Gift of Fatherhood: How Men's Lives Are Transformed by Their Children

Overview

Making the Most of the Opportunity of Your Lifetime...
Fatherhood will give you some of the greatest challenges ? and the greatest opportunities ? you will ever lace. Along with the pleasure your children can bring, you'll encounter new demands and situations that will help you to change and grow as a person.
Parenting gives you an unparalleled chance to develop new skills and capabilities. From generosity to patience, from sensitivity to ...

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Overview

Making the Most of the Opportunity of Your Lifetime...
Fatherhood will give you some of the greatest challenges — and the greatest opportunities — you will ever lace. Along with the pleasure your children can bring, you'll encounter new demands and situations that will help you to change and grow as a person.
Parenting gives you an unparalleled chance to develop new skills and capabilities. From generosity to patience, from sensitivity to communication — the lessons that you learn can help you feel happier and more fulfilled at home, on the job, in your marriage, and as a person.
The Girl of Fatherhood emphasizes the rewards of fatherhood and offers expert, proven advice you can use to manage the many roles you're asked to play: father, husband, provider, teacher, and disciplinarian.
Author Aaron Hass includes tips on adjusting to the changes that having children creates in a marriage, understanding the importance of clear communication within the family, learning how to discipline without anger, and learning how to really value and enjoy the time you spend with your children. He also includes special advice for divorced dads and stepfathers.
Fatherhood can be the experience of a lifetime, and The Gift of Fatherhood will help you get the most out of your parenting experience.

Dr. Hass writes about parenthood as an opportunity for the father. He shows how taking an active role in children's care can have a positive effect on a man's self-esteem and self-confidence, making him happier and more fulfilled.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671875824
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 6/10/1994
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 784,608
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Aaron Hass, Ph. D., is professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Hass has worked with families in his clinical practice for over twenty years. He lives with his wife and three children in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The Twelve Obstacles to Fathering

(and How to Overcome Them)

Make a commitment.

I will be the father I would have liked to have had.

The wisdom you have gained through years of experience allows you to evaluate your own childhood. Think about what you missed in your relationship with your father. Do some of the following come to mind?

I wish he had spent more time with me.

I wish he had talked more with me.

I wish he had asked more about my feelings.

I wish he had told me he loved me.

I wish he had been more interested in me.

I wish he had hugged me.

I wish he had encouraged me more.

I wish he had been more supportive of what I wanted to do and become, rather than pushing me in the direction that he wanted for me.

I wish he had been happier when he was with me.

What else would you add to your particular wish list? Write it down. It will help you focus on the important roles you can play in your children's lives.

Having a child may evoke previously repressed feelings of anger, frustration, deprivation, and resentment toward your own father. (Having a child also makes us appreciate how difficult it is to be a parent.) Those unconscious hurts may drive you away from your children or they may propel you toward them as you attempt to give your children what you never received. ("I'll never do that to my child when I'm a parent," you swore to yourself many years ago. Alas, how difficult we find it not to repeat the patterns which were inflicted upon us.) In either case, you need to be as aware as possible of the influences of the past on your present circumstances.

No one sits us down and teaches us about parenting. No one gives us a course as we go through school. However, girls, at least, are continually reinforced for acting in a nurturing, empathic manner. They often learn more than boys about parenting because of their identification with their mothers as role models.

Most boys grow up with no analogous opportunity. Your father was probably someone who left in the morning, came home in the evening, financially provided for his family, and spent relatively little time actually interacting with his children. He was not someone to whom you turned on a daily basis for help, advice, or reassurance. That wasn't his job, you assumed.

Even as adults, we find women's magazines filled with articles about parenting. You won't find any such articles in magazines which cater to men. Parenting is not part of my responsibility, you therefore continue to assume. It has nothing to do with being a man. It is irrelevant to being a success, you believe.

A few men were lucky enough to have had terrific dads. He played with you. He talked with you. He took you on special outings with him. He put his arm around your shoulder when you walked together. But most of us did not grow up with an involved father. Most of us did not grow up with an engaged father. For, unfortunately, your father was trapped in the role model which his father provided. We, in turn, often mimic our fathers' approaches.

