Since 2013 he has been active in an important part of the parenting field, namely with the young and the older, the mature and the fresh and green fathers, who are all in their own way looking for a form in which they can shape their role as the male parent of their child(ren). It is wonderful to see how Jeroen has found his place by organising all kinds of activities for ‘involved fatherhood’ and how he wants to keep the fire burning not only figuratively, but also literally in that adventure. Even better is it that he has now also written a book about this, so that everyone has easy access to his vision.

The official presentation of ‘Fatherfire – Follow your own parenting course and become the father you wish your child to have’ took place on 31st May 2023 in Theatre De Slinger in Houten and unlike most other parenting events, the hall was now filled mainly with men. Stacks of books were waiting in the corridor, which were handed out after the performance to those who had ordered a copy or decided to buy it on the spot. Just as the theatre evening was a party, so is the book.

Below the title on the ocher yellow cover is a drawn black and white image with two men and three children. The children hold a stick with a marshmallow in their hand, which they hold close to the flames of a campfire. The flames are red and the fire seems to be burning nicely. Under Jeroen’s name is ‘De Praktijkvader’, the name of his own company that he has been running together with his wife Wendy for quite some time now and which also indicates that he has a warm heart for drawing on daily practice. Not the rules are paramount, but everyday reality. And that reality is, among other things, that involved fathers play a very important role for a favourable development of well-being and health in their children and thus contribute to the prevention of ACEs.

‘Father fire’ has 53 short chapters, divided into seven thematic parts, namely Making space (9 chapters), Initiation (7), The place of your parents (8), Thinking, feeling, doing (7), From raising children to being a role model (11 ), Parents ánd lovers (6), and finally: Out into the world (5). That is a nice division: it gives the impression that the most important part of Jeroen’s message is that ‘raising children’ is a difficult concept and that parenting is more about ‘being a role model’. If you ask me, that is indeed what he means. And then it comes down to how we as parents approach life and how we deal with things. In doing so, it turns out to be of great importance to most of us how forced or how powerful our connection is to what our parents taught and showed us. What do we take with us and what do we let go of? What do our children need from us? Can we look openly, without judgement, childishly curious in what Jeroen calls the new world of parenthood? In the seven parts of the book, Jeroen looks for answers to those questions, among other things, and each part starts with a quote from an author who has said valuable things about it.

In his book Jeroen does not try to know better than those he addresses. What he does is to share with you the journey of discovery that he himself started with the birth of his eldest child. During that journey, which continues to this day, the (in the end three) children were his greatest mirror, in which he saw what he still had to learn: “My children grew up and I grew up with them” (p. 13). The book is in a way a reflection of what has happened in his family growing up over the past twenty years and he shares the insights he has gained.

One of the most important of these is that a child actually wants the same thing as you did back then: “someone who was there for you, completely, fully present and unconditional” (p. 31). This works better when parent and child do not worry too much. The more we think we have to do all kinds of things to get those children ‘right’ (raise them!), the more difficult it all becomes. Jeroen tells a nice story about a photo of his one and a half year old eldest son who was bursting with zest for life, to which a friend said: “So Jeroen, you can only ruin that boy” (p. 33). This sets the tone: no longer wanting to tinker with them, he says: “We can stop raising children, because that is where all the trouble starts” So: “How can you be that sparkling father your child is looking for?” (p. 34). That is a good starting point for a book that will probably end up somewhere in the ‘Parenting’ section in most bookstores after all.

I found the numerous questions in the book remarkable and refreshing. Many chapters are richly provided with questions that can be confrontational, but the answers to which can give direction as to how you as a father (and also as a mother) want to shape your parenting. “What are the needs of this child? What sacrifice do these needs demand from me? What did I miss most as a child myself? Am I still living in accordance with who and how I want to be?” The book explores these themes in many ways through personal stories and expert questions. The relevance of these kinds of questions is huge, because if we examine them honestly and deeply, we often come face to face with our own life history and with the pain that is stored there and influences our actions as a parent.

Part 2 of the book review will follow later this week.

Posted in Book and movie reviews.