What does it mean to be a father? Should we just accept the narrow definition provided to us by our parent’s and grandparents generations or “provider and disciplinarian” or could there be more to fathering? Many modern parents and parents-to-be want to expand the idea of fatherhood to include a closer, more involved parenting style, but many just aren’t sure where to start. Today, Dr. Joey Tadie shares his expertise on the joys and the challenges of fathering in the modern world.

Transitioning to fatherhood is a tremendous milestone in our lives. It is a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and sometimes sheer terror. You wait for many weeks and months for the delivery date, and after a whirlwind of events that often surround the birth process, you get the chance to meet your child for the very first time. And now you can, after all the time spent waiting, begin to truly get a sense of what fatherhood could be like. However, you might be surprised to find you have but a single skill set that seems to bring value to your new family…

You are officially the Diaper Hygiene Coordinator in your home.

Not the most glamorous of duties, but someone has to do it. Ideally you will have help with this duty from others around you, but frankly it is easy to feel that changing diapers at all hours of the day or night is your main (and sometimes only) duty to perform. Unless you are bottle-feeding, you as a male will likely lack the necessary body equipment for breast-feeding. You might not have been around infants before to know what caring for them looks like. You probably will have to return to work much sooner than the twelve weeks off your partner might get (I will address America’s abysmal support of new parents in another post), leaving much of the childcare to your partner. In fact, this might really be your first experience of having a living, breathing being depend on you for absolutely everything for survival.

By the way, you also haven’t been sleeping in weeks, and your new baby can be quite demanding regardless of what time the clock reads. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, out of touch, and perhaps even inadequate.

Not much of a “welcome” to fatherhood.

The truth is that men often experience growing pains while transitioning into a new and very different role. I find that many fathers (if they happen to be in a heterosexual relationship) view their female counterparts as being vastly more necessary to meeting baby’s needs. These fathers can tend to view themselves solely as financial supporters with occasional diaper duty. This could be a reflection of some men’s perceived lack of competence/confidence in caring for babies, or perhaps it is due to cultural factors that place emphasis on more traditional gender roles (moms care for kids, dads financially support).

In actuality, fatherhood can be far more than the narrow sets of responsibilities you hold or financial benefits you provide.

By far more, I mean far better, more rewarding, and more empowering. Pursuing such a fulfilling fatherhood experience will likely take some learning, patience, courage, and willingness to endure difficult moments. Don’t worry, your endurance will pay off in a huge way.

Part 2 will explore concrete ideas for how to become a more involved father. For now, ask yourself a few questions, and feel free to share your answers in the comments.

  • Have you bought into society’s narrow definition of fatherhood?
  • Does your partner share that definition?
  • Would you be open to expanding the definition of fatherhood to be more involved, closer, and more integral part of child raising?
  • Where have you seen examples of fathering that went beyond the narrow boundaries of “provider and disciplinarian?”
  • What ways can you imagine expanding the definition of fatherhood?
  • What kind of example do you want to set for your child about what it means to be a man? a father?
  • Choose something you can do this week (even if you are not yet a father) to expand your definition of fatherhood. (Don’t worry if you get a bit stuck on this one, I will give some more ideas in the next post)