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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.