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Want to start a dads group?

When you think about becoming a father… huge a life change that is!  I can’t imagine going through all the challenges becoming a dad brought into my life and identity and soul without having a group of men to talk with.

It is Wednesday evening and we are not here to talk about the 49er’s or the “fiscal cliff” our discussion tonight  will focus on what our child taught us about being a father over the last two weeks. This courageous group of new dads, dads with kids under 5 years old, is having their bi-monthly Fathers’ Forum meeting. It’s carpenters, engineers, writers, psychologist, salesmen, all different careers, backgrounds and lives, but all going through the challenges of understanding who they are as men now that they have become a dad. The stereotype that “men don’t share their feelings” is obviously not true here; the dads have a lot to say and I struggle to bring our meeting to a close.

I think men don’t have the opportunity to have a place where the focus of the conversation is about the important changes and events in their lives as fathers. My 25 years of working with dads has proved to me that given the opportunity men can talk about very deep emotions and experiences candidly. That’s what the Fathers’ Forum is about.

Over 30 years ago when my son, Morgan was born, I was in a men’s group. Great group of guys and many of them I still know today. But being one of the first to have a child I didn’t feel that they were getting how hard it was for me.  I remember the conversation one night. I was going on about not sleeping, having a baby that was crying all night, a wife who was someone completely different than one month ago, yikes what was happening! Then the evening’s facilitator said  “Bruce you have talked a lot about becoming dad, but Jeff here has been going out with his girl friend for three months now, he things it is really serious”…”really serious” I said, “I am so far beyond really serious I can’t tell you how much trouble I am in!!!”  It was at that point I knew I needed to meet with some other dads…would they feel the same way as I do or am I just crazy?

I decided to find a few other men who had recently become dads to get together for some weekly meetings.  To find out I was not alone with these feelings of being overwhelmed, losing the life I had known and discovering a whole new way of being in the world was happening for them too!  Feeling frightened and scared and proud and in love with my son, in awe of my wife, confused about how I felt at work, trying to exist like I was in a sleep deprivation experiment, having all kinds of relatives descend on our lives, wow…..this was a lot…thank goodness I found a few guys who were going through it too…I wasn’t crazy!

This is how the Fathers’ Forum was born. I realized that becoming a dad was a “tipping point” in my life.  It pushes me into a need to redeem the very special friendships that come from sharing intense experiences with other men at an important time in life. I did not want to “go it alone.”  I later found in my research that special bonds are developed between men who share this time of early parenting.  It is a time we need a place where there is room for the soft, emotional self and the competitive, controlling part can take a step back.   A new inner world is emerging.   We are learning about new aspects of ourselves from our conversations.

Now after 25 years of groups and over a thousand men who have participated in my small office here in Northern California I hope to find a way to help other new dads start their own groups. I am not sure how to do this or what it may become. But I learned when I first became a father, that is how it goes sometimes.  I hope with a little tolerance for uncertainty I may find a way to do this. Want to help me change the world…one dad at a time?


Helping Children Cope With Trauma

Helping children cope with trauma.

As founder of the Fathers’ Forum I thought I would provide resources for helping with the recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Ever child and family is different. Everyone has their own inborn way of coping and integrating disturbing and tragic events. The age and understanding of every child and adult is unique.  Understand that if you are concerned about your own reaction or child’s reaction or anyone in your family, please reach out to the community mental health resources in your community to get help.

Aetna Behavioral Health Employee Assistance Program professionals are available now, regardless of whether a person is an Aetna member. Counselors answering phones have experience helping people through traumatic events. Individuals are welcome to contact their counselors for help, support or referrals for further assistance.  The number to call is (1-888-238-6232). The Aetna EAP line is available now and will stay open through January 14, 2013.  There is no charge for this service.

