Connected Father: Understanding Your Unique Role and Responsibilities during Your Child's Adolescence by Carl E. Pickhardt, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Connected Father: Understanding Your Unique Role and Responsibilities during Your Child's Adolescence

Connected Father: Understanding Your Unique Role and Responsibilities during Your Child's Adolescence

by Carl E. Pickhardt

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Parenting Expert Carl Pickhardt Shows How the Bonds Between Fathers and Teens Can Be Strengthened

Many fathers feel unprepared for their child's adolescence, in their denial, often times preferring to believe that it will only happen to other people's children. In this sensitive and forthright book, Carl Pickhardt stresses that fathers need to become informed


Parenting Expert Carl Pickhardt Shows How the Bonds Between Fathers and Teens Can Be Strengthened

Many fathers feel unprepared for their child's adolescence, in their denial, often times preferring to believe that it will only happen to other people's children. In this sensitive and forthright book, Carl Pickhardt stresses that fathers need to become informed about changes and challenges that normally unfold. Helping caring fathers navigate the four crucial and often perplexing stages of adolescence, The Connected Father describes:
* how fathers can learn to be better listeners
* why they have trouble communicating and what to do about it
* different emotional changes between mid- and late-adolescence
* how to encourage independence while setting limits
* how fathers can talk to teens about drugs, sex, the internet, relationships, and more

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“As the father of two teenagers, I found Pickhardt's book to be an important, supportive, and straightforward look at one of the most challenging stages of fatherhood.” —Armin Brott, author of The Expectant Father and Father for Life: A Journey of Joy, Challenge, and Change

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St. Martin's Press
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The Connected Father

Understanding Your Unique Role and Responsibilities During Your Child's Adolescence

By Carl E. Pickhardt

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2007 Carl E. Pickhardt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-60441-4




Fatherhood is a threshold moment. Cross that entrance and you not only step from one role into another, but you must also step up from being a marriage partner to accepting a daunting array of new responsibilities that redefine your manhood as a nurturer and provider, as parent and family man.

For some men, this challenge of "stepping up" is much more inviting and familiar than for others. Perhaps you can look back at the fathering and family experience you received in a generally positive way, seeing it as an encouraging example to follow. "I want to be as good a dad to my kids as my dad was to me." On the other hand, if you grew up without positive fathering, with emotionally distant or physically absent fathering, or with destructive fathering in an abusive family situation, you may feel frightened by a role that you have no confidence or conception how to fill. At worst, you can feel destined to reenact in a new family setting the old agonies and chaos you knew as a child.

If most of your parenting memories are painful, fatherhood can be a huge and anxiety-provoking adjustment. So rather than engaging with the role, you may take flight and avoid it by leaving the parenting to your wife, by not connecting with your children from the start. You may believe, "I don't know anything about how to father!" Not so. All fathers, like all mothers, give children two parental models, not one: how to be and how not to be. Where fathers who came out of a positive fathering background can base definitions of their role on "how to be," fathers from a negative fathering background can partly base definitions on "how not to be." They can honestly say to themselves: "I know a lot about fathering from being shown how not to behave." And from that negative beginning an affirmative alternative can be built: "Based on that experience, what kind of father do I want to be?" a dad can ask. Then helpful answers will come to mind. "I can be appreciative, and not dissatisfied. I can be encouraging, and not critical. I can be interested, and not dismissive. I can be accessible, and not too busy. I can listen in disagreement, and not shut communication down. I can remain safe and reasonable in conflict, and not become threateningly explosive."

You are not destined to repeat past unhappiness if you commit to profit from the negative example you were so painfully given. In counseling, I see fathers free themselves from what they knew to create what they want.


In the process of contrasting the fathering you received and the fathering you want to provide, you also have to make another distinction: A father is not a mother. This biological difference shapes the development of parental roles, and your role as father, from the beginning.

After your child's birth, you have a lot of parental catching up to do because father and mother begin their separate relationships with the baby at completely different times and places. Through nine months of pregnancy, the labor of birthing, and the intimacy of breast-feeding, your wife begins a relationship of deep physical attachment; she is closely connected with the child from the outset in mysterious ways you can never experience. She comes to know the baby (and the baby comes to know her) both inside the womb and out.

Your wife starts as part of the child because the child starts as part of her, systemically dependent on her, sharing her blood, inhabiting her body. In the mother, of the mother, and from the mother is how connection to the female parent begins. The mother has a bonded relationship with the infant from the start. This is an unfathomable connection to you. Lack of this founding connection, of course, does not mean you cannot build deep, strong, abiding attachment to your child. Remember, if adoptive, step, and foster parents who are neither physically bonded nor biologically linked with their children can powerfully connect; an attentive and involved biological father can certainly attach as well. As Brott (1997) notes in his book The New Father, "Although the vast majority of research on attachment has focused on mothers and children, some researchers are now beginning to study father-child attachment. Their findings confirm what active, involved fathers have known in their hearts for years—that the father-child bond is no less important than the mother-child bond."

