Fatherhood. The word alone has caused men through the ages to experience feelings they weren’t prepared for. Feelings of fear, uncertainty, and un-preparedness are often wrapped up in this one word. But when author Kyle became a new father, he shared his thoughts on what fatherhood truly looked like for his children. Does it require courage? Absolutely. But maybe no the type of courage that we first think of.
Fatherhood encompasses growing, stretching and learning. Having the courage to do all of those things are what leads to being the right kind of father to any child!
Standing in the doorway, my son Abe and I watch my wife walk to her car to enjoy a much-deserved afternoon out with a friend. Abe is screaming; his face has turned red and his tears drop on my shirt while my mind is preoccupied by a combination of stress at work and a vague feeling I am failing as a dad. The latter seems to be confirmed by Abe’s distress. As Abe cries harder, my heart starts to beat faster until I take a deep breath and say to him, “I see that you are sad because momma left to spend time with her friend,” and then continue holding him. Fortunately for me, Abe’s language skills are not developed enough for him to be sarcastic, but I am sure if I said the same thing to anyone else, they would respond with something to the effect of “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” So why share this very unremarkable story? Before I answer that question, I want to share some thoughts on fatherhood that I have learned over the past year.
Being a dad is better than I could have imagined. It is also far more difficult. Seeing my son laugh, grow, and learn brings tremendous joy and depth to my life. Watching him in pain brings me pain. The responsibility of parenting him adds purpose to my life, while simultaneously bringing fear and doubt. He is almost one year old and I have asked myself consistently throughout this year, “How do I teach and model courage to my child?” Coincidentally, or not, I have personally faced more fear in the last year than any other time in my life. My simple observation is this: the greater the connection (to those around me, or in this case, to my son) the more it leads to courage.
While I certainly hope my son acts courageously during an emergency, most opportunities for courage are within the routine activities of everyday life. Let’s go back to the story above. After I slowed down and took a deep breath, my goal was to connect with my son. Through my simple words I related to him that I recognize he was hurting and through my presence I assured him I will be with him in his emotional hurt. The stress and guilt I was feeling in that moment was real as well, and I am sure Abe could sense it, so I decided to reassure him, “Buddy, I am sad too.” The moment was not about having a pity party focusing on my own feelings, but connecting with each other, even in our shared sadness. These interactions help both our children and ourselves recognize what IS (i.e. sadness, fear, and anger) and move forward.
And that seems to be pretty close to the definition of courage.
In all honestly, far too many times when I am with my family I disconnect; something will happen that causes a negative emotion in me (anger, sadness, shame – the list goes on). More often than not, I begin to disconnect: take a nap, watch sports, play on my phone, or simply fall into silence. None of these activities are necessarily bad of course; however, they become damaging when I use them to distance myself from my family and my responsibilities. Being a dad takes a lot of resilience to plans changing, your own failures, your child’s disobedience, shame over past or present happenings. When I speak of resilience, I do not mean pretending to be alright when you are not. I mean holding space for your emotions while at the same time engaging with your child. All of this practice of connection leads to courage and then courage to more connection. It is a beautiful circle.
Not sure you have what it takes to be a great father? The good news is that you aren’t alone. We all struggle with those feelings. And the even better news is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Here at Advice & Aid, we offer help for men, too! We have men – fathers – who are on staff, serve as volunteers, and step up as mentors. Our fathers can walk beside you every step of the way – modeling courage for you and helping you model courage for your children!
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