Men search to become real fathers
My father, like most men of his generation, knew little about being a dad. He came home late on weekdays. He spent his evening hours commuting home or at a part-time teaching job. On weekends, he paid bills. Sunday mornings, he and I would drive to the local bakery—together we would buy brightly colored Danish pastries for brunch. It was one of the few times during the week that I spent time alone with my Dad.
We spent so little time together. Each moment, however mundane, felt special to me.
Our talk, at the dinner table, was about school or activities. We had no language for feelings. As a young child, when my father was holed up in his study paying bills, I hid under his desk, secretly soaking up his company.
When I became a Dad in the early 1980’s, I wanted to have a deeper, more daily connection with my children than my father had with me. I wanted to spend time with them, come to know them and to be more involved with their lives. Despite working full time, I made time to participate in their daily activities. It was one of the most gratifying decisions of my adult life. The result—my adult daughters and I have a close relationship.
Today, men are still struggling to find a voice for their male experience as fathers. They want their children to be able to communicate and connect with them. For the first time in history, men have enough leisure time to examine their own fathering. In the past, Dads were typically competent and capable at work, but emotionally and physically remote. Daughters missed their fathers, too. But their sons thirst for a worthy role model to fashion themselves after.
As two working parents become the norm, men and women are increasingly pulled between the demands of work and the desire to spend meaningful time with their children. Without modern role models, men must invent themselves emotionally.
Men frequently struggle the most in their intimate relationships. Lacking fullness in the world of feelings, men are often unable to express the emotional currents of their lives. Most men, when confronted with intense feelings in their relationships fall back to familiar ground—the flight or fight response. This instinctual response works well when confronted by a physical challenge. But in close relationships, men need words and actions that convey feeling, meaning, and nuance.
Tips for men in our quest to become better fathers:
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Too often, when men don’t know what to do or don’t feel capable, they do nothing. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in your relationships with your children. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and share your own personal experiences.
- Take the time to listen and learn from your children. Yes, we have much to learn from our children who can help us be better dads. Take the time to listen to what your kids have to say about you. They spend a lot of time observing our behavior.
- Avoid the tendency to lecture your children. As men, we often think that giving “advice” is how to connect with loved ones. Our family wants us to share our feelings and experiences without a lecture. Children stop listening to our lectures at a young age.
- Become the father that you want to be. Without great role models, we need to invent ourselves and be the Dad we wanted to have.
Father’s Day creates an opportunity for our children to celebrate their relationship with their Dads. It’s also an opportunity for us to ask our children, our partners, and ourselves— “How can we do even better?”