Both presence and absence of early bonding can influence the later development of the parental role. A mother literally sacrifices her body for the baby, who parasitically depends on her for protection, sustenance, and life. While she is pregnant, the father supports the baby by supporting the mother. Often these early commitments portend how mother and father will differentiate their respective parental gender roles later on. A mother may become the more sacrificial parent, inclined to set her self-interest and well-being aside for the child's care, while the father may become the more practically supportive parent, inclined to invest himself in home improvement and at the job for the sake of family. This distinction is a tendency, not a certainty, since a mother can certainly support a family and a father can certainly sacrifice as a parent.

Contrasted to your wife, you begin your relationship with the baby at a distance. Although your newborn immediately recognizes her, at the outset you are a stranger. Even if you assisted at the birth, you must earn the infant's attachment after delivery is over by physically and emotionally, non-verbally and verbally, creating a presence in the baby's family world, creating a bond the baby can come to trust and love and rely on over time.

Although attachment between mother and child is present from the start, for fathers it takes positively perceived performance (tending, touching, and talking) for the infant to develop attachment. Likewise, the child soon learns to perform in positively perceived ways to earn your approval. Pleasing each other has a lot to do with how the father/infant connection is forged. Between father and child, approval mediates attachment. While the mother/child connection tends to feel more unconditional because it is physically inherent, connection between you and your child can feel more conditional because, through performance, approval must be earned.

Interestingly enough, this is a distinction commonly heard during the teenage years. "Mom worries about how I am; Dad's more concerned with how I do." During adolescence, when teenage separation and differentiation put stress on the teen's relationship with parents, the founding distinction between the acceptance-based mother and the approval-based father can gain currency again.

We can see this difference in action with a late adolescent in counseling who is planning to introduce a serious love interest to his parents. "I want my mom to like who I bring home, and my dad to approve." Or a young adolescent who states: "I want my mom to love me and I want to make my dad proud." This distinction is very important for you as a father to keep in mind during your children's adolescence. Your disapproval of their performance at critical junctures in their growth can disconnect you and your teenagers when they need your presence for security, stability, and support.

Consider two different fathering responses to a teenager's misad-venture. "After you pulling a dumb stunt like this, I wonder if you'll ever learn!" or "I'll keep you company while you deal with the consequences of what you did." If you were the teenager, which response would you like to receive? As the father, which response would you want to give? When it comes to staying connected to—or becoming disconnected from—your adolescent, as a father you must be sensitive to how you manage your evaluative power.

The old parenting advice is still good: Disapprove of the behavior, but never the person. "Just because I disagree with your choice doesn't mean I love you any less for what you did." Your parental approval needs to be kept separate from, and subordinated to, your acceptance. While approval gives affirmation of actions, acceptance assumes innate value and worth. As a father, you need to clearly communicate that your acceptance is constant and unconditional, while your approval is conditional on conduct, rising or falling depending on choices your teenager makes. Your acceptance does not guarantee your approval ("Part of my job is to let you know how I think you're doing"), but your disapproval will not alter the guarantee of your acceptance ("No matter how you do, your loving standing with me is secure").

I believe the early infant bonding difference between mother and father can contribute to later gender differences in parental roles. However, the interaction of sex, gender, and parental roles remains complex, part of the unresolved and ongoing debate in professional psychology about sexual differences and the operating differences they create (see Rhoads, 2005.)

My perspective is that both sexual nature and nurture play a part in differentiating maternal and paternal roles. Biologically, fathers do not start parenthood with the history of physical attachment to the infant and early bonding that mothers do, while men and women learn different gender definitions growing up. As will be more fully described, the social sex role-training boys and girls tend to receive in same-sex peer groups commonly diverges, male growth often focused more on competition and competency, female growth often focused more on communication and intimacy. As a consequence, I have come to believe that men typically bring more of a performance emphasis to fatherhood and women typically bring a more relational emphasis to motherhood.

This greater sensitivity can serve a mother well from the onset of the child-parent relationship because insight can increase attachment. "Mothers classified as positively insightful were rated as more sensitive and were more likely to have securely attached children than were mothers not classified as positively insightful." (See Koren-Karie, Oppenheim, Sher, and Etzion-Carasso in Developmental Psychology, vol. 38, no. 4, July 2002.) During infancy, a mother's instincts about what the baby needs or about what might be wrong are usually more sensitive than a father's due to the greater depth of attachment she brings to parenting, and it is to that greater sensitivity that the infant responds. The man needs more time to "feel" and "read" the baby's non-verbal language of pleasure and distress in order to understand the personality and temperament of this little stranger born into his care.

