Father’s need our support, our guidance, and forgiveness as they are encouraged to strive to embody what does it mean to be a father, a good father, in their child’s life.
Starting from the beginning
Let me tell you a story. My father was perfect for me. I wish I knew that my whole life. My earliest memory is enjoying the closeness between myself and my father. He was tall, strong, brave and smart. When my father smiled, the world felt his energy and his joy. They always smiled too. When he was angry, I felt as thought I fell from grace. I tried to gain his love back. It was the dance. When he left in the morning, he would leave to work at a prestigious job in the bank. He made lots of money. In my childlike mind. So much so that we lived in a beautiful home in suburbia. When he came home, I ran to greet him at the door. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see him. On the weeknights we watched TV and slept on the couch. He always played with me and my sisters. On Friday nights he took us to Roti Hut. I will never forget our trip, the sound of calypso on the radio, the sweet taste of the polourie, the fullness in my belly from the potato roti and the union within our family. Sunday dinners were always the best. After church, we slept in, then I played make believe with my sisters, and afterwards set the dinner table. Our dinner was always amazing. I loved the food, the prayer, the togetherness, the memories, and my life. My father was not always perfect. I learned over the years that he struggled, like any other man. I didn’t know much yet about the external factors like racism, oppression, self hatred, cultural displacement, grief and loss, and that old friend trauma which played a critical role in our lives. At 40, I see it all now. But at 4, it didn’t matter. My dad was and still is my hero.
As a therapist for 10 years and a social worker for 20 years, I have observed, witnessed and contributed unknowingly to the war on fatherhood. I don’t think I truly respected the role of the Father until my own maturity stepped in. For I was apart of that war for such a long time. It may have been the messages I learned as a child. Or the stereotypes created about gender roles and gender identity. It may have been part of the systemic racism embedded within the organizations I was employed that reinforced these values.
In my personal life, my daughters father was the love of my life, or so it seemed at the time. I never really understood why he picked me, and I felt that he was a 10 and I was only a 2 in a worthiness scale I developed. I suddenly took on the role as a parent for my daughter, while he was still in the role of himself. I didn’t know what I was doing, but now I know it was what everyone woman does to men that breaks them down. It’s what my mother did. It’s what my aunties did. It’s what my friends did. My pain was real that I could tell you what it felt like to have a knife lodged into my back. I could tell you what organs the knife punctured and how the blood drained from my entire body. I also didn’t need to feel that way again. As I did, I did a disservice to my daughter. I did what every woman who’s hurt does. I walked away.
In our search to reclaim our rights as females, our men paid a price. We did not do our due diligence to re-define their roles, to create young men who could become great fathers, and to address the perils that placed our men’s lives in jeopardy.Nicole Perryman
In our society, we derived from a patriarchal society defined by men’s directions, rules and expectations. Feminists made significant progress in changing perspectives and laws about the rights of women. In our search to acclaim our rights, our men paid a price. In my feminist mind, I didn’t need a husband, a father or a man to mentor my daughter. I was capable of doing this alone. And I was. I did an amazing job, and my daughter is successful. But at what cost? Did feminism really seek to eliminate men, or was the movement more around sharing space and equity? And, can we begin to address intergenerational trauma? We did not do our due diligence to re-define their roles, to create young men who could become great fathers, and to address the perils that placed our men’s lives in jeopardy. As a Black woman, I am inherently aware that for many generations, Black men have been systematically prevented from caring for their children– from slavery, to systemic racism and oppression, imprisonment of young Black males, unhealed trauma and so much more. In some South Asian and African cultures, Western patriarchal systems became embedded as unwritten rules and laws which created a power imbalance, turning women into property. And, in Indigenous cultures men were stripped of their power, their culture, and their independence. These traumatic experiences have created and manifested circumstances that places our men’s lives in jeopardy.
