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Fear and Fatherhood

by Bruce Linton

The HUGE life change of becoming a father is the greatest challenge we face as men. Nothing can make us feel so overwhelmed and yet also so satisfied as being a dad. Having “peak experiences” like hiking in the Himalayas, traveling penniless through Europe, living on a Greek island, attending the Monterey Pop Festival, meeting Frank Zappa, studying with Chogam Trungpa Rinpoche, all were enlightening.  But now in my late 60’s I can see that being a father was more profound and I learned more about myself than any of these wonderful adventures taught me.

Our most difficult challenges, our worst failures, our most uncomfortable situations—if we don’t give up, they may provide us with the deepest insights into who we are. Through the struggles of anxiety and waves of uncertainty we tend to prepare ourselves for the future. When we succeed (and nothing wrong with success!) we tend to relax,  we don’t push forward in our lives as much as when we are challenged. Fatherhood is the process of committing yourself to becoming a Zen master of sorts…or maybe a Jedi knight! You learn to live in the present moment. You may even learn (or just try to survive) living moment to moment, especially through the first year of parenthood.

This is not just keeping a positive attitude. It is about dipping deeper into the pool of self understanding. Our task is to let our children teach us about ourselves. Patience, kindness, boundaries,  these are some of the things our children have in store for us to learn, leading us to empathy. We learn to understand our children’s experience separate from our own.  How deeply can your child teach you to love?

In the first years of our children’s lives we are often in a sleep deprivation experiment. We also have concerns about money and work-family balance. We question how our relationship with our wives will change now that we are parents. We try and understand the role of sexuality in our marriages. Will our friends and family understand what we are going through as new parents? Will our wives understand our journey as a dad?  Can we understand all the changes our wives are going through?

In the Men’s Group for Fathers that I facilitate at the Fathers’ Forum we all recognize these questions. The dads know that even though we may understand these challenges differently we all have to work through the same issues…each of us in our own way. When we as men can discuss these concerns together… it normalizes our experience.  These questions may not make things easier but it helps to know that we all encountering similar difficulties.  You are not the first man to feel  fear at becoming a father.  Sometimes we all quake in our boots (a little!)  when we begin this adventure.

For more information about our dads group or for “fatherhood coaching” contact Bruce.