The role of being a father is considerably more layered and multi-dimensional than the stereotypes suggest. Spend half a day with first-time, expecting fathers and you will witness an emotional roller coaster somewhere between a Hulk rage, the last moments of The Dark Knight, and Iron Man 3 [you know, where RDJ wants his tuna sandwich]. Seriously, the changes that men go through when approaching fatherhood, and after, is something worthy of scientific analysis. Luckily, many scientists have taken the challenge. For instance, the University of Michigan found—similarly to mothers—dads experience many hormonal changes during the pregnancy too. For any who have been a father with sleepless nights, hunger cravings, and fog-brained before the baby was born know this truth! I personally have witnessed this first hand, and second hand, and probably third hand, if there is such a thing.
Let me explain. For the last two years, I taught a Dad’s Class, and I am telling you that men have hundreds of questions, legitimate concerns, and a jumbled web of emotions surrounding the concept of being called “dad”. They are trying to balance society’s expectations, the expectation of their family and the in-laws, maintain some sense of themselves, keep their wife happy, their boss happy, their friends happy…I could keep going. I cannot remember a session where the men kept their mouths shut. In fact, most men asked after the class for more materials to help them prepare for fatherhood. Why don’t we hear about this? Sadly, men frequently are not often given a platform to express their feelings during this strange transmutation, leaving them to bottle it up or to push it under the rug.
Wait! Men express emotions? Sounds like I am pitching a Tom Sawyer scheme, doesn’t it? But, men do express their feelings…when they feel safe to speak and are validated, much like anyone else. I have worked with hundreds of grown, adult men and they are quite capable of telling you how they feel, what they think, and how the two do not always match up. The issue surrounding the stereotypical, silent male runs much deeper than men just being men. Many times, I have spoken with men who are wrestling with feelings of guilt and shame in the home. These vulnerable emotions surround a wide variety of issues. For example, a study at Kansas State University, in 2014, found that men experienced parental guilt for taking time to engage in sports activities or exercise, even more so than mothers. But I am speaking about something far different.
Good fathers provide, nurture, and guide. This realization scares the color right out of a man’s hair. In my personal opinion, I believe this is because—more likely than not—the man did not have fatherhood modeled for him by his own father. Hear me out. One out of three children grow up in homes without their biological fathers, and many of those have little contact or association with their dad. Without an example, anyone can imagine why boys-turned-to-men may have a lot of questions about what it means to be a father.
Let’s add another log to the fire. Many interpersonal skills are lost when a father is not readily available to their children. Fathers play differently with their children, teaching kids how to regulate their feelings and behavior. Fathers encourage children to take more risks than mothers to let them face their social environments. Fathers are instinctively more skilled at monitoring their children when regarding interactions with peers and other adults. A father’s discipline techniques will often be more confrontational, offering a diverse lesson from mothers in the importance of authority. None of these findings in research undermine the overall value of the mother, or the tenacity of single-parenting mothers. Mothers skillsets compliment the child in an entirely different way. The rhetoric is to provide rational for how fathers give value to their children. For new fathers who have not had fathers, these may be foreign concepts when parenting their own children. Hence, the turmoil of feelings we have discovered in new fathers.
I cannot express the importance of helping new fathers grasp the fundamental importance of being an active father, even when you and the mother are no longer living together. In 2015, the University of North Carolina reported that although we inherit equal amounts of genetic mutations from our parents, we actually use more of the DNA from our fathers. But the significance of being a dad goes far beyond our genetics. From the birthing room to changing diapers to cuddling with their child to tossing ball in the backyard, men must understand that we fulfill a very unique role for our son or daughter. Being an involved dad equals successful children. Studies have shown that kids who have fathers actively participating in their life are better problem-solvers, have higher IQs, perform better academically, to be more tolerant and understanding, and even have a greater chance of long-term successful marriages in adult life.
We often hear mothers speaking about motherhood. Bottom line, dads, we have to be willing to do the same.
Joshua Robertson is the Goblin King, a proud millennial father of nine children. A graduate of Norwich High School, Robertson attended Wichita State University where he received his Masters in Social Work with minors in Psychology and Sociology.His bestselling novel, Melkorka, the first in The Kaelandur Series, was released in 2015. Known most for his Thrice Nine Legends Saga, Robertson enjoys and ever-expanding and extremely loyal following of readers. He counts R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien among his literary influences.