Fatherhood…Consider This:

by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-RFatherhood

FATHERHOOD… How do you think about it? What value do you place on the role fathers and father figures play in children’s lives? What do you know about what it means to be a father in today’s society and the struggles, stresses in addition to the joys that fathers experience?

When the first official “Fathers Day” celebration of record was held on June 19, 1910, the roles of mother and father were much more traditional and straightforward then they are now. Family compositions are more varied and individually crafted today and as such, fathers and father-figures emerge through several ways: through birth, adoption, marriage, a family member, a family friend or a mentor.

Recent research by the Pew Research Center found that fathers and mothers roles are converging and so fathers are playing an increasingly active role in the hands-on, day-to-day raising of their children. Fathers also struggle with the stress of juggling work-life and family-life and are just as primed to experience feelings of:

  • dread
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • panic
  • despair
  • sadness
  • strong
  • worthlessness

And yes, Fathers can also struggle with Postpartum Depression. Thankfully there are myriad of groups, organizations, websites and services and a great deal of research and discourse devoted to supporting the mental health and well-being of mothers and maternal caregivers in order to help them be the best parents they can be. Yet it is not the same for fathers. We just don’t hear about or talk as openly about these sort of feelings that fathers experience as we do with mothers.

More specifically, it is not part of our social norm for men in general to discuss openly their feelings of vulnerability, difficulty or discomfort or seek out support when they are going through emotional struggles. Yet, research shows that the consistent, engaged and attentive presence of a nurturing and loving male figure in a child’s life can leave ever-lasting positive impressions such as:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better school performance
  • Healthier relationships with others
  • Better jobs and career paths
  • Less trouble with the law
  • Decrease in substance experimentation and abuse

How can we expect our fathers to provide an engaged, consistent and loving presence if they are having emotional difficulties yet are not afforded the same amount of supportive resources, services and public and private acceptance for discourse through which to address their emotional needs?

Why is there such an inequality between how we as a collective society think about, relate to and provide for the mental health and well-being of fathers vs. how we do so for mothers? What more can we do to better address the mental health and emotional well-being of fathers and father figures?

To begin with, we need to take a closer look at the messages we are raising our sons (and daughters for that matter) with about how they are to relate to and manage their emotional life.

Are we even allowing our sons to have and fully experience their emotional life? Our children are never too young to be taught how to acknowledge, accept and cope with their feelings. Yet, doing so must always start with educating parents, care-givers and teachers in how to acknowledge, accept and cope with their feelings – there is a cycle here.

Also, we need more research to be conducted and shared that examines the sociological, cultural, neurological and psychological aspects of how men relate to their emotional life and what can be done to encourage them to seek help when necessary.

And most importantly, we need to allow men to have a safe and nonjudgmental space through which to explore and discuss the emotional aspects of themselves. True strength has a flexibility and fluidity, not necessarily a stoic facade to hide behind. There is room for both — the bravado and the sensitivity, and of course so much more between and beyond.

These are just a few ideas for how to address these issues. There is much more that can be considered and discussed. We raise these issues and questions here in an effort to build awareness of and to increase the dialogue about how to help fathers be the best fathers they can be so that they in turn can contribute to psychologically healthier generations to come. We invite you to consider more fully what it means to be a father in our society and begin to have these conversations.

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