We were wrong about fathers. Our children need them and so do we, as women.Nicole Perryman
Moving forward, some of the stories stay in my mind as guidance, and reflection to understand the challenges fathers have experienced in their lives as they battled with systems to spend time with their children. Other men struggling to create peace and collaboration with their children’s mother. But I have also met father’s who lost control. Fathers who made legitimate mistakes and couldn’t recover from the shame. Fathers whose past skeletons continued to haunt them. Fathers who kept making poor choices. And fathers, who throughout the experience, had limited support. So what do we expect if we continue to dishonor fathers and fatherhood?
So where do we go from here?
Stressing counselling is almost a given from a therapist. However, it is important to consider that counselling is part of a supportive platform. For women, it is important for us to find ways to heal our hurt from ended relationships, and find a way to find safety, support, and guidance to nurture a healthy relationship with our children and their fathers. In relationships where there is intimate partner violence, it is important to develop safety plans to protect yourself and your children. Other strategies are listed under the article: Supporting our children through divorce. As mothers, we can help to develop our young boys as they become men to be caring, loving, supportive and emotionally aware people. Examine and reshape your own biases of gender roles, develop emotionally secure attachments with your children, attend to and respond to their emotional needs, reinforce values and principles with your children, and teach your children to self-regulate their behavior and emotions. The article, Raising Healthy Children may also provide helpful strategies.
Support for our Fathers
For our fathers, the path towards healing may be different. Individual Counselling and psychotherapy is extremely helpful to address your emotions and learn healthy strategies. In addition, exploring systemic racism/oppression, intergenerational traumas, and childhood experiences that influence how men perceive themselves, perceive their world, understand and treat women, and nurture healthy relationships with their children. Counselling can guide fathers to identify: what happened to me? as opposed to: what is wrong with me?
Mentoring and group support can create an additional source of holistic care and healing. Mentors can provide guidance, modelling and leadership to men who may not have had their fathers’, may have had not positive role models, and may need additional fatherly support. Support groups such as, Father’s programming, Alcohol Anonymous (AA), anger management, co-parenting support, parenting classes, partner abuse programs and more can provide education, reflection, insight, and connection among men experiencing similar problems.
Unleashing ego and dealing with shame, are critical to growth for any person. However, for men, the concept of “toxic masculinity” and patriarchal society has rendered generations of men who harbor shame, self-guilt, doubt, self-blame, ego-driven, aggression, and much more. Taking the time to develop and grow emotional intelligence can help to address these identities that have developed for me. Suggestions include: journaling, reflection, and mindfulness as activities to learn how to be aware of thoughts, feelings and how they interact with behavior. A common website I suggest is: Self-Compassion Meditation. Identify: why? what happened? what are my triggers? how can I reduce my stressors? how can I react in a healthier way? how would the other person feel? how can I attend to their emotions in the moment? Emotional Intelligence encompasses four main principles: the ability to regulate your emotions, to see another’s point of view and perspective, to not take things personal and learn when someone is projecting their emotions on you, and to demonstrate self-awareness. Psychology Today produced an article on Emotional Intelligence, which provides a lay person’s way of understanding emotional intelligence. Self-help podcasts and books can also prove successful in empowering men to adopt a stronger, healthier self-identity, build their self-worth, and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves.
The power of giving back can shed it’s benefits to fathers and men. When you take time to support your community, to assist younger men in their journeys, and to sacrifice your time to support another– your heart grows. Your ability to manage stressful situations increases, as you develop values such as humility, patience, and understanding. You develop leadership skills in being able to support, guide and teach others in areas where you struggled at one point in your life. Giving back goes further than volunteerism… giving back in relationships with your partner, your children, your employer or employees, your parents, your friends, and so much can reinforce values that you are seeking to accomplish and create a loving, supportive and helpful environment for you to thrive.
Let’s move towards, Loving our fathers and creating opportunities for fathers to be successful, as well as recover from their mistakes.
Disclaimer: Research can show the benefits of children spending time with their fathers as beneficial to their emotional and attachment. Safety is critical. In areas where children can not be safe with either parent, it is critical that children are kept safe and their parents engage in supports to improve their capacity to meet the needs of their children. This article provides an overview, but does not address more complex issues that may arise within the father-child relationship. Stay tuned for more articles on this topic and many more.