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Mothers are closer to children than fathers are. I sure don't feel as strongly toward my father as I do toward my mother. I think it's bound up in nature that mothers and children have very strong feelings for each other—something qualitatively different from what a man can have for his child, and vice versa. But I want to be as close to my child as my partner is. I guess fathering is a role you don't know how to fill till it actually happens.
The drums begin to roll and our hearts pound in our chests. The call has come: We have fathered a child. We are entering fatherhood.
We start to search for definition. We want to know what it means to be a dad—what fatherhood will require of us and what it might bring us in return. Whether this is our first call or our tenth, we know something is about to change. But how, when, and what?
Looking around us, we see fathers everywhere—on the news, in the movies, in the checkout line at the corner store. Surely they were there before, but we never paid them much attention. Now our minds have us identifying with them. We watch and we wonder. Deep inside, some troublesome questions may be lurking.
Why are we men so concerned with working, doing, and "being perfect"? Where do these obsessions come from?
What keeps us from drawing closer to our newborns, our partners, and our own fathers? What are we afraid of?
Why do we give over so many of the parenting joys and responsibilities to our partners?
Why doesn't being a good father seem like enough? What must we do to integrate fathering into our sense of masculinity?
Why do we minimize our feelings and our needs for more closeness in family life?
Why are we afraid to be ourselves?
Surfacing enough to dip into a book or two, we are sure to be riddled with more questions. If we really know better than to repeat the mistakes of the past, why are we, as authors Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson point out, only "slightly more involved in our children's care" than our fathers were in ours? Why don't our children get the kind of emotional connection they most want and need from us? Why do our boys, especially, feel shortchanged in terms of our time and affection—"a loss that remains with them into adulthood"?
How did we men get into such a mess? To find out, let's take a look back through history.
FATHERING THROUGH THE AGES
Sam Keen, in his book Fire in the Belly, beams a historical light on many of the predicaments we fathers face. He says:
We must recognize that men's psyches have been shaped by a different cultural expectation than the one we hold now. Generations of men [before us] were raised on a man-at-arms ethic dictating that males must at all times be prepared to suffer, die, and kill to protect those they love. Within this context, the man had to be distant, away hunting or fighting wars. To be tender, he had to be tough enough to fend off enemies. To be generous, he first had to be selfish enough to amass goods, often by defeating other men. To be gentle, he had to first be strong, even aggressive enough to court, seduce, and "win" a wife.
This backward glance at fathering reveals that our warrior aspect did not evolve out of coldheartedness or cruelty, but out of a historical imperative. As men, Keen notes, we've been called upon to "muscle our way through life."
The warrior-man that resides in us has long formed the fabric of our masculinity. Over time, it gave way to a productivity ethic. In the 1840s, for instance, our forefathers left their families in droves for the factories, where a new assembly-line culture was forming. Consequently, generations of fathers passed on to their sons an industrial-age formula for success. Included were five components:
Be strong and be tough. (Don't let anything interfere with your work or "get to you.")
Control your feelings. (Only weaklings and sissies let their emotions "get the best of them.")
Keep your problems to yourself. (Stop pissing and moaning. Solve your troubles on your own.)
Stay on top of things. (Controlling oneself and others is the measure of a man.)
Use your head. (Logical thinking paves the road to victory.)
Our dads took the venerable old torch from their dads—no questions asked—and championed the new ethic, laboring away from home for "the man" and the company store. At the same time, they protected us, planned and saved for us, and postponed joy and relaxation until their retirement years. They fathered with authority and disciplined us sternly, giving few, if any, explanations for their reprimands.
Determined to finish the job at any cost, our dads rarely reflected on the emotional and psychological toll their work ethic extracted. While climbing the company ladder, they slowly but surely estranged themselves from us.
Today, the provider-father, working overtime and sacrificing personal satisfaction and closeness for his family's material well-being, remains our most pervasive fathering model. Many overworked, overextended fathers—whether CEOs or blue-collar workers juggling two or three jobs—are just too tired and distracted to notice that their children are, like themselves, following in the footsteps of the fathers they never got to know. Secretly, they still believe that their most important function is to furnish for the family, rather than connect with them. And in the privacy of their thoughts they wonder whether, despite all they do, it is really enough.
