FCN 2: Becoming a New Dad: The Climb of Fatherhood

Being the Father Each Child Needs (FCN)

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).

The Climb

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.

See Other Blogs in our “Fatherhood” Series:


  • 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

FCN 1: An Introduction to Fathering

An Introduction to Being the Father Each Child Needs Blog Series (FCN)
Cooper Brown & the FFL Team

Blog Series Description

This blog series is sponsored by the Foundation for Family Life (FFL) and is part of a discussion on fathering that highlights the importance of fathers in the lives of their children and families.  The aim is to inform, encourage, and celebrate fathers’ efforts and desires to be the father their children need.  Content for these blogs draws on academic studies, personal experiences, and the book Why Fathers Count: The Importance of Fathers and Their Involvement with Children by Drs. Sean Brotherson & Joseph White.  FFL is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower individuals and families to improve their lives through quality programs and services.  FFL promotes family services like family life coaching and counseling, hosts an annual family life conference, and offers sober living and addiction treatment programs for those in need, among other things. Contributors to this series include Dr. Joseph White, Cooper Brown, Haylee Baker, Brynlee Winegar and Lauren Ashby.

An Introduction to Fathering

My name is Cooper Brown and I am an intern with the Foundation for Family Life.  This is our team’s initial fathering blog in the “Being the Father Each Child Needs” blog series and I’m grateful to have been invited to share some insights from my own father’s example.  My brother and I are different in many aspects.  Looking at a picture of us might even bring into question our status as brothers, but our differences extend beyond our looks.  Growing up I loved everything about sports.  I used to stay up late watching NBA games, played tennis in high school, and put on my NFL jersey every Sunday for good luck.  I also enjoyed being a part of the Boy Scouts.  Camping and hiking were among my favorite activities.

On the other hand, my brother is one of the most tech-savvy people I have ever met.  In high school, he would redesign company logos for fun.  Adobe programs are his canvas, and he is the artist.  He also has a love for planes and flying.  I remember watching him play Flight Simulator and practicing the safety instructions flight attendants give. 

There are many things different about us, including what we need.  My father had to wear many hats to meet our various needs.  It was not easy, but I am grateful for his love and support for my brother and me.  My dad and I went camping at least every other month from middle school through high school.  He taught me how to build a fire, put together a tent, and make tin foil dinners.  Some of my favorite memories include backpacking into Linville Gorge, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and rafting down the French Broad River.

My dad taught me how to play tennis.  He showed me how to hit a backhand, forehand with topspin, and use my height to create more leverage when I serve.  It was because of him I made the tennis team.  I gained new friends and had some of my best high school memories on that team. My brother never got the short end of the stick because of these experiences.  My dad worked as a traveling salesman and took my brother with him during the summers.  That way, they could fly and spend quality time together.  When my brother needed an internship in graphic design, my dad hired him.  It wasn’t out of obligation either.  My brother was qualified and rebranded the entire company my dad worked for.

My dad was not perfect, but he ensured that our needs were met.  How can fathers meet the needs of their family?  It is on this topic that our fatherhood blog series will follow.  Fatherhood is a learning process that, by necessity, adapts and evolves over time for each man and each family.  

One study identified fatherhood principles by surveying 374 men and 99 father-son pairs.  Researchers asked men what it means to be a good father.  The most popular responses included love, availability, being a good role model, involvement, providing for the family, giving support, being a teacher, being affectionate, and being a good listener (Morman & Floyd, 2006).  Children benefit greatly when they experience a father’s love.  A father may express love for his son when he loses a little league game or after a daughter performs at a dance recital.  Children feel their father’s love when he is available and attentive to their needs.  A religious leader said, “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time” (Uchtdorf, 2010, pp. 21-22).  Learning that a father’s love is unconditional can create a solid foundation for a child’s life.  Brotherson & White explained that “fatherhood involves a responsibility to work for a child’s well-being in a caring, committed manner.  In essence, the development of a father-child relationship asks for a morally committed, actively involved devotion on the father’s part” (2007, p. 18).  Understanding and embracing these ideas can help men be the father each child needs.  

