We could be rushing off to school,
but we slow the moment down
The opportunities for fathers to participate in the early years of their children’s lives appear to be becoming more important to men today. In the father’s group I facilitate, many of the men comment on how they never had any close contact with their own fathers, and how that has made them painfully aware of how important being present in their children’s lives is. Others express that given the opportunity to choose between potential career advancement or spending time with their children, being with their kids feel like the more creative option.
The most profound and complicated event in a man’s life is becoming a father. It is also the least understood and, until recently, the least researched topic in the study of adult development. No life transition—not getting married, changing jobs, moving, or completing educational goals—will have as long-lasting an effect on a man’s sense of purpose as becoming a parent.
When I first became a father 34 years ago, I thought I was prepared for fatherhood. I had completed my training as a Family Therapist and was well educated in the stages of the family life-cycle. But I was not prepared for the deep and powerful reorganization of my identity that I would experience.
Parenting is hard. Balancing work and family is hard. Kids are kids. Our families are
not accessories to our lives or objects we can control completely. And if we want to be the sort of parents to raise children of character and integrity, we have to unselfishly give a great deal of ourselves to the project.
One of the lasting changes that came out of the 1960’s was the Women’s Movement. What women began as a revolution, however, has become an evolution. Both women and men are continuing to move away from traditionally defined gender roles. While these role changes have perhaps been more visible for women, men are moving at their own pace towards new possibilities. The changes in role expectations are opening up a new world for men who want to be fathers. The egalitarianism that is now possible among couples allows men to express their deep desire and ability to nurture and care that was previously the object of social disapproval. Men are beginning to feel that they have a choice between spending time at work and taking time to be with their children while they grow up. Men who were able to take advantage of this possibility began to report a very deep feeling of satisfaction as well as personal growth, which they experienced by being with and caring for their babies. As other men viewed this new role-making behavior and began to hear men recount the peak experience of being present at their children’s birth, the notion of becoming a father began to take on new meaning.