How the Special Love Fathers Have for Their Children
Cannot (And Need Not) be Measured Maternally
by Lu Hanessian
Dads have something within them that they may not realize. An intangible force
that's as powerful and as valuable as mother's intuition. Dads don't think of it as
Father's Instinct. And new mothers, striving to find their own intuitive voice, aren't
likely to define it this way either.
But it's there. It's real. It's curiously overlooked in a culture that focuses on
(and markets almost exclusively to) the mother-baby relationship. And its power and
potency is as immeasurable as any love on earth.
Not an attitude or agenda, but rather a spirit of intently yearning to connect.
Many fathers know they have this gift inside them, this natural longing, and this
ability to realize this connection in action. And many spouses of these men recognize
their unique love for their children, how they may approach a child's needs
differently, or how they may find a window into a child's world otherwise closed to
|Sometimes, mothers don't see it. Some moms feel, because of their own
needs, as though they must define dad's role for him. Some harbor unconscious fears of
letting go of their own desire to be needed, to fulfill a role that may unwittingly
impede space for the other parent to explore his role more fully and to flourish in
relationship. Some mothers, perhaps still living their own unresolved stories of
longing for an absent or dismissive father, may unintentionally create one in their
spouses, projecting their expectation without realizing it, even choosing a
relationship to play out an old pain.
Fathers have a profound role to play with their children, a bond to forge that
obviously cannot come from carrying a baby in utero or nursing him. Some fathers
painfully retreat in the face of the mother-child bond. "I'm not needed
here," some might feel. What my husband affectionately dubbed the Chopped Liver
phase. He could feel the swirl of heady, mixed up emotions inside him, marinated with
bone-tired fatigue and the shifting sands of marriage. The whole new world of three
can bring up a lot of old unmet needs in even the most conscious parents.
What a father does with those mixed feelings, and whether he chooses to tap into
those unmet emotional needs from his own youth, is what allows "daditude" to
take root and grow - or what thwarts it. Just as a mother's intuition can get buried
amid the cacophony of voices warning and advising, so too can a father's daditude go
underground. Dads who feel good about the depth and authenticity of their
relationships with their kids are fathers who have claimed their daditude and invest
in it daily.
Daditude infuses a father's spirit with a sense of personal, quiet confidence,
regardless of circumstances, and in spite of anyone who doubts, interferes, or
criticizes. Granted, it's not easy to thrive in his bond with his child if he is being
second-guessed at every turn. I remember the sullen look on a father's face in a park
several years ago when his wife admonished every move he made with their young son:
how fast he pushed on the swing, how far behind their toddler he should follow,
whether he should stand under or next to him when he explored the playground
equipment. I watched his slumped shoulders and his sluggish gait, and wondered at the
time how he got to that point in his life where he felt he must receive this burden
and carry it. Where is his daditude? Can he find it under the weight of his assumed
"wrongness"? How might it be retrieved even in the unforgiving shadows of
blame and the barbed wires of someone else's unmended (de)fences?
When we vie for who is right or in control or is the more effective parent, we
undermine each other's efforts at healing our old stories. Power struggles keep our
truth and authenticity under the thick gauze of our childhood wounds. If mothers can
make room for fathers to be imperfect too, to embrace their flaws as they wrestle to
do the same with their own, parents can co-construct a strong vessel that keeps the
whole family afloat on the open seas.
I think I finally awakened to the first whiff of daditude in my husband when our
older son was 20 months old, and I discovered the two of them reading books behind a
walk-in closet door in our bedroom. There they were, huddled happily on the carpet,
with a few flashlights, ski hats, goggles, and some pretzels. "Hi mommy! We read
books on da closet wit Daddy!"
In my admiration and awe, all I could muster was, "Yes, yes you do..."
In that instant, after many months of trying to carve, and on not a few occasions
assert, my own Special Place as Mother, I saw my husband as a Father. Special Father.
Loving our son in his own unique way. My ear became tuned to my husband's fatherly
voice. His paternal intuition, if you will. In the nine years since that watershed
moment, I have witnessed the way it has redirected him home when he has been
temporarily derailed by circumstance, by fear, by old stories. Our two boys have grown
in the presence of it. Of him. Even on a self-proclaimed "bad" day, he takes
the detours with confidence, because he has learned the power of how his daditude -
his own internal compass - guides him by heart.
|Copyright 2009, Lu Hanessian All rights reserved.
Lu Hanessian is the author of Let the Baby
Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood, an award-winning journalist, former NBC
television anchor, national speaker, and founder of a unique online parent growth webinar series
called Parent to Parent U . Her
upcoming books Joyride and Raising the Future are due out in early and late 2011
respectively. Her special areas of extensive study are the neurobiology of attachment and the
ways that lost connection can be repaired in parent-child relationships to create optimal health
and resilience. She is the grateful mother of two boys, 8 and 11. Visit her websites Let the Baby Drive and Parent2Parent U . Lu is also the
founder of WYSH: Wear Your Spirit for Humanity.