By Dr. John Duffy
A while back, I worked with a father who described a typical day in his home. His wife, the mother of their three children, does the lion’s share of the parenting. She prepares the meals, helps with the homework and puts the kids to bed each day. If his son or one of his daughters was going through something emotional, a bad grade, a breakup or some other social difficulty, well, Mom handled that as well.
Meanwhile, he would read the paper, go out for a run or get some extra paperwork done. As far as he was
concerned, he got away with it; he ‘won’ parenting. He comforted himself by recognizing, accurately, that he was a far more involved parent than his father was—stoic, quiet, iron-fisted. No, this dad was warm and kind and supportive, but he didn’t have to do much of the work of parenting. Those were the precise words he used as I recall, “the work of parenting.”
I think that, historically, we fathers have considered parenting work to some extent. And far too often, that work has been off-loaded to our parenting partners. It’s time we shift our conceptualization, away from work and more toward privilege.
To be a father is the greatest privilege any of us dads will ever experience. To be a positive male influence in the life of our sons and daughters, especially now, is crucial. And, it is decidedly not work. With the onslaught of information and influence that our anxious children are exposed to these days, as well as the pressures of their social and academic lives, our children need fathers more than ever.
We need a new conceptualization of fatherhood. We need to model for our kids an approach to all the data and stressors that we are exposed to and show them how men treat others, especially the women in their lives, with a deep sense of equality and respect.
The new fatherhood is a more conscious, more available fatherhood.
- The conscious father ensures he is available to his children, physically and emotionally, during their stormy days, as well as their cloudless days. The conscious father shows his sons and daughters the strength of his own vulnerability.
- The conscious, available father parents as free as he can of the fear, judgment and ego that colors so much of our parenting. He protects time for parenting, placing the cell phone on silent and connecting with each child. He looks each of his children in the eye every day. He shows he loves them and says “I love you.”
- The conscious, available father plays and wrestles. He creates in-jokes that bolster the “Emotional Bank Account” of each of his children.
- A conscious father is an equal partner in parenting. He decidedly does not conceptualize parenting as work.
But, there is an important component of parenting that I think we tend to miss altogether, all too frequently. And that is the benefit of parenting to us, the fathers. Being an active, conscious father provides the depth of mission, fulfillment and connection that so many of us feel is missing in our lives, especially as we approach midlife. Connection is the opposite of depression and anxiety, and our parenting also keeps us healthy and grounded. Our parenting keeps us young and connected not only to our children but to the broader culture surrounding us.
All that is to say, our active, involved, conscious parenting is a win-win.
Finally, I want to provide one other perspective I find in the more conscious fathers I work with. This may feel a bit ethereal, but I think that if we parent with a deep breath and a clear and unfrightened mind, we find a special light that we carry with each of our children, a loving, gentle guide through the perils of each developmental stage, a light that keeps us connected, and carrying each other through these times. It is an aura that only that father and that child can see, and as long as it is bright enough to see, they know the other is there for them.
Dads, you want to feel that light between you and your children. You want them to know that, through that light, they have a pillar they can rely on. In return, you are afforded the opportunity to bear witness to one of the greatest miracles: the blossoming of a child into a beautiful, unique, thriving adult.
Done right, that light is carried, and that connection bright, between the two of you for a lifetime.
That, to me, is conscious fatherhood.
Dr. John Duffy is a clinical psychologist in private practice near Chicago, specializing in parenting and relationships. He is the author of the #1 best-seller The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful and Resilient Teens and Tweens, as well as Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety: Raising Happy, Healthy Humans Ages 8 to 24, available in August 2019. He is a frequent expert contributor to many national TV, radio, and print outlets, a radio host at WGN radio, and podcast co-host of Better, with his wife Julie and On Purpose, with Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens.