FATHERS TO BE
What does it mean to be a father? What are our expectations of men as fathers, are those expectations being met, and what does that say about men and masculinity? Even as recently as thirty years ago, the answers to such questions would have been considered obvious to most people in Britain. The father's task was to provide for his family, to be the authority in the home and perhaps occasionally to help the mother by entertaining the children. He would not be expected to have an intimate relationship with his children or to provide either physical or emotional support to them. In fact he would not be expected to have a great deal to do with his children and as long as he provided for his family materially and maintaining dicipline within the home he would be considered a good enough father.
But during the past thirty years a change has been taking place in this public definition of fatherhood. It is no longer considered acceptable for a father to be a distant and peripheral figure, emotionally detached and uninvolved with actual childcare. These days a father is expected to take on a degree of practical responsibility for childcare, to show sensitivity, warmth and caring for his children, and to share authority within a collaborative relationship with their mother. He is expected to nurture as well as provide, to both love and show his love for his children, to engage with the daily grind of parenthood alongside earning an income. The cultural meaning of fatherhood in Britain and much of the west is undergoing a process of change.
Even for those men who wish to be engaged and responsible fathers in a collaborative relationship with mothers, living up to these expectations is hard and often a constant struggle. On an emotional level, few men are prepared for parenthood, often lacking in nurturing skills, emotionally immature, and finding the inherent vulnerability of an infant and young child hard to tolerate. On the material level, neither the public nor the private sector are supportive to a mix of childcare and employment. Instead many men are faced with having to challenge the prevailing employment culture that puts loyalty to employers before family and children. Conditions of employment that support men's involvement with childcare have to be fought for at present by individual men on an individual basis.”
Britain was the last country in the European Union to give fathers the right to take paternity leave. And the measures that have been introduces are weaker than else. British men also work the longest hours in Europe, averaging 47 hours a week, and one father in seven works more than 50 hours. Another recent report suggests that nine out of ten children think their fathers are away form home too much. And perhaps the most startling statistic of all is that half of all fathers spend less than five minutes a day in one to one contact with their children.
In a survey looking at men’s involvement in antenatal care, conducted by the National Childbirth Trust a couple of years ago, around a third of the men stated, they would have liked to have been more involved in their partners pregnancy care but found it difficult and inconvenient due to work commitments and not being allowed time away from work to attend. Also they did not know whether it was useful or necessary to attend antenatal appointments or whether they would be made welcome.
Jack O’Sullivan, co-founder of Fathers Direct ( national information centre for fatherhood, promoting close and positive relationships between men and their children, www.fathersdirect.com ) suggests that fathers should definitely be involved in the antenatal care and attend appointments like the first scan. “ This is the time when parents are coming to term with the pregnancy and the scan is the first opportunity to see that the baby is really on the way. The mother can feel the changes in her body but to the father it’s not obvious for some time. The scan can bridge that gap “
He also talks about the importance of finding an antenatal class that both future parents can attend.
“Joining a class is very helpful because you learn quite a lot but, most importantly, for a couple of hours a week the two of you go there because you are going to be parents and it gives you the chance to focus on it and speak to other dads about it. This makes the man realise that he’s not on his own. “
The information on the fathersdirect website is clear, honest and very supportive of both men and women. You can find a lot of practical advise for all stages of fatherhood and they are always up to date with current topics.
Something that will come up for most men either in the time preparing for conception or during pregnancy is the wondering about how they will be as fathers. What are the expectations of this new role as a future parent ?
Patrick Houser who runs the organisation Fathers-To-Be ( www.fatherstobe.org ) is very clear about the message that: “ Men who respond to impending fatherhood by reflecting on the way they were parented produce happier children. “When Patrick Houser became a grandfather for the first time it re-kindled his interest in parenting and he began to look into what had changed since the time he himself became a father. He found that there was still much work to be done in supporting a new way of fathering/ parenting.He ended up spending 9 months ( ! ) writing a very inspiring little book called” Fathers-To-Be. A road map for the Transition to Fatherhood “. Hugely recommended reading.
I will let Paul Wolflight have the last word : “ The foundation for a collaborate relationship as parents is a relationship of equals as partners, based on trust love and mutual respect. Our partners need our support and encouragement, both in the home and in the workplace, before any children are born as well as after. And the truth is we need the same from them. For ideally our children need at least two parents who not only love them but also love each other. “
For further inspiration have a look at some of the following websites :
www.fathers.com ( American National Centre for Fathering )
www.fathersforum.com ( The founder of this website is a marriage and family therapist and author of the book: “ Finding time for Fatherhood “ . There is also a lovely quote :
“ One hundred years form now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, the kind of car I drove but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child “
www.HomeDad.org.uk Some men decide to use the time of pregnancy and early infancy and childhood to “ step of “ the career ladder and become home dads.
Couples are settling down and having children later, so there are more woman in well paid jobs and more fathers prepared to organise their work life around the family. In a society where we have many second time around parents it is not unusual that both woman and men often feel a strong need to work less and be more available for their children. They have already had an experience of a how fast those early years go and how special they are.
www.workingwithmen.org Unique best practices and services related to men and boys.
