by Sam Stevens, LMFT
Going into fatherhood, I knew it would be tough sometimes but I had no idea it was going to be such a life-changing event. Yeah, everyone says that becoming a parent changes your life, but they didn’t tell me it would be like THIS! I used to laugh when people would say that all they talk about is poop and then it happened to me. Who’s laughing now, eh? What people don’t seem to get, or at least society in general doesn’t, is that fatherhood is very different from the way it used to be. Fathers used to be the providers and protectors of the family: “Hey, look out, there is a lion over there… I’ll protect you!” Men were out there earning money while their wives stayed home to take care of the little ones. Now dads are expected to be loving, caring and nurturing fathers as well as providers.
During the past half century, women, and mothers in particular, have begun to receive the recognition that they so greatly deserve, but the recognition of fathers as engaged parents hasn’t caught up. Now, especially here in Portland, there is an expectation that fathers are warm, caring and engaged, but the old role as protector and provider isn’t gone either. Men, even those who consider themselves very progressive and unencumbered by the “old ways”, often find themselves becoming wrapped up in these old roles. They worry about college education and financial security, as well as diaper rash and whether roving bands of wild hyenas might snatch their baby off the street.
We want to be engaged, warm and caring fathers but we often have few role models. We often have difficulty finding a way to admit that we don’t know how to become those kinds of fathers or that we need help. Women have a number of supports available to them, but dads are left without many and an expectation, either real or imagined, that they should just be able to handle it. Only in recent years have we begun to realize that fathers, and not just mothers, can get postpartum depression, too. They get overwhelmed and freaked out by the expectations, as well sleep deprivation, colicky babies, social isolation, and stress on the marriage. Dads often forget that it is OK to ask for help, whether it is from other dads, or from a professional.
We need to be supported, and support each other, as we make the transition into the fathers we want and need to be. When we truly embrace fatherhood, we get to experience the joy that has often been only women’s territory, and we discover how precious it can be. But please, don’t forget that this joy comes with effort and challenge. Just as women are now getting more of the recognition that they deserve, we now need to make sure that dads are cherished for the important part they play in today’s families.
Sam Stevens is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He and fellow therapist Mari Alexander co-teach a birth preparation class for expectant couples at Zenana Spa focusing on maintaining connection as a couple and dealing with the stresses the birth process can bring. Sam has a private practice in SE Portland where he specializes in and enjoys working with fathers and new families. He also runs a group for new fathers. He can be reached at 503-957-8797 or SamStevensMFT@comcast.net. Information on Mari and Sam’s class can be found on the Zenana Spa website.