The results of a survey published in the September 1991 issue of Harper's magazine reflect these attitudes. While thirty-one percent of Fortune 1000 companies offer paternity leave, only one percent of eligible men have taken advantage of it. Many men may not believe they can afford to take time off. But surely, more than one percent could weather the temporary financial deprivation, even if it were only for a brief period of time. Clearly, men want to go to work for powerful reasons having little to do with money.

Social barriers die hard, but institutional barriers to active fathering are gradually coming down. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, parents who work at companies which employ more than fifty persons can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to allow them to care for newborns. Undoubtedly, many mothers will take advantage of this dispensation. It remains to be seen how many men will do the same.

Companies should encourage men to take a more active role in parenting. The reality, however, is that many consider taking leave to be tantamount to "career suicide." People at the top should set an example. However, Redbook (June 1993) reported that when Catalyst, a New York City-based employment/research group asked personnel directors and CEOs how much paternity leave would be reasonable, sixty-three percent said "none."

For most men, work comprises the greatest part of their identity. Ask a man who has been laid off from his job how he feels. You will probably hear, "I feel like I'm not worth anything any-more." The workplace is where men have derived their self-esteem.

But the reality is that today you have greater freedom than ever to choose how involved a parent you will be. You are neither bound by traditional cultural expectations nor doomed to repeat the patterns laid down by your own father. You can redefine what fathering will mean for you. You can make fathering an important, stimulating, rewarding, and significant part of your ongoing life.

Twelve Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Spend More Time with Your Children

Parenting Is Difficult

Almost all parents will tell you that child rearing is much more difficult than they had anticipated. Before your first child's arrival, your fantasies involved playing with him or observing him proudly. The scenes were always pleasant, always gratifying. You did not anticipate colic, tantrums, "I hate you," defiance, disappointment, or purple hair.

While it is true that "the years fly by," when you are going through a taxing developmental period of your child's life, time can move very slowly. Whether it is the sleep deprivation and resulting crankiness you experience during your child's infancy or the anxiety you feel during your child's adolescent forms of rebellion, fathering is stressful as well as joyful. By the time your child leaves home forever, you will have made thousands of decisions affecting his or her life, and you will have agonized about whether those decisions were the right ones. Fathering does not occur naturally or easily. But you can learn to be more patient, more giving, more loving, more generous, and more forgiving than you ever thought you would be.

You Wait Too Long Before Becoming Involved

You should bond with your child even before he comes through his mother's birth canal. It can begin when you first put your hand or your ear to your wife's bulging abdomen, when you participate in childbirth classes, or when you view the ultrasound image of the fetus. Unfortunately, many men view infancy as a time of closeness between mother and child. They may not want to "interfere." Many men also feel terribly awkward handling a baby or involving themselves in the baby's natural functions. ("I don't change diapers!" or "I change diapers, but not if the baby has diarrhea!") You may believe that you can't feed her as well, dress her as well, burp her as well, or understand her cries as well as your wife can. Oftentimes, men do not view their children as fun until they can play and become involved in activities which the father enjoys.

The relative lack of early contact with your child has a circular effect. The older your child becomes without a bond having been established, the more awkward you and your child will feel when you are together. And the more awkward you feel together, the less you will want to engage each other again.

The more time you spend with your child, the more you will enjoy that time. You and your child will build familiarity, a closeness. In addition, you won't have to deal with your child's resentment because of the lack of time you have devoted to him. When a father infrequently plays with his child, the child's resentment over his feelings of deprivation hamper the quality of the encounter. He is angry and impatient with you, which causes you to feel impatient and alienated from him, which causes him to feel even more deprived and angry with you, and so on and so on. This is one of the reasons fathers are so disappointed when, after having failed to spend time with their children for protracted periods of time, they plan a special day together and it bombs. You may come with the best of intentions, full of enthusiasm and energy. But your child greets you with old hurts.

Don't postpone your fatherhood.

You Made an Attempt to Engage Your Child and You Were Rebuffed

You approach your child and say, "Let's play together," or, even better, you say, "Let's play whatever you would like." Your child says, "No thanks, dad. I don't want to play now."

You feel rejected. ("Well, if he doesn't want to play with me, to beck with him.") You feel hurt and self-righteous about not offering again. "I tried," you say to yourself.

