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What does it mean that so many men today are willing to make fatherhood a defining role in their life?

I often write about how fatherhood changes men. In fact I have a whole book on it! But it is an important awareness and understanding in our psychology as men that keeps me at it. In fact it may be one of the factors that may shape a more cooperative, caring and peaceful future for our children and perhaps the world. You may think I have high aspirations…I do, but I am not inflating how important it is to understand all that being a dad means in the world.

There has been much improvement in gender equality over the last 20 years. Yet, what men do still seems to carry a quality of “extra” importance. Unfortunately, many of our social and political institutions perpetuate this. When a dad changes a diaper it seems like a great act of involved parenting and what a good man he is!  Even though a mother can change 30 diapers a day and no one says diddle…  It seems that the culture says…”when a man does it, it is important”….

In the dads group I facilitate the theme of raising the status of parenthood for men is the focus. If the culture says what men spend their time doing is important…then if we are active participants in our children’s lives what does that say to our children…that they are important! I think this is the trend for us here in the USA,  to begin to re-prioritize what the value of family is. Why would this be happening?

I think we have come to the tail end of the Industrial Revolution’s benefits. That money and things generated by our 60 hour work weeks will lead to a meaningful life is in question.  That men believe “whoever dies with the most toys wins” or my work is my identity, seems to be more and more hollow in understanding what is worthwhile in life.

As the Women’s Movement supported women in the world of work there came a need and opportunity for men/dads to be involved in home life and the caring of our children. I think this social change has led to something extraordinary and profound for men.  Not all, but many men grow up believing they have to do it all on their own. No one can help and the “hallmark” of their masculinity is independence.

I remember, in my own psychotherapy, telling my analyst about some of the difficulties in my marriage. I ended my comments by saying “but I don’t want you think that I am just a needy guy”…at which he said “all of the needs you just expressed are what make you most human…you need to be able to depend on other people.”

If in our journey as men we get our normal need to depend on others “socialized” out of us on the alter of “being a man” how do we return to that most tender and human part of our selves?

It is my belief, and from my research it appears, fatherhood is one of the ways men discover or re-discover the deep masculine of their dependent and interdependent selves. Taking care of your child’s basic needs, feeding him/her and responding to her/his smiles and cries changes your whole relationship with the world. Nurturing and caring for our families allows us to begin to do that on a larger stage as we interact with the world.  Fatherhood connects us to a tenderness and generosity in a world that goes beyond our own needs. This is the big shift I see in men when they become dads. It is the power of our children to re-awaken in us the vulnerable and tender parts that the harshness of life can so often drown out.

It was only about 40 years ago that dads began attending the births of their children.  Now it is commonplace for the dad to be in the delivery room. The revolution has begun. Men now desire to be in the day to day life of their children and family right from the start. They no longer feel that “bringing home the bread” is their only role…they want to sit down at the table and “share the bread” with their family. As men struggle with the balance of work and family life….difficult as it may be…they begin to create a new possibility for not just their children and wives but for our society too.

Balancing work and family…how without paid family leave?

Welcome to …along with this blog and…I am dedicated to helping dads from pregnancy through the early years of parenting. The transition form “Man to Dad” is a challenging one. In my own life and research I have found…if you can share the journey with a few other “fellow travelers” it really helps!  The two results I have found in my work:

  1. Hearing how other expectant and new dads are dealing with becoming and being a dad helps normalize our own feelings.  We don’t feel so anxious or worried when we begin to hear other men talk about the same situations as ours and how it is effecting them.
  2. The dads who have been in the Fathers’ Forum talk about how much more enjoyment they find in the challenges of parenthood than do dads who have limited contact with other men during the early years of parenting.

So join in the conversation…..this weeks topic:

Who supports parents and families….How do we find a private solution to a public problem?

We live in a country (USA) that would have you believe…”we put families first” but if we scratch the surface of this claim we find that it is more rhetoric than reality. Certainly in this election year we are hearing many candidates trumpet…”I am for the American family.”  For our discussion: Consider this…if you put your child in childcare you get a tax credit.  If you decided, either you or your wife, to stay home..let’s say for the first year, no tax break. This is a social policy that says we value work more than parenthood. Suppose you received ½ of you or your wife’s last working salary as a tax credit if you stayed home the first year of your child’s life…would that make a difference?  What would that say about family policy for the USA?

“The United States has no mandatory paid family leave policy, making it one of just three countries in the world and the only country in the first-world to not mandate paid maternity leave for new mothers (Swaziland and Papua New).”

