Re-Imaging The Fathers Presence in the Family

f28b09355674486765eeTraditionally fathers were only there for the extremes.

The traditional American version of Father would be a man who worked all day and when he come home his child was overjoyed to see him. Perhaps he played with the child for a short while and then it’s dinner, bath, and off to sleep. If, during the day, the child or adolescent got into some major trouble it was always, “Wait until your father gets home!” and Dad would be there to give a lecture or just add to the seriousness of the situation by providing a weight that mom seemingly couldn’t. Of course there were also fun outings, vacations, religious observations, etc.

But dads weren’t there for the mundane.

Some theorists feel that in the traditional home children were so awed by their fathers because they left. They would go out into this yet-undiscovered-world and then return to Me. The kids were fascinated by this: “Mom, well, she’s always here. She’s amazing, mind you, couldn’t do with out her, but Dad—he’s got this whole other thing going on for himself.”

Today, many dads are much more involved, some by choice and some by necessity. In Mad Men days (and in the following decades) mom’s were staying home much more, but that dual income became much more important as the years went on. Many men over those decades also felt that they wanted to find a way to be more involved in their kids’ lives and even if mom stayed home they were determined to not just be there for the extremes.

But it’s exhausting.

The Default Dad

Those roles were tiresome and annoying, but they let you know what was expected. There wasn’t so much questioning and communicating, compromising and adjusting. Roles were clear whether you liked them or not. Not unlike your job.

Whether you wanted something on your plate or not you still knew what was what. Maybe you could delegate, but you were just more clear on what you had to get done and what was someone else’s responsibility.

Another challenge for dads these days is that you’ve lost your Default. Most men I work with talk about being raised in a family with that traditional father discussed above. The nine-to-fiver who they waited for for dinner who soon after said goodnight and with whom they wouldn’t get to spend any real time together unless there was a family event planned on Saturday night.

Dad’s today can’t rely on their Default Idea of Father.

When we’re stressed, overworked, and tired we automatically go on Default mode. Usually that’s the How to Be a Dad method that we witnessed every day while growing up. It’s hard to create your own path on your best day and if you’ve spent a day arguing with your boss or clients, if you had a particularly upsetting commute, and if you didn’t get any sleep the night before, you may even resent that the Default mode is not the option you want. Especially if you’re on your first child. Then it’sall unchartered territory.

Taking Stock this Father’s Day

We don’t always take time to reflect on how things have changed for us and how being a different father than we had modeled for us is not simple. It takes diligence, courage, and a willingness to make and learn from mistakes. And, of course, your parenting changes for each child you have because they come with a whole different set of emotional, and sometimes physical, needs that need to be addressed.

This Father’s Day after you’ve read your home made card (still construction paper in the shape of a tie?) and opened up your gift I hope you give yourself a few moments to take stock of all that you’ve done and continue to do to create this new role of Father.

Examine how it’s going for you. Where could you get some additional support—your partner, friends, a counselor, or maybe your own dad? Think too about what you do well—what do you like about yourself as a dad?

Also, always be thinking about what kind of father (or mother) you are helping your kids become.

justinlioipicture1-225x300Justin is a Brooklyn based psychotherapist who works with men, specifically with fathers, helping them make the often challenging transition to becoming dads. He started out as an actor who made his living teaching Music Together, an early childhood music program. Following that he obtained his Master’s in Social Work from New York University. You can read more about Justin here.

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