But certainly you would agree that, just because you found the time to play with your child at that particular moment, it is unreasonable to assume that your child will necessarily want to interrupt what he may be involved with in order to respond to your unexpected overture. He may also be reluctant to accept your offer for fear of being disappointed once again because your interest will not last very long.

Don't let your ego interfere.

Instead of walking away and shaking your head after your child says, "Not now, dad," simply respond with "Okay, let's make a specific date for another time. What do you think might be fun? When would you like to do it?"

You See Your Child as a Burden Rather Than a Joy

Oftentimes, fathers view play with their children as another thing they have to do. They already feel tired and overwhelmed by other obligations and worries. Perhaps they are unable to effectively compartmentalize their lives. They are unable to leave their work at the office. They are unable to prevent their marital frustrations from spilling over into their relationships with their children. They are unable to cease obsessing about their financial straits. Or they may simply see themselves as inadequate, awkward fathers and wish to avoid the anxiety associated with this perceived deficiency.

The more competent you feel as a parent, the more joy you will derive from fathering. Obviously, the less "baggage," the fewer burdens you bring to your fathering, the freer you will be to spontaneously and enthusiastically play with your child. Fathering can provide an arena for personal growth. When you are actively fathering, you will develop aptitudes and sensitivities which will serve you well in the myriad of other roles you play in your world.

Your Children Seem to Have Arrived from Another Planet

The music they listen to, the clothes they wear, the language your children speak may all seem alien to you. You have forgotten how wide a gulf you perceived there to be between you and your father when you were a child. You can't relate to any of it, so you don't take an interest in any of it. And so you imagine a much wider gap between you and your child than actually exists. Your child may act differently, talk differently, dance differently, or eat differently than you did when you were his age. But he has the same emotional needs that you had. He needs your affirmation, your understanding, your love. He needs a close relationship with his father.

You Feel More Comfortable with Your Son Than Your Daughter

It begins early, even before the birth. Fathers usually wish to have a boy. Research indicates that fathers touch their infant sons more than their infant daughters. Throughout the child's formative years, fathers spend more time with their sons than their daughters. Those fathers who have a very strong masculine identity, who perhaps are very athletic, demonstrate a clear preference for spending time with their sons than their daughters. Those fathers who fervently hope that their sons will follow in their footsteps as physicians, lawyers, businessmen, will also stay close in order to plant and fertilize those seeds. On the other hand, those fathers who also identify themselves with their sensitive, emotional side will more likely feel comfortable with daughters than men who adhere to rather rigid stereotypes about how a male should behave. Having a closer relationship with your daughter will facilitate the development of your interpersonal sensitivities and emotionally empathic capacities. Your daughter can push you to more fully realize all aspects of your self.

The Temperaments of You and Your Child Don't Seem to Fit

"My son is so different from me. Is he really mine?" you wonder aloud. "What do I have in common with my little girl?" you plead. Fathers are often confronted with children whose interests seem to be completely different from their own. Athletically inclined fathers are terribly disappointed when they face sons who perhaps prefer music, art, or computers to the rough and tumble, competitive world of sports.

But you can always find a way to relate to him. Even if there is no seeming "common ground," take this opportunity to expand your own horizons and diminish your feelings of estrangement from your child. You must move into his spheres of interest. Your child will be happy to share his activity with you if he perceives you to be genuinely interested. Having a different temperament from your child provides you with a challenge and an opening. The stage will be set for you to "stretch" your self-concept, to experience parts of yourself which you previously had dismissed or never even discovered.

You Have a Very Difficult Child

Difficult children are difficult to be with. Instead of pleasure, they often provide stress and frustration. Instead of offering joy, they cause you to wish you had a different child. You find yourself being continuously critical of him. You believe that he can't do anything right. It is natural to want to withdraw from interactions which are painful and unrewarding.

Before I had my own children, I believed that our socializing environment was predominantly responsible for who we become. Particularly after having my second daughter, who from day one was so temperamentally different from my first daughter, I began to fully appreciate the predominant influence of our unique, genetic blueprint. There is no getting around it. No matter how effective, consistent, or patient a parent you may be, some children will prove more problematic, more troublesome, more stressful to be with, more volatile in their moods — in short, more difficult, or to put it in a positive light, more challenging than others.