 Although this recent Video and article from the Huffington Post is directed to mothers it is of HUGE impact to us as fathers too! Watch this video……very powerful and upsetting too.

Balance work/career and family life/needs is no easy task. If we don’t get societal support what are the private solutions we need to try?

Don’t “dis” Big Bird…

Don’t “dis” Big Bird…
In the recent Presidential debate former Governor Mitt Romney said he would discontinue funds to the Public Broadcasting Systems. He said he liked Big Bird but didn’t feel the government should give subsides to PBS which is one of the funding sources for Sesame Street…Big Bird’s home.

Millions of children each year get much of the early childhood learning from the Sesame Street TV show. Because of its worldwide reach, with the show shown in over 120 countries, many with adapted regional versions, Sesame Street is considered the world’s largest early childhood educator. We know that many preschoolers’ learn their numbers, colors and shapes from Sesame Street, and are better prepared for kindergarten. This is a hugely successful program, supported in part by our tax dollars. Very big dividends for our kids to have this resource.
Since it is seen all over the world, Big Bird, may be the United States most successful ambassador.

Mission Statement of the US Department of State:
“Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.
American diplomacy in the 21st century is based on fundamental beliefs: our freedom is best protected by ensuring that others are free; our prosperity depends on the prosperity of others; and our security relies on a global effort to secure the rights of all. The history of the American people is the chronicle of our efforts to live up to our ideals. In this moment in history, we recognize that the United States has an immense responsibility to use its power constructively to advance security, democracy, and prosperity around the globe. We will pursue these interests and remain faithful to our beliefs.”

One of the best models of America’s Ideals is Big Bird…education is the foundation of democracy. Our ideals of equality, cooperation, fairness and holding your neighbors hand when they need help crossing the street…these are things that Big Bird practices everyday…all around the world. Most of the worlds children get to know the United States from Sesame Street and Big Bird.
Of all the subsides the United States government supports the good Big Bird creates for our children and “good work” in helping others all around the world is an unparalleled benefit to our country and the mission of who we are as Americans.

I think both Governor Romney and President Obama are good men. There are many personal stories of the people they have helped and the lives they have touched. The complexity and sophistication it takes to do the job as President of the United States is immense. Understand the role that Big Bird has, in both our domestic education policy and our international good will is no laughing matter. Millions of children all over the world come to know America by watching Big Bird on Sesame Street.

Why Become a Dad?

I am often contacted by men who are thinking about becoming fathers. With a degree of ambivalence and fear they ask me if I can help them sort out whether becoming a father is for them. More than any other decision we make in our lives the choice to have a child will forever shape the future of things to come.

I remember struggling about if I should become a father 33 years ago. I made a list of “pros” and “cons” of becoming a dad. I was very thoughtful and rational about what having a child may mean. I ultimately came to the conclusion that no matter how rational I was…this was decision that I would make from an intuitive and private place. It would challenge me and I had to ask myself what was my deepest desire in living this life. How could I have a meaningful life, what might I contribute to the world? How would this change the relationship with my wife, my friends our families. All complicated relationships.

Most of us go along with the events that unfold and try to make the most out of them. Trying to find the joy and pleasure in the day-to-day and the choices we have. I do this myself most of the time. But the possibility of becoming a dad pressed me to dig deeper inside myself and really attempt to understand what motivated my choice to, or not to become a dad.

In retrospect, at 28, I am not sure how much I really knew about myself, the world or life! Yet, I thought I did….and now looking back, (especially since my son just got married two weeks ago), there were forces greater than I understood influencing my decision to become a dad. In fact I don’t think I actually “made” a decision. As President O’bama said recently…”you didn’t build the roads and bridges” …the infrastructure of my life, my parents, grandparents, and our patterns of families have evolved out of many centuries of development. The influence of the “hard wiring” of what we do as humans may have been playing a part in all this.

As conscious as we could be, my wife and I decided that the greatest adventure we could share together would be to become parents. It truly has been and continues to be now, with our adult children…but trusting in what I couldn’t understand but knew in some deeper and non rational way helped me take the greatest “leap of faith” I could. Over the years I have come to understand things about myself…patience for sure…what it means to care for another person…how to understand the simple pleasures of going on walks and noticing the world at my feet…all made possible because of being a dad and having a little one to look out after…but who was really “teaching” who?

No one knows what is right for another person…you can have a wonderful, full and complete life without becoming a father. Each of us is different in the choices we need to make. Hopefully we find what we need inside ourselves to help guide us in what we may do with this “precious human life.”