I was thinking today about the burden that dads bear in our society today...
Dads are expected to be more involved with the caretaking of their child after so many years of being seen as the bread winner. This change doesn’t happen overnight. There are generations of momentum to work against. It takes time for the transition.
Men are sent mixed messages about being in touch with their emotions. They are supposed to be more emotional in this day and age and then also, if they are, they are seen as too feminine.
When dads do get in touch with their tender emotions, sometimes it’s for first time, and that can be challenging. The expectation is that Moms need support during this time but there isn’t enough emphasis put on the Dad’s need.
If you become more involved with your child but aren’t supposed to be emotional it can be very challenging, like swimming against a strong current. Often no one will know about how challenging being a father can be because emotions aren’t supposed to be expressed. If men do get in touch with their feelings and have intense emotional experiences during this time, there is a need for support.
I remember being with my wife during her labor and delivery and bawling my eyes out because I couldn’t bear her pain. I also remember bawling my eyes out in admiration of this incredible warrior, this woman completely in touch with her body. The experience seemed full of grace. I can’t imagine not expressing my feelings around the birth of my son.
I remember talking to a therapist about how I always felt exhausted, and overwhelmed those first three months of my son’s life. I felt I was never going to have a moment to myself again. I also remember feeling fear and anxiety about being a good enough father.
“Sometimes I hold him and he cries. Is there something wrong with me?” “Sometimes I can’t stop him from crying. I feel so powerless.”
“I don’t know what he wants right now. I’m a horrible dad. Oh my god. I’m going to be a horrible Dad.”
There were nights I would raise my fist in the air and aim a silent primal scream at God. You and me God. We’re having words. Enough. I’ve reached my capacity. There were times when neither my wife or I could soothe each other, and other nights holding Sam in the rocking chair at 2am, seeing the moon through the window, hearing the sound of crickets and crying because it was all so perfect. Through all of this I showed my emotions, asked for support, and got it. It’s horrifying to imagine not having received the support I needed.
Emotions are our ticket to the here and now and being a good parent is about being in the here and now. It’s important to understand what this transition to fatherhood means to many men. We need to support our new dads. When we do so, we also support their wives and children.
Mark Stelzner, MFT Intern, practices in Berkeley and San Francisco.