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Becoming a father

In some ways the public problem we have — that we don’t provide enough support for families — must be resolved in a private way. Each of us, as a parent and as part of a couple, needs to find the way to create the work–family balance that can sustain our families emotionally as well as financially. We as fathers need to support each other in parenthood. We dads must give each other the encouragement to take risks both emotionally and financially in order to be more integrated in our families.

As dads and men we need to examine our desires and expectations. We are socialized to believe self-worth is dominated by our relationship to careers, and then we have a conflict when we become fathers and find ourselves wanting to be part of our children’s lives. More and more men are choosing to be fathers, often making  financial sacrifices to be involved in family life. We need to find ways to be nurturing and involved fathers while making important contributions in the workplace. We need a new definition of our work culture. This is especially difficult in today’s economy.

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 depend on having the necessary time to form the important early attachments. 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 so that fathers, mothers and babies can have enough time to get to know each other. It takes time to understand what parenthood and family life means for each of us. In choosing our priorities we make sacrifices, but the sacrifice is easy if we recognize the gain. Fathers are being sold a bill of goods whenever we are told that our work will give us the entire fulfillment we need in life. We are now discovering that we need to feel connected with our children and families to be truly content.

We are coming to understand as fathers that our relationships with the important people in our lives — especially our children — are of paramount importance to feeling good about ourselves and feeling that our lives have meaning.