WHY WE HOLD BACK
A good look inside ourselves will reveal emotional artifacts from the history we've been handed. Here lie our fears about fathering, tucked well beyond our awareness until something rattles them. When riled up, they emerge in the guise of blame, guilt, compulsivity, anxiety, and anger. The more unfamiliar our fears are to us, the more formidable they seem. Programmed to restrain them, we end up emotionally distant from those we love.
Instead of adopting the warrior formula for success that we so diligently learned, we need to let nature take its course. And the magic of nature is this: When fears are acknowledged, they lose their power over us. In other words, as soon as we recognize guilt, anxiety, or anger bubbling up inside us, we only need to acknowledge it, question its source, then decide what, if anything, to do about it. In allowing for our fears rather than reacting to them, we can free ourselves from emotional paralysis and begin to move forward again.
In terms of fathering, we men have acquired a pool of common fears. To one degree or another, we are all afraid of the following:
Doing a poor job as a parent
Being an inadequate partner and family man
Feeling and acting needy
Being rejected—feeling unimportant, unappreciated, unloved—or abandoned
Reliving the pain our parents inflicted when they ignored us, neglected us, dismissed us, left us, or abused us
Acting like our fathers or mothers at their worst
Expressing our anger and feeling out of control
Being less (or more) successful than our fathers
The closer we are to becoming a father, the more frequently our fears surface. Defending against them blocks us from becoming all we can be. On the other hand, recognizing the substantial part they play in our lives, then learning how to tame them (well), gives us options few of our dads even knew they had. Essentially, we get to choose. We can stand on the sidelines or play ball, resist the unfamiliar or approach it as a new challenge, retreat from intimacy with our children and partners, or reach out for it.
The call to fatherhood, whether initially alluring or terrifying, is a summons for decision making. We've heard the grievances. We've felt the distancing. We recognize the fears. But do we know the rewards? Here are six of them.
Six Untold Truths of Fathering
1. Fathering offers us unparalleled opportunities to receive and give unconditional love.
2. Fathering helps us overcome feelings of unworthiness, isolation, emptiness, and loneliness.
3. Fathering endows out lives with new meaning and renewed purpose.
4. Fathering enhances our pride, self-esteem, and sense of accomplishment.
5. Fathering heightens our compassion, our tolerance, and our ability to empathize with and trust others.
6. Fathering revitalizes our self-confidence, our creativity, and our passion for living.
Excerpted from Fathering Right from the Start by Jack Heinowitz. Copyright © 2001 by Jack Heinowitz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Foreword by Wade F. Horn, Ph.D||xiii|
|Part I: Pregnancy|
|Chapter 1 The Call to Fatherhood Fathering through the|
|Ages * Why We Hold Back||3|
|Chapter 2 Getting a Grip on Pregnancy What Price Denial?|
|* What about Me? * Pregnancy Symptoms * Ritualizing Your||9|
|Chapter 3 Sex and the Pregnant Couple Sex through the|
|Trimesters * Sustained Lovemaking * Becoming a Wiser||25|
|Chapter 4 Preparing for the Birth Childbirth Classes *|
|Birth Choices * A Birthing Plan for Two||37|
|Part II: Birth|
|Chapter 5 Laboring and Birthing Together Your Part in|
|Labor * Being at the Birth * Not Being There * Welcoming||47|
|Chapter 6 Postpartum Adjustments But Where Is the Love?|
|* New Mothers and New Fathers * Who Comes First? *||55|
|Chapter 7 Is There Sex after Birth? Spontaneity's|
|Disappearing Act * Breastfeeding Challenges * Clearing||65|
|Part III: Moving Beyond|
|Chapter 8 Facing Our Fears Fight Those Fears, Man! *|
|Fear Is * Where Does Fear Come From? * Making the Shift *||77|
|Chapter 9 Mining Our Power Getting to Know Ourselves *|
|Letting Ourselves Be Known||95|
|Chapter 10 What Our Partners Really Want Listening|
|Pitfalls * Meaningful Communication * A Foundationfor||107|
|Chapter 11 What Our Children Really Need An Open Book or|
|an Open Heart? * A Father's Touch||119|
|Chapter 12 Fathering through the Stages Infancy and|
|Toddlerhood * The School-Age Years Adolescence *||137|
|About the Author||163|