Fathering Right from the Start: Straight Talk About Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyondby Jack Heinowitz
Coping tools and intelligent advice for today's fathers. Becoming a father is a life-changing event, and not an easy one. The new feelings, emotions, and reactions surfacing every day can be confusing and overwhelming, summoning new dads to resolve old issues. Fathering Right from the Start helps guide men through this life passage, helping them navigate difficult times and participate meaningfully in parenting. Complete with exercises, checklists, and firsthand accounts by fathers from all walks of life, this indispensable book carries the seeds for a new tradition of men's involvement in the emotional, cultural, and psychical structure of the family.
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Fathering Right from the Start
Straight Talk About Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond
By Jack Heinowitz, Ellen Kleiner
New World LibraryCopyright © 2015 Jack Heinowitz
All rights reserved.
The Call to Fatherhood
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.
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.CHAPTER 2
Getting a Grip on Pregnancy
It took me a while to realize that I, too, was somehow pregnant. My changes were much more subtle than my partner's, but undeniably real. I think I started becoming a father right after I heard the news. I know I have been on a voyage of my own. I guess I still am. I'm a father now, and somehow I will never be quite the same as before.
When pregnancy is confirmed, we know rationally that we have fathered a child, but it will take time to feel the flame of fatherhood in our souls. Until then, pregnancy can seem unreal. (How could we have transformed from son to father overnight? Besides, the baby is invisible, and our partners seem very much the same as before.)
Fortunately, the journey from conception to birth takes 266 days (give or take a few) — exactly the amount of time we need to begin preparing mentally and emotionally for this incredible new arrival in our lives. And as our babies gestate, we do, too. In the words of a first-timer who spent a good portion of those nine months building a house for his new family:
Each event — the baby moving, the doctor visits, reading a book, seeing a newborn — is like pounding in a nail while building a house. When we found out she was pregnant, I was very far from being a father. But each experience that followed has been another hit on the nail, another wall framed, then a room ... kind of hammering it all home. This helped me settle into being a father.
Thoughts about being a parent may seem fuzzy at first. Even when they begin to clear, they can be confusing. Expect to feel apprehensive, uncertain, and ambivalent. If having a baby was not in your plans, you may also feel disappointed or resentful about this sudden turn of events. Despite our culturally prescribed "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," it is natural to go through a mix of emotions at the start of pregnancy. For best results, count on being out of sorts at this point.
WHAT PRICE DENIAL?
Sooner or later, keeping secrets from ourselves gets us in trouble. Tom, a man intent on giving all the right impressions, tried hard to ignore his contradictory emotions. But he could not stop wrestling with himself.
I've been hounding myself that it isn't okay to not feel perfectly wonderful about this pregnancy. I shouldn't be part okay and part not okay. I scare myself with expectations I didn't even realize I had. I've been trying to get rid of my negative thoughts, but it's really hard — like fighting a battle against myself.
As difficult as it may be, try not to push your feelings away or stuff them deep inside. Denying your true experiences will only generate inner conflict. Instead, remind yourself that many other fathers feel the way you do right now. Then air out your feelings by talking with someone you trust, or by writing about them. Spare yourself the unpleasant side effects of suppressing your anxiety — the guilt, isolation, or depression.
Jerry tried to gloss over his discomfort. And for quite some time he thought he'd succeeded.
The pregnancy was a total surprise, but it wasn't a problem. I just accepted it ... within about a week. You see, I knew her pregnancy wouldn't upset our plans too much. Not going camping or on long hikes wasn't all that important. Besides, we were planning to have children some day.
These were Jerry's words when I met with him and his partner, Kate, ten months after the birth of their daughter. Despite Jerry's claim to have come to fatherhood easily, he was struggling with some very disturbing feelings. According to Kate, they were having "communication problems." She complained that he was gone a lot and that when he was home, he was "aloof" and often "very down."
Looking back over the pregnancy, Jerry admitted he was worried about not being a good father and about losing the closeness and friendship he and Kate had shared. Acknowledging his concerns brought him surprising relief. "I'm so glad to get this off my chest — to be myself again," he said.
Because of ongoing medical complications, Nancy was bedridden at home during the last two trimesters of pregnancy. Jeff, her partner, seemed remarkably unperturbed, even though it had been a very trying nine months. Curiously, when Jeff talked about the pregnancy, he rarely spoke about himself. Nearly all his statements started with "Nancy ..." or "We...." I couldn't help but wonder where Jeff was in all this.