Ironically, it is the more difficult child who needs you the most. He hears your constant criticisms. He sees your looks of exasperation. And he feels terrible that you think those things about him, for he is desperate for your love. He is desperate for you to tell him he is not the bad person who he suspects everyone (including himself) believes him to be. He needs your encouragement. He needs you to believe in him. He needs you to go the extra mile. He needs you not to give up on him. He needs you to love him no matter what.

How do you not lose patience with a difficult child? By relating to his insecurities. Your child is so bossy because inside she feels so powerless. Your child is a brat because inside he feels frightened and out of control. Your child does exactly what you just told him was not permitted because he feels worthless and anticipates your rejection. Your child doesn't allow himself to hear your words of praise because he feels so unlovable.

"But, I've given him my love and attention," you insist. "Why does he still feel so insecure?" Remember, your child was born with a propensity to develop in particular temperamental ways. His insecurities, therefore, may be an ongoing part of his life. But you can ease his burden. You can keep his insecurities from destroying him.

There is no one in the world who has more power and potential influence to help your child feel better about himself than you. And there is no one in the world who can better teach you how to be more patient and self-sacrificing than your own difficult child. The patience, self-control, and generosity you can ham from raising a difficult child will also help you better deal with the most problematic, most troublesome people you will inevitably encounter in your lifetime.

You Feel Financial Pressures

After the arrival of your child, your sense of overwhelming responsibility as a father and as a provider really kicks in. Some men almost feel a sense of panic and want to run away. To make matters worse, perhaps your wife stopped working or drastically cut back her hours. Even though you may want her to be home with your new baby, her lack of financial contribution increases the load you feel. Ironically, just as you should be diverting some of your attention to your newborn, you feel the pressure to work longer hours in order to give your family what you want them to have. Furthermore, as your children get older and reach an age when they may need you the most, you are moving through your thirties and forties, your "professional prime," a time when you feel you must give your career all of your efforts in order to obtain a certain level of status and security.

The more children you have, the more justified you may feel in not devoting more time to them. You feel even more financial pressure. You work even longer hours. You're tired and you say to yourself, "I work hard all week. I've already fulfilled my responsibilities to my family — and then some." And you infer, "I've already demonstrated how much I care about my family."

d

Oftentimes it is difficult to distinguish your drive to succeed in your career from the realistic financial obligations you must meet. It is more socially acceptable to invoke the latter than former in justifying your absence from family life. It appears less selfish to blame your financial responsibilities than to acknowledge your more narcissistic strivings for success when you work on weekends or arrive home after your child's bedtime.

Your children need you. They need your attention, your encouragement, your wisdom, your physical contact, your affirmation of how important they are to you. They need your love more than they need a CD player or a $100 pair of sneakers. And you need to be with your children so that you can develop a healthier perspective and balance in life.

You Believe Parenting Is Your Wife's Responsibility

You may believe that parenting comes more naturally to your wife than to yourself. She's got the maternal instinct. Mothers raise children. That's what my mother did. Women just know what to do with children, how to be with them, you believe. And so you rationalize your relative lack of involvement with your children by subconsciously saying to yourself, They're better off with her anyway.

Furthermore, many men believe that parenting is mostly the female's responsibility. If you accept this notion, then you may not feel completely comfortable being an actively involved father because you will have entered a feminine domain. Fathering might actually detract from your sense of masculinity. Until you incorporate nurturing and attachment to your children into your male ideal, you will feel that attention to these aspects of life will actually weaken you. Have you noticed that when most men get together in order to bond and affirm their manliness, they speak about four topics — sports, money, work, and sex? Children are what women talk about, you assume. Unfortunately, the quality of your relationship with your child does not garner you the esteem of your peers. Will you be strong enough, secure enough as a man, to fly in the face of convention?

Your Children Prefer to Be with Their Mother

Perhaps you have asked your child, "Would you rather go with mom or dad?" You felt rejected when she said, "I want to go with mom." They prefer to be with their mother, you tell yourself.

It may indeed be the case that your child would rather spend time with your wife than with you. But perhaps that's because your wife is more enthusiastic, more appreciative, or more attentive than you are when interacting with your child. While most daughters (particularly younger ones) might gravitate toward their mother, it is not unusual to find a girl who chooses to be with her father because he is more fun to be with, because he makes her feel so special, or because he indicates by his demeanor that he truly enjoys and looks forward to his time with her.