And even more inspiration from some of the following books written by men :
TOP FATHERHOOD TIPS FOR BIRTHCARE PROFESSIONALS by Patrick Houser
(Take this information along to your midwife)
Welcome! This is a very important element for a father. Using the word welcome and demonstrating it through your conversations and actions gives him the experience that he is included and important during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.
Welcoming means ......
A WORD TO PREGNANT FATHERS By David B. Chamberlain
Fathers are pregnant too! Few people acknowledge this marvelous fact of life and few books attempt to explain it.
Becoming a father is a life-changing adventure, and not necessarily an easy one. Fatherhood raises all sorts of questions and takes you back to your own childhood and the quality of your experiences with your father. If your relationship with your father was good, you will be propelled through pregnancy by rich memories and eager anticipation. If your relationship was unsatisfactory, then you may have some work to do. Pregnancy can be your wake-up call to resolve old issues and choose the type of father you want to be to your child.
Fortunately, the journey from conception to birth takes time--exactly what is needed to awaken deep-down feelings and to learn to share needs, anxieties, and hopes. Fortunately, too, babies can start working their magic on dads long before they are born. The growing baby in the womb pushes things steadily forward, transforming a woman into a mother, a man into a father, and a couple into a family.
During the 266 incredible days of pregnancy, the mystical connections between family members become tangible: the baby depends on the mother who depends on the father who depends on the love of wife and baby. Life becomes circular, continuous, and transforming. Fatherhood will enlarge you!
Fathers are desperately needed. Too often, however, men do not realize how needed they are. Sweeping through our cities and towns is a crippling plague: the “vanishing father” epidemic. Each year, as many as 30% of all babies are born fatherless. In some larger cities, as many as half are born to a father who has disappeared! Under these circumstances, many of the mothers left behind are demoralized and give birth prematurely to low-birthweight babies who are languishing in a troubled womb. Their future is no brighter, for they are subject to a higher than average rate of mortality in infancy and face a strong likelihood of physical, emotional, social, and economic problems throughout life. That is how badly fathers are needed.
Fathers make a huge difference to mothers and babies both during pregnancy and at birth. Any man who has been there is forever touched and changed. He bonds in a profound way to his partner and to the new human being their lovemaking has called into being. The presence of a willing and comfortable father at birth diminishes the mother’s perception of pain, decreases her use of drugs, increases her stamina, and helps her reveal her true maternal power--perhaps for the first time.
In whatever environment you choose for the big event, be prepared to slip into your own fatherly trance, absorbed in the rhythms of the laboring mother and being a sustaining, supportive presence. This will be a new kind of labor for you both. Your purpose is to be there for her while her purpose is to do the work of bringing the baby down through the birth canal and out for that first incredible face-to-face meeting.
No one is ever fully prepared for the riveting encounter with an infant’s penetrating, knowing eyes. After an awed silence, you may spontaneously begin talking to your newborn, feeling a bit foolish for thinking that this little one can actually understand what you are saying. But don’t let that stop you; talk on! The latest scientific studies indicate that babies are much more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined. Bypassing language and reading your mind directly, your baby may very well capture the gist of your message. At the very least, having heard your voice for the past five or six months, yet having no idea what you look like, your baby will search the room for your voice and study your face with immense curiosity. Baby eyes are ready to focus on whoever comes into that intimate space within a foot or 18 inches from their own eyes.
Seeing you at last, your baby may actually imitate your facial expressions. Displays of happiness, sadness, or surprise on your face may be returned by your child, establishing an unexpected dialog between you. Stick out your tongue or open your mouth wide, and your baby may do it too. And, if the birth experience was especially good, your baby may even reward you with an unforgettable smile!
Fatherhood beckons. Use pregnancy as a time for practice in building a strong relationship that will last a couple of lifetimes--yours and your baby’s.
“ It is not so strange that I love you with my whole heart, for being a father is not a tie which can be ignored…This tie is the source of my consideration for your immature minds, a consideration which causes me to take you often into my arms. This tie is the reason why I regularly fed you cake and gave you ripe apples and fancy pears. This tie is the reason why I used to dress you in silken garments and why I could never endure to hear you cry. “
Sir Thomas More, writer and statesman, in a letter to his children,
In this section you will find articles and comments mostly by and for men.
The introduction includes some good quotes and references by men, who via book, articles or websites share their thoughts and experiences about what it is to become a father.
THE JOURNEY TO FATHERHOOD - By Maya Morgan
Echoing the introductory quote from Sir Thomas More…. here is a small editorial snippet from Paul Wolflight who writes for the Achilles Heel – the radical Men’s magazine (www.achillesheel.freeuk.com ) :
“I think that it would be true to say that being a father has both challenged and changed me more that anything else in my adult life. More than therapy, more than my partners, more than friends ( and enemies ) more than politics, education or non-parental work. For although all of the above have affected me in various ways, being a father has influences my responsibility and my attitude to each of them, it has pervaded all my relationships ever since.“