Do you wonder why fatherhood is so underrated as compared to motherhood? There would be many who will be advising on how to be a good dad to the expectant fathers, but do they really address the challenges what might come in parenting? They are carers, role models, partners, companions, moral guides, teachers, playmates. They make a crucial contribution to family life through the time and money they contribute to the household, the support they provide to mothers, through their daily contact with their children; but mostly because they love their children passionately and remain loyal to them for life. As a child who wouldn’t want that?
But fatherhood takes practice just like any other skill, mostly we forget that the only reason we know about cars or football or computers is that we have spent long hours thinking about, talking about, using and dismantling, pushing buttons, making mistakes, making them crash (cars & computers, of course!), following and reading about and (if you are anywhere near the average man) obsessing about them. If we spent as much time thinking about our children we would be Einstein Dad’s.
Modern Capitalism (just like old-fashioned Capitalism) promotes those divisions of labor which maximize productivity. This means that they get to see less of their children. Many of them caught up in the business of making their way in the world do not even realize what they are missing until it is too late. However more men are challenging this: David Beckham to his credit very publicly put his child before his training schedule at Manchester United. Explaining why he missed training before the Leeds game, Beckham said: ‘‘I put my duty as a father and the health of my son ahead of my football. I think I would always do that. Any parent would, in the same circumstances. Being involved is being involved whether you work at a job or work at being a father: men who are closely involved in being fathers are more, not less, likely to be successful at work – men who care, care about their work as well as their children – it’s not an either / or situation.”
Fatherhood is Challenging Yet So Special
Pregnancy can be a time of change, great stress, or even crisis for expectant, first time fathers. Midwives and health visitors need to be alert to signs of depression or anxiety: 1 in 10 fathers are significantly depressed 6 weeks after the birth. There are a number of things that can be done – these are suggestions to health visitors but can equally be used by anyone in contact with new fathers.
Meaning of fatherhood is much complex than it appears. Being a good father is actually tough that a father cannot do this without the desired support from the mother. After birth, Fathers need time, support and encouragement to develop bonds with the child. They often feel left out of childcare because, just as with first time mothers, they don’t have the skills. If the expectation is that the mother will be the one to develop these skills then the father can begin to feel useless, and resentful of the attention the child is getting that he once received. Mothers are not ‘natural’ experts – left in charge of babies, men and women develop skills at exactly the same rate.
The attitude of ‘Well, why doesn’t he grow up and take some responsibility for looking after the mother?’ is not helpful if he doesn’t know how to. He may be experiencing a variety of emotions: confusion, anxiety, helplessness. When men have these feelings (which quite often they don’t acknowledge they have even to themselves) they can react with anger which may take the form of withdrawal or indifference or being excessively demanding or trying to reinforce the status quo prior to the birth.
An example of this is holding on to rigid rules and the rationales behind those rules: ‘I always go out on Friday night – I need it after a hard week’s work.’ Often their resentment at feeling left out does not allow them to feel the empathy they should with their partner and to recognize that the workload in the home has gone up significantly with the arrival of the child.
The woman by contrast, who may also be unsure of herself and her skills, will often concentrate on developing them as a way of coping and because she feels it is expected of her. Her attention to the child will leave the father out, reinforcing his sense of uselessness.
It is hard to recognize the fear that lies behind the suppressed anger or apparent indifference of fathers. They don’t know what to do and feel unsupported. The male response is to try to regain control by pretending nothing is happening or reinforcing habitual behavior: business as usual. Or perhaps spending more time with their mates where they might expect more sympathy. This male bonding while helpful up to a point can become destructive if it takes him too far away from his partner and the baby.
It might help to offer an opportunity to talk by engaging him in an activity – changing nappies may be a way of helping him develop skills with the child at the same time or if this seems
difficult, sorting the washing – a domestic chore that will be escalating.
Unless you have got your head under the bonnet of a car or your arm around a rugby ball or your brain around some complicated problem it’s hell being a man. Instead of having their feelings acknowledged they are often suppressed as with the almost too common to mention ‘big boys don’t cry’ routine. Well if they are not going to cry when something hurts them physically or emotionally what are they going to do?
It may be possible to help him to some recognition of what he feels by offering an explicit acknowledgement of how he appears.
‘You seem sad about having to go to work every day and not seeing your daughter/son.’
‘I notice that you appear to be angry when you are making the feed/holding your child ‘
‘You seem tense.’
‘If I had a new child and wasn’t used to holding him/her then I think I would feel a bit scared/unsure/nervous.’
Obviously these will need to be adapted to the situation that you find yourself in with the father – what is important is that you pay him some attention – thinking about these questions helps to think about the person before you. It is not easy to be around someone who is resentful or scared AND making it difficult to get through to them by being ‘male’ , but for the ultimate good of the family it is worth trying.
If you can be connected with someone even with difficult feelings, you are more likely to be able to understand what they are likely to do than if you are disconnected from them. People who are cut off or cut themselves off because they don’t know any other route become dangerous. We know men have this potential to a greater degree than women because that is how they are brought up: to be distancing and competitive. Having a child with someone is not the time to be exercising these characteristics. Those in contact with men who are new fathers can help them find a better way.
Don’t run mum, make his fatherhood memorable
Men often go about things differently from women – it is useful to stop and consider if there is some value in his method of doing things. There may not be of course but what needs to be recognized is that men are often not given the credit for trying because they are apparently not doing it very well.
Give him some credit, listen to the logic behind what he is doing and make some suggestions. Consider whether telling him what to do is effective or not – sometimes it may be: some men like to be told, it makes them feel more secure. Others don’t – it’s like a rag to a bull.
Do What Need To Be Done:
‘I feel a bit worried when you throw her up in the air that way. Babies have delicate necks and she might get hurt. Why don’t you try holding her this way.’
‘Look, you’re doing it all wrong, this is the way to hold a baby.’
Either of these approaches might work or neither of them. There are no formulas for understanding men any more than there are for understanding women. It might be useful to read some of the pop psychology books: Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand or John Gray’s Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. You might get some ideas but don’t rely on them – rely on your own skills and intuitions. Remember if you feel nervous it may be because you are experiencing hostility from some frightened man who is using aggressive, controlling tactics to try to pretend to be Mr. Cool and Logical.
Men are supposed to be logical (unlike women who are supposed to be emotional) and when cornered try to use it because it makes them feel better and staves off the fear of being wrong. I use the term logic loosely here of course since most men have little more idea of what logic might be than a whippet. Probably less. What being logical often means is arguing, not shifting an inch from what they think and not showing any feelings or if they must, resorting to anger and shouting. This is not useful.
Also read: Motherhood: Pre-Natal & Post-Natal Care