The birth went remarkably well. Nancy and their daughter, Carla, settled in easily. Jeff, however, felt anything but settled. His first glimpse of his daughter came as a shock.
She looked wriggly and rubbery. Nancy just took her to her breast. They seemed so at peace. But I couldn't stop thinking that my daughter didn't really belong to me, wasn't a part of me. Seeing her as a stranger kept me back. I couldn't connect with her.
In actuality, Jeff was the stranger. What seemed to be wrong with Carla had little to do with her and a great deal to do with her father's overdeveloped defensiveness — his refusal to "cop" to what he was going through. Having shut down his feelings for so long, he had inadvertently closed the portals to his heart.
Jeff's jarring introduction to fatherhood was a signal from his unconscious, alerting him that something was wrong. Although he experienced it as a crisis, it turned out to be a priceless opportunity to begin evaluating his relationship with his feelings.
It was the emotional aftershocks rattling on well into Jeff's first year of fatherhood that had brought him in for a consultation. After several months of therapy, he uncovered the origins of many of his fears, as well as the negative consequences of blocking out his feelings. Gradually, as he learned to be more receptive to his emotions, he became "unstuck." He has since developed a warm and happy relationship with his daughter.
WHAT ABOUT ME?
Childbearing remains a sublime mystery to us, an awesome primeval process that men can only imagine. We have no direct access to the sensations and biological events that connect babies and mothers during pregnancy. As a result, our children seem to be always coming yet never really here. And the more we want to share in the pregnancy, the more disheartened we may feel. We see no way to "get in there" and become meaningfully involved.
The pushes and pulls of pregnancy drove Mark to exasperation.
What can I do now that she's pregnant? Not much to do or say, really. I can't carry the baby for her. It's her thing. I guess I can just hang around and wait it out. The good times will come later.
Mark's frustrations are not at all unusual. In fact, he expresses the uniquely male predicament of being part of the child-making process yet excluded from it. His unspoken question is, "What about me?"
This theme has been depicted in creation stories throughout the world, especially those that portray men as procreators. In the Judeo-Christian story, for example, God, a male, gives birth through the power of his word. Later, in Eden, Adam's rib spawns Eve. In the Greek creation myth, Zeus, king of the gods, devours his pregnant wife and gives birth single-handedly to Athena and Dionysus.
A story from ancient Babylonia goes further, recounting the gods' rebellion against Tiamat, the Great Mother. In this myth the gods are about to choose a new leader. Each contender, receiving a sacred garment, is told to destroy it and then re-create it, using willpower alone. When Marduk succeeds and becomes supreme god, he overpowers Tiamat. Swelling with confidence and basking in his glory, Marduk goes on to perform the even more daunting feat of creating heaven and hell from Tiamat's fallen body.
Why did merely one goddess so threaten these gods? What compelled them to destroy her? Why was slaying her insufficient to achieve their goals? The answer is revealing: Marduk, on behalf of all the gods, needed to capture Tiamat's feminine power in order to feel complete and superior.
As above, so below. As the Babylonian gods resorted to murder in a desperate attempt to assert their full power, so do we men pay a dear price when we dissociate from the feminine aspects of our nature and then do battle with these yielding, nurturing, and creative parts of ourselves. As long as we continue to say, "Nurturing is feminine," "Caretaking is her thing," or "I'm not one to show affection," we will continue to feel incomplete, restless, and disconnected from our creative impulses.
This detour into the world of mythology is simply to point out that we can all become wholesome, nurturing procreators without resorting to destruction. And contrary to today's popular mythology, we need not wait until their birth to attach to our babies. There are many ways to begin bonding with your baby in utero, while also drawing closer to your partner. All that is required is a little imagination and a willingness to tap into your inherent feminine powers, as is described in figure 2–1.
You've probably heard about expectant dads who develop sympathy symptoms. Often, these changes give us pause for thought, as they did for Michael.
I can't figure out why I've gained all this weight. Although I've been eating more than usual, there's something else.... I've never told this to anyone, but when I feel the roundness of my stomach, it's as though I've taken on the pregnancy. It's a funny thing, feeling pregnant together. It seems like we're sharing on a deeper level, and that opens me up to more feelings.
Excerpted from Fathering Right from the Start by Jack Heinowitz, Ellen Kleiner. Copyright © 2015 Jack Heinowitz. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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What People are Saying About This
(Eda LeShan, author of When Your Child Drives You Crazy.)
(Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, surgeon and author of Love, Medicine & Miracles.)
(Sam Osherson, PhD, author of Finding Our Fathers.)
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