Becoming a New Dad: The Climb of Fatherhood (Blog 2)
Authors: Cooper Brown & the FFL Team
In 2020, 1.3 million children were born to new parents (CDC, 2021). That subsequently means there are 1.3 million new dads! Men transitioning to fatherhood have many things to look forward to and challenges to face. Learning to meet the needs of children can be difficult. This new phase of life is like climbing a mountain. Reaching the summit is not easy, but it will likely be one of the most rewarding things a father does!
Ultimately the point of climbing a mountain is to get to the top, and in like manner, the point of fathering is to raise children to be healthy, happy, competent adults. As described in our first blog, the goal is not perfection, the goal is to meet the needs of children. By establishing objectives, a father’s efforts have clear direction. We break down each part of climbing a mountain and discuss how it relates to a man’s transition to fatherhood.
Base Camp: Becoming A New Dad
Like all climbers and hikers, we all start our journey at the base of the mountain. For Chad, this ascent began two years ago when he and his wife had their son Maverick. “At first, it was a flood of disbelief, fear, and excitement. We were a little scared because we were (and still are) pretty young. These feelings stayed with us throughout the pregnancy, but I felt grateful to start our family. Meeting him for the first time was perfect, and although the following few months of adjustment were hard, it’s impossible to come up with a word to describe it all.” Chad recalls, “I learned a lot about myself in those first few months.”
Many fathers have similar experiences as Chad. They feel excited but may also be worried. In fact, one study looked at how fathers felt about their ability to fulfill their new role (self-efficacy). The study measured new fathers’ confidence in themselves over the course of the mother’s pregnancy and for six months after the baby was born. They found that fathers’ confidence in being a good father consistently grew over time (Pinto et al., 2016). Fathers did not “reach the top of the mountain” or obtain the peak of fathering immediately but rather, displayed consistent, steady growth. The journey to reaching the peak of fatherhood can get more difficult as the trail gets steeper and the goal nearer, but momentum can help a father fulfill his role. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step (Chinese proverb).
Fathering takes effort. It is the resistance of the uphill climb that makes one stronger. Likewise, the challenges a father faces help him become a better man. Dr. Forma Walsh said, “resilience entails more than managing stressful conditions, shouldering a burden, or surviving an ordeal. It involves the potential for personal and relational transformation and positive growth that can be forged out of adversity. Studies over recent decades show that couples and families, through suffering and struggle, often emerge stronger, more loving, and more resourceful in meeting future challenges” (Walsh, 2016, p.3).
Chad experienced the initial, exhausting challenges of being a father, as well as the unexpected joy. He said “I can say that I enjoy the time I spend [with Maverick], even if I am exhausted. So I often jump at the chance to have one-on-one time with him when he needs to eat, is teething, or is sick late at night or early in the morning.”
The Trail is Our Guide
Staying on the trail is a key to successful climbing. People often use trails to avoid getting lost. Understanding and following the generative fathering path, one that focuses on the capabilities and contributions of fathers, rather than their failures, can serve as a successful guide for men. Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) pleaded for us to move beyond a deficit model that emphasizes father’s inadequacies and to begin recognizing that most fathers have “the desire, ability, and sense of obligation to care effectively for the next generation” (p. xiii). They invite us to consider fathering as generative work men perform and suggest the term “fatherwork” as a user-friendly way to refer to sustained, generative fathering efforts. Generative fathering is “fathering that meets the needs of children by working to create and maintain a developing ethical relationship with them. . . . Thus, a generative ethic calls a father out of convenience and comfort to the challenging and rewarding labor of caring and responding to a face-to-face relationship with another human being across generations (Hawkins, Dollahite, & Brotherson, pp. 18-19). Generative fathering is the work that connects fathers and children with the past, present, and future (Brotherson & White, 2007).
Rather than a social role, fathering becomes a higher calling that teaches children to be good citizens with high moral character. Thus fathering becomes an ethical responsibility to establish strong families, which leads to strong communities and nations. “I have more than a few father figures in my life that I am so grateful for. Looking back, I can see that my dad gave up a lot of the things that may have been more fun or easier. He saw the bigger picture to find more joy in the lives of his family. I try to apply that attitude to my life now that I’m a dad,” Chad remarked. The love, involvement, and effort Chad implements now will engender similar patterns for his son when he becomes a father.
Joy in the Journey
Some of the most beautiful flowers grow along mountains’ trails. These are the little everyday joys of fatherhood. Chad shared it this way, “I go to work early in the morning, so I don’t see Maverick until I get home, but he is always so happy to see me, and I love having that time to play. I usually take the responsibility of putting him to bed. Having one-on-one time with him as he winds down for the night is one of my favorite parts of my day.”
Enjoying the small things can help a father keep climbing. Recognizing the small things can improve perspective and produce joy, especially in difficult moments. When fathers focus on small victories, gratitude may increase and desires to move forward may be enhanced.
Reaching the Summit
As fathers continually progress, they eventually reach the summit. They may be short of breath, have aching muscles, and dripping sweat, but the summit is quite the spectacle to behold! Some of the best views are at the top of mountains. It takes a lot of time and hard work to experience the joy of seeing children grow into healthy adults. As fathers do the work of fathering by giving their time, expending their efforts, and loving their children, they will more likely have children who grow to experience fulfilling relationships, lasting happiness, and good health. In fact, Mineo (2017) found fulfilling relationships to be more impactful than money, fame, or career achievement.
Transitioning to fatherhood can be daunting but provides unique opportunities to learn and grow. The difficulties of fathering can lead to stronger bonds with families and help create resiliency. In order to reach the summit, fathers can follow designated trails for guidance. By pressing forward and savoring the everyday joys of fathering, fathers can experience some of the greatest joys in life and eventually reach their fathering summits.
- Center for Disease Control, (2021). Births: Final data for 2020. National Vital Statistics Report 70(17), 14. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-17.pdf
- Brotherson, S. E., & White, J. M. (2007). Introduction. In S. E. Brotherson & J. M. White (Eds.), Why fathers count: The importance of fathers and their involvement with children (pp. 18). Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.
- Hawkins, A. J., & Dollahite, D. C. (Eds.). (1997). Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives. Sage Publications, Inc.
- Dollahite, D. C., Hawkins, A. J., & Brotherson, S. E. (1997). Fatherwork: A conceptual ethic of fathering as generative work. In A. J. Hawkins & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.), Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives (pp. 17–35). Sage Publications, Inc.
- Mineo, L. (2017). Good genes are nice, but joy is better. The Harvard Gazette: Health and Wellness. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
- Pinto, T. M., Figueiredo, B., Pinheiro, L. L., & Canário, C. (2016). Fathers’ parenting self-efficacy during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 34(4), 343–355. https://doi.org/10.1080/02646838.2016.1178853.
- Walsh, F. (2016). Family resilience: a developmental systems framework. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. 13. 1-12. 10.1080/17405629.2016.1154035. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/296684641_Family_resilience_a_developmental_systems_framework