Your daughter may, in fact, appreciate the differentness of being with a man, her dad. The relationship which each parent has with their child is unique. As a father, your role need not be to imitate your wife's behavior when you are interacting with your daughter. On the contrary, you can provide your daughter with another flavor of positive role model which will help her establish later relationships with a greater variety of people. She will also have two different styles or approaches to life to draw upon when making future decisions.

Children want to be with a parent who clearly demonstrates his/her love, interest, and enthusiasm while being with them. You will feel the satisfaction of being wanted and loved when your children feel that too.

You Avoid Being with Your Child to Avoid Marital Conflict

Couples often disagree about how to raise their children. You may perceive your wife to be too indulgent, too lax. She may, just as firmly, believe you to be unrealistically demanding or too stem with your son or daughter. You may believe she coddles your children, spoils them. Your wife, because of past feelings of deprivation, may see in you the father who withheld his love from her when she was a child. Old resentments may be displaced onto you if she perceives you to be repeating the same pattern with your children.

So you leave the field to her in order to avoid another argument. And you rationalize your withdrawal from childrearing by saying to yourself that you want to keep a somewhat shaky marriage from becoming even more unsatisfying and, perhaps, ultimately untenable.

If the prospect of marital conflict interferes with your desire to be with your children, you must resolve that conflict, instead of withdrawing from family life. Begin by talking with your wife about the kinds of parenting which each of you received. How did you feel in your relationships with your parents? What were your perceptions of your parents as you were growing up? How did your relationships with your parents affect your subsequent romantic relationships and the kinds of partners you chose? Successfully defusing the tension between you and your wife may require some professional assistance in unraveling old childhood hurts which affect the way each of you now approaches your children and your mate.

Ultimately, of course, the development of better communication skills in your marriage and greater empathy for one another will serve you in good stead in developing a more communicative and empathic relationship with your children.

All husbands and wives who I see in my practice have had both their marriage and their parenting styles affected by the mother and father who reared them. In their own ways, Ben and Barbara reflect many of the issues which I have discussed in this chapter.

Ben, a thirty-eight year old accountant, and Barbara, a thirty-six year old teacher, had been married for seven years before they appeared at my office because of marital difficulties which had been simmering for years. (No one seeks psychotherapy or counseling after experiencing a problem for only a short period of time.) There were the usual complaints. From Ben: Barbara didn't seem to have much time for him anymore. Barbara was overly involved with the children. Barbara had put on weight and didn't care about her appearance. Barbara wasn't interested in sex. From Barbara: Ben was uninvolved in family life. Ben seemed to care more about his work than about her or the children. Ben always excused himself as being too stressed or too tired. Ben wasn't affectionate anymore. Ben didn't seem to care about having an emotionally close relationship anymore.

Both Ben and Barbara grew up in very modest circumstances. Their parents occupied traditional roles. Ben's father worked seven days a week as a tailor in Boston. Barbara's father worked overtime in his steel mill whenever it was available. Ben's mother and Barbara's mother were housewives. Ben's father, an immigrant, was from "the old school." "Be happy for what you have," "Life is tough," "You don't need very much," "Money doesn't grow on trees," were some of the lessons he imparted to Ben. Barbara's father, abandoned by his parents at an early age, was a bitter, cold man. He was uninterested in his children. Barbara remembers her frustration at repeatedly attempting to gain his attention or a word of approval. He virtually ignored Barbara and her brothers.

Ben learned his lessons well. Both as a child and as an adult, Ben has led a life of self-denial. Although his financial circumstances are significantly different from his father's, unfortunately Ben feels as though and acts as though he is living under the same constraints. And he expects the same of his children. "My children always seem to be whining or complaining about this or that. And their mother spoils them rotten. What kind of character will they grow up with? Shouldn't there be limits?" Ben rhetorically asked.

Barbara was more aware of her previous hurt and anger toward her father than Ben was of his feelings of deprivation. She was determined to provide for her children what she never received. She admitted, "It's difficult for me not to give my children what they want. But, unlike Ben, I don't see my children as being so demanding or unreasonable." And Barbara acknowledged that, in many ways, particularly when there is an issue of giving, she sees her father when she observes her husband. Every time Ben says "No" to his children (or to her), Barbara hears that voice from her childhood denying her once again.

