The basis of this article is founded on the information I gathered after interviewing 14 dads about their experience of being a birth partner and father. I went looking for answers that would have helped other fathers and me make a more smooth transition into fatherhood, because, let’s face it – it’s not necessarily an easy enterprise. Most of us dads are doing the best we have with the information we’ve found, which is no different than the fathers that came before us. If we can be intentional about our role, then, perhaps, it is possible to enhance the sound advice gleaned from the generation before. Perhaps, also, it is possible to break the unsustainable practices handed down to us and transform our actions as men that understand the needs of our children and ourselves.
So, without further adieu, I present to you 5 ways of being a great dad.
1. Emulate Other Great Fathers
Finding a dad that inspires you and replicating what you find most intriguing and wonderful is key to being a great dad. Many of the dads I interviewed spoke about other dads that inspired them. For one dad, he described a dad he knew that would write letters with his son to statesmen, artists, athletes, scientists, and visionaries. In these letters they would ask about advice and philosophies on life, so the son had this treasure trove of letters from great people. Another dad I interviewed described a man he knew that became a dad in his 50s and who was hands-on and patient. This vision of fatherhood inspired the dad I interviewed to be hands-on and patient with his own child.
2. Read and Study
Reading books and studying the material of fatherhood seemed to be another key factor for the dads I interviewed. These dads applied what they learned from reading to being analytical and making informed decisions. The dads also attributed various painful experiences in becoming a father to not having read enough material on the subject. I suspect that having a wealth of knowledge to draw from isn’t just about knowing the specific things to do in every moment; it’s more about developing a confidence that you can know what you need to know when you need to know it. Almost every father I interviewed mentioned that they had wished they had read and studied more about childbirth and becoming a father. It seemed that they wish they new what other dads had learned.
3. Find Your Own Satisfaction
I read a research paper on marital satisfaction and childbirth, and the findings were that marital satisfaction plummets after the first child is born. I was curious about this finding and wanted to know more, which is partly why I did the dad interviews. Perhaps I could help ease my own situation and those of others. If marital satisfaction goes down for everyone, then why would any of us have kids? I suspect that marital satisfaction does go down for many husbands and partners after their first child is born, yet I think there is more to the story than that. I believe that family satisfaction, something that didn’t necessarily exist until the first child is born, becomes a new factor in a man’s life. Finding ways to have satisfaction in the role of being a father and part of a young family seems to be the antidote for the strain that building a family can have on a relationship.
4. Welcome Your Intuition
Most dads I interviewed recognized that there was a knowledge inside of them about parenting that they never knew they had. It seemed to me, also, that many of these dads wished that they had trusted their intuition more or had been more active in growing their awareness of that intuition. One father described a growing awareness that we are full people no matter what age, and so he treated his kids with the respect of fully functioning humans that just happened to be small.
5. Have Flexible Expectations
It is hard to say what the experience of being a father will be like, because the process is so different for every man. For the most part, though, becoming a father means that responsibilities shift and grow. Most of the dads I interviewed mentioned that their focus on themselves diminished as they focused on the needs of their new baby. One dad explained that he had wanted to tell expectant fathers that their whole lives will change and that nothing they have now will remain the same after the baby is born. I relate to his sentiment, and perhaps many fathers reading this article will relate, as well.
What could people have told us that would have helped us be better prepared? If they had told us that life would change completely, then what would we have done differently? I think we might have changed our expectations. Perhaps we want to think that having a kid won’t change us. We think, “I won’t be like those poor suckers out there who have to disrupt their whole lives just because a child is born. Pshaw! I’m stronger than that! I mean, c’mon! How hard can it be?!”
Yet, having a kid changes everything. Everything. The more intentional we can be in deciding what kind of dads we are, the more chances we have in being the dads we’ve always needed.
Joe Valley is a psychotherapist, marketer, designer, and also creator of Empowered Papa, a resource for supporting dads in pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and beyond. He works with birth professionals to help them better understand and connect with dads. Contact Joe for more information about how you can help support dads’ role in birth: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re feeling especially creative, contact Joe for help designing your website: email@example.com