What is trauma:

Trauma is defined as “an experience outside the range of everyday human experience that creates higher and longer-than-normal stress responses in children when they personally experience, or witness someone else experience, actual or threatened death or injury or threat to themselves or another person.” As a result, they experience horror or terror. Traumatic occurrences cause individuals to feel trapped and helpless.

Traumatic experiences create physical changes in the brain and body. Trauma is different from normal fear due to the higher than normal stress that is experienced within the body. It is important to note that a trauma is “outside” the normal fears, disappointments and upsets that we may encounter. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School is profoundly disturbing. It has created a feeling of fear and helplessness for so many people. It is a completely unbelievable event that so many young and innocent children could be killed.

How we as adults and parents try and make sense of such a tragedy is important in helping our children. Here are a couple of resources I found at Aetna that you may find helpful.

Helping children cope with school violence.

Recovering from trauma and loss.

Here are resources for helping you help your children and families with the events at Sandy Hook.

Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting
From the American Psychological Association

Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do/How Parents Can Help
From the National Institute of Mental Health

Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event
From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Children and the News
From American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Tips for Talking to Children about the Aurora Shooting
From American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Coping With Unexpected Events: Depression and Trauma
SEE SECTION:  Helping and Talking with Children
From the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)


Christmas…can we make the holiday season meaningful?

By Bruce Linton, Founder of the Fathers’ Forum Programs

The holiday season brings up a variety of feelings for families, from joy to dread. The pressures of our consumer society can make this a tense time of year. Crowded stores and traffic jams all add to the flurry of activity that often pushes us to the limits of our patience. We find ourselves asking the question, Is it really worth it? Could we do without this “holiday madness?” Couldn’t we just skip the whole thing?

It is up to us as parents (and us dads) to rescue Christmas from its commercialism and restore it as one of the special days in our children’s lives. We can help create a special time of year to celebrate children, which I believe was the original intent of this holiday.

For most children, Christmas is not a religious holiday. Children don’t associate a jolly fat man in a red suit with any religious symbolism. As my daughter once said, it is quite exciting to have a tree in the house. When our children were young, the surprise on their faces when they found their presents under the tree made it clear how special the experience was for them. Read more

Fatherhood and Patience…(part 5 of 5)

If you have been following along in this five part blog post I hope you may have gained some insight into how we as men pressure ourselves with the need to be “in charge” and “under control” and how that may lead to impatience. If a little bit of “consciousness raising” has occurred and you are a little more aware of your feeling states as a dad…great. If you begin to see the process of becoming a more patient dad has a lot to do with being impatient and understanding you can make another choice of action in a tense situation. We all, at times, in our attempt  to be good dad’s fall short and that should be nothing to feel shame about (a little embarrassment isn’t bad) and we are all on a continual path of development….Here is a poem about a moment where it all shifted for me.

The Window

I was getting ready to go to work

to give a lecture.

I am putting my notes

in my briefcase

when the ball comes through the window,

the glass flying,

a million tiny knives all over the living room.

In that moment, I feel my anger begin to grow:

my frustration at this house,

never being organized enough,

the expense of getting the window fixed,

the temporary solution of living with cardboard

or an old piece of plywood,

thoughts of how will we

clean up all this glass–

my anger grows as I know I will be late

for my presentation.

I hear your small 4 ½ year old feet

running up the steps,

I see your small arm push

open the door,

your eyes look up to mine

moist, searching.

I take you in my arms:

“Are you hurt?”

It’s o.k.,

it’s only a window,

it can be replaced.

What’s important is that you are not hurt,

it’s only glass,

you are my son, I love you.

Let’s get the broom.”

Each moment of fatherhood is chance for self reflection and insight. It is the gift our children bring to us with all their needs, demands and emotions. I hope you will take the opportunity to let your own emotional life grow with your child’s development.

In this five part series for us as dads it also contains another possibility. If you notice how you regulate your emotions it will become a model for your child as he/she grows and develops. I know that the more patient I became over the years with my own children the easier it was for them to unfold their own personalities.