There is much that men can do in their fathering efforts.  Showing love, spending time, expressing concern, and being an example are critical.  The goal is not perfection; all men will fall short in their paternal responsibilities.  The goal is to focus on the good that men bring to the table as fathers and to encourage them in their paternal desires (see Generative Fathering, 1997, and Why Fathers Count, 2007).  We hope to highlight father’s contributions and support men as they move forward in the best possible way for their children.  Please share positive insights, perspectives, and responses in the comments section below.

See Other Blogs in our “Fatherhood” Series:


  • 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. 1-7).  Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.
  • Brotherson, S. E. & White, J. M. (Eds.). (2007). Why fathers count: The importance of fathers and their involvement with children. Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.
  • Hawkins, A. J., & Dollahite, D. C. (Eds.). (1997). Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives. Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Morman, M.T., & Floyd, K. (2006). Good fathering: Father and son perceptions of what it means to be a good father. Fathering, 4(2), 113.
  • Uchtdorf, D.F. (2010, May) Of things that matter most. Ensign, 19-22. https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2010/11/saturday-morning-session/of-things-that-matter-most?lang=eng

3 Types of Love Most Important for Fathers

Love is composed of many different emotions, processes, and feelings; because of this, it’s easy to get lost. It happens with teenagers who think they are in love and will live happily ever after when really, they have only arrived at attraction. It happens with hook-ups where physical intimacy can be difficult to distinguish from commitment and care. It happens with parents who want their children to be good people, but use discipline rather than compassion to get obedience.  

All these are facets of love. Attraction is the beginning of romantic love. Intimacy is a way for partners to deepen their connection with each other. Discipline keeps children safe from hazards they might not have considered. There are many more layers, applications, and manifestations of love, here I have focused on three types of love that are essential to fathers.  

#1 Togetherness

I make a point every day to tell my wife that I love her. It is important to me that she never doubts my commitment and dedication to her. She needs to know that she is special and worthy of being loved. Occasionally, she will respond, “Why do you love me?” I reply, “You are beautiful. You are my best friend. You are a great cook.” I realized, while those things are true, they are surface-level and don’t convey the depth of love I have for her. So I moved on to things like, “You are a caring person. You are a fabulous mom. You go out of your way to help others.” It was a great boost to her confidence to point out her specific character strengths and let her know that I noticed them. I was satisfied with my answers, until one day I ran out of original things to say. I found myself repeating the things that I said before, and while I still meant them, it didn’t convey what I wanted to.

I panicked. I thought “I must be doing something wrong. Why can’t I think of anything original? She is my wife! I spend every day with her. Am I not loving her the right way? Shouldn’t I be able to compliment her endlessly?”

These thoughts continued to bother me for some time. One night, my wife and I went on a date. While we were out, we reminisced about how we met, our love story, and what we had done these past few years of our marriage. It was then that I realized I wasn’t doing something wrong — I was simply looking in the wrong places for love! The source of my love was not in the compliments I gave to her, but in the experiences we shared with each other. Our love continues to deepen as we share experiences and live together. 

It is essential for fathers to realize — the greatest gifts that a father can give to his children is to love their mother and be together with his children. There is no replacement for time and togetherness with your children to foster greater love. During these moments is when children will become close and build memories of their parents, and it will be these moments that children lean on when life gets hard and they need help.

#2 Unconditional Love

Your love for spouse and child should be predicated on love for love’s sake. Not on a return, promised reward, or investment. It is simply love because they deserve it. There will be times as a parent that you feel upset, taken advantage of, disappointed, and more. It will be the hardest at those times to love unconditionally; yet, it is also the most crucial time to remember to love. This unconditional love will lead to trust and open dialogue, which becomes especially important as your children enter their adolescence. As you love unconditionally you are sending a message to your spouse and children, “I love you no matter what. There is nothing that can take away my love for you.”