In any couple I see in therapy, both parties are absolutely convinced of the correctness of their point of view. Each is dumbfounded that the other doesn't see "the obvious." But the issue, of course, is not who is right or who is acting most appropriately. In Ben and Barbara's case, one of the first steps in their treatment was for them to understand how the parenting which they received has affected their feelings and expectations toward their own children. Only then can they respond most helpfully to the needs of their children, as opposed to acting on the sanctions of their own childhood.

Why You Should Want to Spend More Time with Your Children

You Will Understand Their Abilities Better

The more time you spend with your children, the more attuned you will be to their emerging abilities. Those fathers who spend little time with their children frequently either underestimate or overestimate the developmental progress of their sons and daughters. If you underestimate your child's competence, you won't provide adequate challenge or stimulation. Your child will be bored. If you overestimate your child's skills, your unrealistic expectations will prove to be a frustrating and unpleasant experience for him and you. In either case, your child will be less motivated to interact with you in the future.

The more time you spend with your children, the more realistically you will be able to assess their capacities and the more aware you will be of their particular talents and sensibilities. You will, therefore, have the optimal opportunity to provide challenging and stimulating interactions. You will discover not only what they enjoy doing, but how they enjoy doing it. (For example, adult rules may be inappropriate when playing a game with a six-year-old. There are probably one hundred different ways you can play a game with a basketball.)

And, don't forget to let your children win, at least some of the time. No one enjoys playing something at which they always lose.

You Will Enhance Your Child's Self-Esteem

Your time is precious to both you and your child. Your willingness to give your time to him sends a message: You are important. A father who gives of himself implicitly communicates his love and respect for his child. And if you, the person your child respects most in the world, believe he is worthy of your undivided attention, your child will bask in the sense of his own importance.

Perhaps I need not mention the obvious: There is nothing more valuable for our psychological well-being than healthy self-esteem. You can help provide that for your child. And when your child grows up, you will relish the pride you feel and savor the knowledge that you had a hand in cultivating the person she has become.

You May Be Able to Forestall Childhood Problems

As parents, we do not have as much control as we would like over our children's lives. We wish our children were more popular. We wish our children were less awkward. It pains us to see them hurt, rejected by their peers. We wish we could protect them from all of that. But we can't.

However, the closer the relationship we have with our children, the greater our opportunity to provide them with self-respect and self-acceptance. Less involved fathers may facilitate the opposite reactions. For example, in a recent article published in American Psychologist, Dr. Louise Silverstein writes: "Research clearly documents the direct correlation between father absence and higher rates of aggressive behavior in sons, sexually precocious behavior in daughters, and more rigid sex stereotypes in children of both sexes."

You Will Have More Influence on Them

Your child is exposed to many influences. And the older he becomes, the more he is likely to adopt his peer group's frame of reference. But the closer the relationship you have with your child, the more likely your child will continue to identify with you. You will, therefore, be in an advantageous position to instill your positive values and increase the likelihood that they will be accepted. The more love and respect (as opposed to fear and anger) your child has for you, the more likely it is that he will incorporate his sense of you in himself. He will act more like you.

It is to be expected that your son will be more likely to identify with and feel closer to you than your daughter may. However, you will still be a terribly important role model for her if she feels a loving connection between the two of you. And she will be more likely to choose a man who will reflect your positive traits for her lifemate later on.

It Will Enhance Your Self-Esteem

The more time you spend with your baby or your five-year-old, the better at fathering you will be. Given the fact that fathering does not come naturally and must, instead, be learned, you will gain a sense of self-satisfaction as you become more accomplished at it.

In the case of your relationship with your children, the old adage, "The more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it," readily applies. For as you sense how increasingly important your child feels you to be, you, in turn, will feel an increasing sense of self-importance.

Because of Your Epitaph

Your children will be gone soon.

As your children reach later and later developmental stages, you will look back with amazement and wistfulness at how quickly it went, how quickly your sons' and daughters' innocence and childlike dependence on you evaporated. "Where was I when they were growing up?" fathers ask themselves. "Why didn't I realize then, how important they were to me?"

