Being a mother has its challenges but I think, on balance being a father is harder. The love for a child comes more naturally to a woman, we carry them, bear them and in so doing bond more than any man can. Yes, this means nothing to some women, but for most of us giving birth is the most profound act of our life. It changes us as nothing else can. Men simply can’t get hold of that and that’s what separates them from us and what makes it harder for men to connect to their own children.
Men want children, it’s as much a basic need for them as it is for us. They want to see themselves reflected in a small being and watch it evolve into (hopefully) a better version of themselves (and take over the company one day). Men have changed the world for sons – look at Henry VIII. But there is no little switch in their head that tells them how to be a father. Their biological imperative only makes the child, doesn’t tell them how to be a father.
The burden of parenthood seems to manifest itself in fathers more than mothers. We become besotted, utterly absorbed with the helpless thing in our lives. Men get shut out and resent the intruder, no matter how much the child was wanted. Men can and do become sulky and resentful; relationships founder more on the rock of children and less (or no) sex than anything else.
More than ever though, men are hands on fathers who take their responsibilities seriously and acquit themselves admirably. We are many years from fathers being remote and distant beings. Look at David Beckham, often seen with his boys looking relaxed and happy, enjoying their company. He had a good dad of his own. Someone he admired and has emulated in the seeming easy way he is with his own boys.
So good sons need good fathers to become good fathers. Well, we know that. Is that why so many men struggle with being a dad – because of the paucity of decent parenting in their own life? I’m sure the experts say so. The impact of our parents upon us is deep and long lasting. All too often we turn into our parents. Suddenly, in the kitchen, on the stairs, you hear your mother’s words in your mouth. It’s a frightening moment for most of us!
Children of both sexes need their fathers. Children from broken homes do far worse than those raised with two parents taking equal part in the parenting. Absent fathers cause untold damage to young boys especially. The family is where we learn most about life, about becoming who we are, about being good people.
Sons need good fathers to become good men. Daughters need good fathers to know how to behave with men. It’s helpful if you are Daddy’s Princess growing up, feeling special, knowing that at least one man will always love you the way you are. It’s great if your dad does things with you, teaches you things, shows you things. Men like to do, so they often connect with their children this way.
Some men seem to thrive at being fathers at different stages of their child’s life. Many are troubled by the smallness, the smelliness and the helplessness of the baby. Many find the teenage years impossible – the growing son, challenging and almost threatening. The maturing daughter, frightening in the way she is turning into a younger, lovelier version of her mother. How to cope with the hormones and moods in the house? It seems to me the middle years – toddler to early teen are the easiest for fathers. Then again the relationship eases, when the child has left home and is an independent adult.
Some men shouldn’t have children – or at least not live with them. They don’t have the patience or the time for them. Women should think carefully about who they mate with – don’t ignore his antipathy to children. Most men do not change their minds after the baby is born. Remember too, that the father-child relationship is more fraught than the mother-child. Separated or divorced fathers are more likely to kill their children in the face of the disintegration of their family. Men are more fragile creatures, especially as fathers, especially as they so often cannot express their feelings or their love as easily as women can.
Fathers struggle. Their role in society is vital but under-rated. Women must help their partners more to be better fathers, to understand their centrality in their child’s life and in the betterment of society at large. (Pictures – Henry VIII & David Beckham courtesy google images)