I have often been struck by how mothers are often more sensitive to emotional undercurrents in their teenagers, more observant of subtle trouble signs, than are fathers, who tend to focus on obvious behaviors and major indicators of difficulty. So instead of treating what your wife says as unjustified concern over unidentifiable causes, it generally behooves you to credit the keener emotional sensitivity and insight she may provide. Rather than criticize, "You worry too much," you might be wise to ask, "What do you sense might be going wrong?" My experience in counseling is that most fathers are simply not as sensitively tuned in to their teenagers as mothers are.

Here is an example. A mother senses something amiss, even dangerous, about her daughter's date, though there's no evidence so support her suspicion. So she confides to her husband, "Something about that young man she is going out with tonight doesn't feel right to me. I can't tell you exactly what." Rather than discounting his wife's response as "groundless worry," he looks more closely himself and encourages his wife to share her unease with their daughter, which the woman does. "I don't have specific cause for concern to base this on, but I want you to know that for whatever reason I'm not feeling entirely comfortable with your date tonight, so I'd like you to be more watchful than usual when you go out." Later, the daughter uses the mother's discomfort to support her own. When the guy suggests going to a party after the movie, she decides to come directly home instead. As a psychologist, I've seen the protective value of mysterious maternal knowing many times.

Of course, the power of maternal attachment, like most human traits, is double-edged, creating strengths on the one hand and problems on the other. Because mother and baby begin so closely attached, the hard growth issues later on in adolescence often have to do with creating adequate separation. So the teenage son complains to his mother: "You're overprotective, you need to let me go!" Because father and baby begin so separated, the hard growth issues in adolescence often have to do with creating and maintaining adequate attachment. So the teenager daughter complains to her father: "What do you care, you don't even know me!"

Because many fathers have been socialized to base relationships on companionship and on doing activities together, attaching to an infant can be a challenge. While mothers can increase sensitivity and sense of connection by simply watching an infant, many fathers are often less observant and patient watchers because there is no action to take. Often waiting several years until they and their children can start "doing things together," these men don't start to build significant attachment until the child is older and more capable of interactive play, which is sometimes sexually differentiated, rougher with a son, more gentle with a daughter.

The child's bond to the father, however, is always different from that to the mother, a difference that should be respected and accepted to this degree: It is not the father's job to copy or compete for the maternal role, to imitate or try to be an extra mother. His job is to complement her role by providing a significant, additional parental presence in his own personally distinctive way.

Of course, a father can do many "mothering" acts his spouse does. Apart from breastfeeding, a father can fully participate in the complete range of childcare. He can also express those traditionally "feminine" traits of nurturing, empathy, sensitivity, and comfort. He usually cannot, however, make up right away for the parental role training in family care-giving that girls tend to practice more than boys do growing up.

Fathering situations where these traits tend to be well expressed are in families in which the same-sex couple is male. Gay fathers can be much less inhibited than straight fathers about expressing their sensitive, vulnerable, empathetic side, thereby encouraging that emotional expression and connection with their teenagers. "Gay fathers appear to be particularly interested in extending their masculine identity to embrace nurturing qualities." (See Dunne, The Journal of Sexualities, vol. 4, no. 2, May 2001.)

Growing up, men and women are socialized to fit different sex roles, and they bring those differences into their respective roles as fathers and mothers. As children in same-sex peer groups, they find the continuum of characteristics available to all human beings divided into separate sexual camps. "Masculine" and "feminine" are defined exclusively, to a degree that dehumanizes young people, who feel forced to fit simplified gender distinctions that are developmentally sexist in their restrictive ways. Cross over that divide, and as a girl exhibit "masculine" traits or interests (like fighting physically), or as a boy exhibit "feminine" traits or interests (like playing with dolls), and cruel teasing for appearing unwomanly or unmanly was likely to follow.

How you were socialized to define your manhood growing up is a large part of the sex role definition you bring to fathering. While sexual differences are endowed, gender differences are learned through such influences as cultural ideals, parental identification, social instructions, and peer interactions. For example, socialization may explain why and when many young adolescent girls can be socially discouraged from acting extremely angry ("male" behavior) and many young adolescent boys can be socially encouraged not to cry ("female" behavior). So reading strong emotion at this age can be confusing when girls, feeling extremely angry, express it in tears, and boys, feeling badly hurt, express it in anger.


Excerpted from The Connected Father by Carl E. Pickhardt. Copyright © 2007 Carl E. Pickhardt. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Carl E. Pickhardt is the author of nine popular parenting and child-rearing titles, including Keys to Successful Stepfathering, The Everything® Parent's Child to the Strong-Willed Child, and The Everything® Parent's Guide to Positive Discipline. A psychologist in private lecturing practice, he lives in Austin, Texas.

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