Unfortunately, for many men, looking back upon their lives does not produce satisfying reflections. Questions such as, "What did I do with my life? Did I attend to what was really important?" are met with aggrieved answers. When asking, "What did I accomplish?" oftentimes we find our replies to be hollow. When you reach that stage of life when you are prone to evaluate the choices you made, I want your answer to be a much more satisfying one.

You Can Do It Right

If you approach fathering as one more task, one more job, you almost guarantee that it will not be an enjoyable one. If you appreciate the benefits which you and your child can derive from your interactions, you will act with enthusiasm and expectation. Your eagerness will infect your child, and you will both know that the other cares, that the other loves.

The more your children separate from you, the more they will be shaped by their peers and by their own culture. We increasingly fret over their well-being as they slip away from our protective shield. But we can lay a foundation which will enable them to make the right choices. We can insure that they feel loved, so they do not reach out for recognition in destructive ways. And when they are conflicted and cannot make up their mind, we can create a relationship which invites discussion and is open to guidance.

You cannot undo your childhood. You can never receive what you deserved from your own father. But you are in the fortunate position of seeing to it that your child has the parent he is entitled to have. You have been given the chance to do it differently, to do it better, to do it right.

Make a list of what you resolve to do more of with your child. If you need some ideas to get started, return to the list you made at the beginning of this chapter.

Our tendency is to imitate what we have seen in our own fathers and to cast our expectations after those. Don't repeat the mistakes which your father made. Being a better father to your children can help heal the disappointments of your own childhood. As your life becomes more gratifying, as it becomes filled with love, you will find that your longtime, gnawing resentments toward your father will recede. You won't need to be angry any longer because your life will feel fulfilled.

Don't waste time blaming yourself for what you have or have not done with your children to this point. It is understandable that, to the extent you have not built a closer relationship with your child, you will feel more alienated and, perhaps, helpless now. The good news is that it is not too late.

Your responsibility as a parent is to nurture your child, to help him reach his fullest potential. Your child also presents you with an opportunity to grow. Seize that opening.

Copyright © 1994 by Aaron Hass, Ph.D.

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1 The Twelve Obstacles to Fathering (and How to Overcome Them)

CHAPTER 2 Learning to Love Your Child More

CHAPTER 3 How to Be More Patient with Your Children

CHAPTER 4 How to Enjoy Your Children More

CHAPTER 5 How to Find More Time for Your Children

CHAPTER 6 How to Discipline with Love

CHAPTER 7 Why You Will Love Your Wife More

CHAPTER 8 Why Your Wife Will Love You More

CHAPTER 9 The Marriage-Child Link

CHAPTER 10 Divorced Dads

CHAPTER 11 Stepdads

CONCLUSION The Ongoing Process

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

The Twelve Obstacles to Fathering
(and How to Overcome Them)

Make a commitment.

I will be the father I would have liked to have had.

The wisdom you have gained through years of experience allows you to evaluate your own childhood. Think about what you missed in your relationship with your father. Do some of the following come to mind?

I wish he had spent more time with me.

I wish he had talked more with me.

I wish he had asked more about my feelings.

I wish he had told me he loved me.

I wish he had been more interested in me.

I wish he had hugged me.

I wish he had encouraged me more.

I wish he had been more supportive of what I wanted to do and become, rather than pushing me in the direction that he wanted for me.

I wish he had been happier when he was with me.

What else would you add to your particular wish list? Write it down. It will help you focus on the important roles you can play in your children's lives.

Having a child may evoke previously repressed feelings of anger, frustration, deprivation, and resentment toward your own father. (Having a child also makes us appreciate how difficult it is to be a parent.) Those unconscious hurts may drive you away from your children or they may propel you toward them as you attempt to give your children what you never received. ("I'll never do that to my child when I'm a parent," you swore to yourself many years ago. Alas, how difficult we find it not to repeat the patterns which were inflicted upon us.) In either case, you need to be as aware as possible of the influences of the past on your present circumstances.

No one sits us down and teaches us about parenting.No one gives us a course as we go through school. However, girls, at least, are continually reinforced for acting in a nurturing, empathic manner. They often learn more than boys about parenting because of their identification with their mothers as role models.

