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Preparing for Father’s Day

Preparing for Father’s Day, (preparing for fatherhood)

What is the consequence of valuing business and financial success above all else? In its worst form it puts profits way ahead of people’s welfare. Examples of this would be the marketing of cigarettes, probably nuclear power plants and certainly the safe use of fossil fuels and chemicals to treat our crops. But what does this have to do with preparing for Father’s day?

In my work and research with expectant and new dads this is what I have found. As men become fathers, and particularly in the early years of parenting, a profound change in perspective occurs. It is really a new way of understanding a man’s role in the “greater good” of life. It is a development where what the expectant or new father does takes on a larger meaning to him. He thinks about what the world will be like for his child. I call this the “community phase” of development. Expectant and new dads report they become aware that they want their child to grow up in a safe, healthy and caring place.

What “awakens” in the man as he becomes a dad is this sense of relationship for participating in the world in a way which will promote the best possible place for his child to live. Not in all men, but in most, it means re-examining some of his habits, choices and consequences of how he is living. In preparing and becoming a father he sees the importance of the community and the environment he is living in…and he wants it to be the best it can be for his child!

This is a new sense of a nurturing masculine. It appears to me it is almost an instinctually driven sense of self that emerges as his child is born. A nurturing masculine is developing. It is this new quality of caring that starts with his own child but radiates out into the world that may have profound effects on the next generation and beyond.

For an interesting take on how one man re-examined his life at this juncture check out David Lauer’s commentary for NPM Marketplace.

New research study reveals biological changes in men when they become fathers

In a recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences it appears male testosterone levels are lowered after the birth of a child. It appears, as men spend more time caring for their children, their levels of testosterone decrease. From my reading of the article it appears that a reduction in our testosterone allows us to be less aggressive and more emotionally available to form attachments with our children. 

Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University commented on the study, “The real take-home message is that male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men.”

For a short synopsis of the study read Pam Belluck from the NY Times published September 12th, 2011.

 

 

Making the transition to fatherhood

As parents, time is our most valuable resource, our most precious commodity. Think about it: we work all our lives so we can retire; in other words, so we can do what we want with our time. The way we define, or spend our time, defines who we are and what we value.

Our society sets values on what we do with our time. I have always been offended by the policy in the United States that if you work and put your kids in childcare, you get a tax credit. But, if you stay at home with your children or work part time there is no tax credit. What we say in the U.S. is that we value only your “time” spent working. How deep the message is in our country that parenting is not a priority.

We do not need to be locked in a battle between time spent working or time spent parenting. Both work time and family time sustain us in very important ways. We gain unique satisfactions from both. And there are practical matters to consider as well: we need money to live and our children are only little for such a short time. How will we prioritize our choices?

As fathers how we choose to prioritize our time is very difficult. The undercurrent in our society is still that our identity as men is linked to our work. Although this is changing, the esteem men feel around their careers is still rewarded financially and in status more than their time spent parenting. Also it is still accepted that the money a man makes is the way he is “supportive” to his family.

Most of the expectant and new fathers I work with are terribly conflicted by wanting to spend time with their young children and the financial pressures. Even when both parents work, dads, as well as moms want more time with their young children. I think we have a much larger social problem then we are aware of in terms of the emotional cost to both parents and young children when it comes to “time” in the early years of parenthood.

From my perspective as a Family Therapist, it is easy to understand that the changes couples and babies go through in the first year of life depends on having the necessary “time” to form the attachments that will normally occur. Yet, we do little as a society to “protect” this time for parents or children. Pressures mount quickly for parents to get back to work. I am not saying that every couple should stay home with their new baby. What I am proposing is that, especially in the early years, there is a need for flexibility in regards to time, so that fathers, mothers and baby can feel they have enough time to get to know each other. It takes time to come to a personal understanding of what parenthood and family life means for each of us as individuals.

View a short video on “Making the Transition to Fatherhood”