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 many others.
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.
Lu Hanessian is the author of Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood and Picnic on a Cloud, 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 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. Lu is also the founder of WYSH: Wear Your Spirit for Humanity. Visit her website at luhanessian.com.
© 2009, Lu Hanessian All rights reserved.