Taking fathering to the next level-River City Counseling

In my last post (“The nuggets fathers bring to parenting”), I focused on the beauty and power men can bring to parenting. Briefly, just because fathers often parent differently from mothers, there is nothing inherently less nurturing or positive about how they do it.

Since posting, I’ve also witnessed sickening and disheartening examples of the damage fathers can do when they’re unable to cope appropriately with their anger and rage. Short of being able to intervene, I’m left focusing on steps fathers can take to understand better these feelings and make different, more nurturing choices.

A starting point is to examine the upbringings most men receive. Historically, boys experience parenting (and societal pressures) that discourages verbal and emotional expression of their feelings. Absent these skills, the default reaction to being challenged is to be aggressive and physical. As expected, these unhealthy ways of coping continue as boys become men and fathers. (Conversely, some men deal by suppressing these feelings, such that they’re not overtly angry and physical but just as affected negatively.)

So what are fathers to do when they learn they’re responding in ways that are affecting their families negatively? The easiest and most immediate way of behaving differently is  through physical activity. Be it rugby, basketball, soccer, or hunting, some men get the physical release they need to keep their emotions in-check.

But for this to be enough, a couple of factors likely need to be present. First, it has to be ongoing. Unfortunately, we don’t have a “self-care bank” into which we can make emotional deposits in good times and withdrawals when we need them.

More subtly, some of the release comes from being in a community of other men. As much as we tend to bust each out and talk about each other’s “mamas,” we also keep each other in check, for there are certain ways of behaving that aren’t socially acceptable.

Realistically, though, physical release and casual peer social interactions often aren’t enough to help men cope effectively with their strong feelings, and some sort of self-reflection and understanding is necessary.

A safe starting place for this soul-searching is reading self-help magazines/articles/books (often purchased by their spouses/partners). Fathers are able to gather information about parenting and communication, without having to risk other men finding out. As men gain more insight, they are sometimes able to make different parenting decisions.

Realistically, most men need more than knowledge to grow as parents, and the next safest place to go is spending time with men in smaller groups. Maybe after the game, he goes for a beverage or dinner with a couple of men from his team. Over time men can let down their guards and share more personal thoughts/feelings, which can help lead to better parenting.

Unfortunately, though, building these types of friendships can take a long time, and when a man’s feelings are so strong that he feels out of control and isn’t the parent he wants to be, a quicker and more intentional and direct examination of feelings is important.

The best place to turn is to talk to someone you can trust: a therapist, minister and/or older mentor. Believe me, I know how difficult a step it is to take. When my I first started talking to someone, I was extremely uncomfortable, and I kept my guard up. At the same time, what I was doing to cope wasn’t working, and I knew I needed to do things differently. I let down my guard slowly and learned how to express my feelings in healthy ways. As time has gone on, I’ve also incorporated writing, meditation and yoga to my self-care regimen.

Of course, actively working on self-care alone is no guarantee of always responding appropriately to our feelings. There are still times when I struggle to express myself in healthy, constructive ways. Yet, I know that the self-care regimen I’ve designed helps me be as mentally healthy as possible and the parent I want to be.

10 Responses to Taking fathering to the next level-River City Counseling
  1. Laurie
    August 1, 2013 | 3:12 pm

    Another awesome post, Steve! You always just “know”! 🙂

  2. elizabeth
    August 1, 2013 | 7:02 pm

    Excellent article, especially good for women to read, as they may not understand the emotional life of men in some respects.

  3. Monica
    August 1, 2013 | 9:48 pm

    Steve hits on a very interesting topic. Dennis Prager often talks about this; I wonder if he ever listens to Dennis Prager. Dennis talks about how our society has changed so in general, boys don’t spend a lot of time with adult men (other than their father). They also don’t listen to how adult men converse with each other, so in effect they don’t learn how to become adult men. And adult men don’t spend regular time together in groups. The one exception he gave was the Orthodox Jewish community, where the men all get together and the kids listen and also get to contribute.

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      August 2, 2013 | 10:33 pm

      Hi Monica:

      Thank-you for furthering the conversation. I’ll put Dennis Prager on my list of people to check-out. You bring-up some interesting points, particularly regarding the Orthodox Jewish community. I spoke about this very topic with a group of other professional men,looking at how best to mentor our children (primarily sons). Part of what we discussed was how to allow our sons to be mentored, even when we’re in disagreement with part of what’s being taught. (In our conversation, this portion was specific to the Jewish community.) I suppose it’s a life-lesson to teach our children how to look and accept the whole, even when we disagree with part of things. (Or, of course, not agreeing, when we disagree with too much.) It’s difficult to be mentored be a community, when we stand in judgement with a part of things…

  4. Christina
    August 2, 2013 | 5:18 am

    I agree with elizabeth’s comment–I find men and father’s to be quite mysterious at times. This helps me understand their point of view better. I wonder how to get men to talk to a mentor or therapist? I think most of them dont’ want to. THanks for your briliant writing!

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      August 5, 2013 | 3:23 am

      Thanks Christina. You’re right, it can be difficult to get men to talk to a mentor/therapist. As I wrote, men often start counseling after being encouraged by their romantic partners. Sometimes it’s simply suggested; other times with spoken/unspoken threats of leaving the relationship. So many men carry the shame that comes with asking for help, along with the stereotypes of what counseling is like and the fear that they have to be crazy if they attend counseling. There is also hope with the younger generation. I find that adolescent boys often don’t carry the same stigma about counseling as do their fathers.

  5. Joe Guzzi
    August 3, 2013 | 6:36 pm

    Hey Steve, Lisa forwarded this to me and yes it is a nice nugget to have when raising my sweet Dominic. Nice to have some tools to work with. Thanks again for encouraging me. A lot of your ideas are good tools to remember when dealing with a little fella.

    Have a blessed weekend,

    Joe Guzzi

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      August 5, 2013 | 3:26 am

      Thanks Joe:

      I know you’re doing a great job with Dominic. Sometimes we dad have lots to overcome to become the fathers we want to be.

      Take Care!

  6. Maureen
    August 5, 2013 | 1:02 am

    Thank you for this article, Steve. You touch upon several tough issues that are so very relevant and timeless issues. You encourage men to be courageous and take a step towards being more human, to embracing both feminine and masculine qualities. One of the best quotes I have ever heard is by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, who has worked with men for many years, and has written many books on male spirituality. He said, “IF you don’t transform your pain, you will certainly transmit it.” I have seen examples of this in my work with teens in the past 12 years, and it especially rings true with the male population. Anger is a surface emotion, often masking something deeper and painful. Whatever parents, and especially fathers, can do to transform their pain will help their families in ways unimagined. In my work with young men, it’s more and more evident that young men are looking for older men who are examples of emotional beings, while also being “men”.
    Great topic – thanks for your wisdom, Steve!

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      August 5, 2013 | 3:18 am

      Thanks Maureen:
      Great quote from Richard Rohr. If men don’t do some sort of work on our childhood, issues, we’re bound to repeat it. My sense is that you’re doing quite a lot of nurturing boys as they move toward being men. Keep up the good work! Your comments also remind me that boys need their mothers too as emotional mentors, as they move toward adulthood.

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