Most boys grow up with no analogous opportunity. Your father was probably someone who left in the morning, came home in the evening, financially provided for his family, and spent relatively little time actually interacting with his children. He was not someone to whom you turned on a daily basis for help, advice, or reassurance. That wasn't his job, you assumed.

Even as adults, we find women's magazines filled with articles about parenting. You won't find any such articles in magazines which cater to men. Parenting is not part of my responsibility, you therefore continue to assume. It has nothing to do with being a man. It is irrelevant to being a success, you believe.

A few men were lucky enough to have had terrific dads. He played with you. He talked with you. He took you on special outings with him. He put his arm around your shoulder when you walked together. But most of us did not grow up with an involved father. Most of us did not grow up with an engaged father. For, unfortunately, your father was trapped in the role model which his father provided. We, in turn, often mimic our fathers' approaches.

The results of a survey published in the September 1991 issue of Harper's magazine reflect these attitudes. While thirty-one percent of Fortune 1000 companies offer paternity leave, only one percent of eligible men have taken advantage of it. Many men may not believe they can afford to take time off. But surely, more than one percent could weather the temporary financial deprivation, even if it were only for a brief period of time. Clearly, men want to go to work for powerful reasons having little to do with money.

Social barriers die hard, but institutional barriers to active fathering are gradually coming down. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, parents who work at companies which employ more than fifty persons can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to allow them to care for newborns. Undoubtedly, many mothers will take advantage of this dispensation. It remains to be seen how many men will do the same.

Companies should encourage men to take a more active role in parenting. The reality, however, is that many consider taking leave to be tantamount to "career suicide." People at the top should set an example. However, Redbook (June 1993) reported that when Catalyst, a New York City-based employment/research group asked personnel directors and CEOs how much paternity leave would be reasonable, sixty-three percent said "none."

For most men, work comprises the greatest part of their identity. Ask a man who has been laid off from his job how he feels. You will probably hear, "I feel like I'm not worth anything any-more." The workplace is where men have derived their self-esteem.

But the reality is that today you have greater freedom than ever to choose how involved a parent you will be. You are neither bound by traditional cultural expectations nor doomed to repeat the patterns laid down by your own father. You can redefine what fathering will mean for you. You can make fathering an important, stimulating, rewarding, and significant part of your ongoing life.

Twelve Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Spend More Time with Your Children

Parenting Is Difficult

Almost all parents will tell you that child rearing is much more difficult than they had anticipated. Before your first child's arrival, your fantasies involved playing with him or observing him proudly. The scenes were always pleasant, always gratifying. You did not anticipate colic, tantrums, "I hate you," defiance, disappointment, or purple hair.

While it is true that "the years fly by," when you are going through a taxing developmental period of your child's life, time can move very slowly. Whether it is the sleep deprivation and resulting crankiness you experience during your child's infancy or the anxiety you feel during your child's adolescent forms of rebellion, fathering is stressful as well as joyful. By the time your child leaves home forever, you will have made thousands of decisions affecting his or her life, and you will have agonized about whether those decisions were the right ones. Fathering does not occur naturally or easily. But you can learn to be more patient, more giving, more loving, more generous, and more forgiving than you ever thought you would be.

You Wait Too Long Before Becoming Involved

You should bond with your child even before he comes through his mother's birth canal. It can begin when you first put your hand or your ear to your wife's bulging abdomen, when you participate in childbirth classes, or when you view the ultrasound image of the fetus. Unfortunately, many men view infancy as a time of closeness between mother and child. They may not want to "interfere." Many men also feel terribly awkward handling a baby or involving themselves in the baby's natural functions. ("I don't change diapers!" or "I change diapers, but not if the baby has diarrhea!") You may believe that you can't feed her as well, dress her as well, burp her as well, or understand her cries as well as your wife can. Oftentimes, men do not view their children as fun until they can play and become involved in activities which the father enjoys.

The relative lack of early contact with your child has a circular effect. The older your child becomes without a bond having been established, the more awkward you and your child will feel when you are together. And the more awkward you feel together, the less you will want to engage each other again.

The more time you spend with your child, the more you will enjoy that time. You and your child will build familiarity, a closeness. In addition, you won't have to deal with your child's resentment because of the lack of time you have devoted to him. When a father infrequently plays with his child, the child's r

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