Source: Pexels

#3 Tough Love

Love is tough — like when your toddler just wants to eat candy for dinner and you have to break their poor delicate spirit by saying, “No.” Other times it means watching your child make a choice that you know will not bring them happiness. This love doesn’t mean that you are unkind, or stubborn — it is, instead, protective. It is the kind of love that drives parents to teach children when their actions may lead them (and their friends) into harm’s way, even when that may create resentment on the child’s part. Parents need to make sound decisions that may not be popular, but will best provide for their families and their well-being. 

When fathers incorporate these three types of love into their lives and their parenting, they will find more happiness at home and for themselves. If you feel you are lacking in any of these areas, don’t feel guilty, feel motivated. Go do an activity together as a family, create a shared experience to increase your togetherness. Make a goal to specifically tell your children and/or spouse that you love them — especially after they have done something to make you upset. Finally, make some tough love decisions to keep your family on track. That might mean putting cell phones away at the dinner table or removing media with questionable content from your home.

Start small if you need to — pick one area to improve upon and do it. As soon as one area improves it will become easier to improve on others.  

Tell us in the comments one thing you are going to work on in your family this week!

Advice About Fatherhood From Mulan

One of my favorite Disney movies I watched growing up was Mulan. A scene I love is when Mushu awakens and then calls up all the ancestors for an important meeting about their progeny. It was crazy to see how aware of their family they were even though they were not among the living. Even more entertaining to me was the fact that they were quirky, argued, and had lively personalities to make the movie even more enjoyable.

There is an important principle for happy families that can be gleaned from the relationship we see between ancestors and descendants in Mulan.

Connectedness leads to healthy, happy families

While the scene I am referring to isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, there is an obvious concern for Mulan. Concern indicates care, which demonstrates love. And where there is love, there is happiness. The more families feel connected, the greater the love and happiness therein. That isn’t to say there aren’t difficulties and struggles, but overall, the power of the happy moments will outweigh the bad.

Now some of you may have found a catch in my last paragraph . . . Mulan’s ancestors are deceased! How in the world could Mulan ever feel their concern for her? Maybe if you subscribe to a belief that you can feel your loved ones after they have passed on, then you have your answer. Putting personal beliefs aside, what’s important is that Mulan feels connected to her ancestors, and that makes a difference in her life in the ‘here and now’. She never talks to or sees any of her ancestors, but they still influence the way she lives her life. Again, her concern to not displease her ancestors is evidence of her connectedness to them.

Mulan is not the only one who believes in this connection with her ancestors. Her mom, dad, and grandmother all feel a closeness to them. This shared belief pulls her immediate family close together and increases the love they feel. In fact, the whole reason we have a movie named ‘Mulan’ is because Mulan loves her father. She was willing to leave her home and go to war rather than see her father get hurt.

Stories can Connect Us to our Ancestors

A large portion of those that read this article will not share the same beliefs as Mulan; however, we can still feel connected to our ancestors, and in turn our own families. Have you ever had a story told in your family about a relative who has passed on? Did you feel any sort of love, or fondness for that individual, though they are gone? I myself have many fond memories of stories being told about my paternal grandfather who passed away before my birth. I feel close and connected to him even though I have never met him.

A story that is dear to me is one I have named “The Cellar”.  As I have heard the story told to me, my grandfather had a dream in which something terrible had happened and he was unable to feed his family. He watched them starve in front of him. He woke with a start and proceeded to wake every one of his sons (he had 5), took them to the backyard, gave them a shovel, and told them to start digging. That summer, my dad and his brothers dug a cellar that they then used to store food for the family.

Source: Unsplash

Hearing that story growing up endeared me to my grandfather. I saw in him a concerned father who loved his family so much that he would immediately get to work. I saw that he valued hard work and passed that on to his sons. I saw that value reflected in my father and hoped to earn it as well. It made me love him, my father, and my family name. It makes me want to be like him. That’s why my son shares his great-grandfather’s name.

My grandfather was also very musical. He played the trombone, guitar, and drums as well as sang. This love of music is alive and well in me, it even led me to find my dear wife. I have loved music since I was little, and I like to think that I got it from my grandpa. In fact, I often play the guitar that once belonged to him. I have felt many times, playing or singing music (especially on that guitar), my grandfather looking down on me. It is a connection that I feel is as real as anything else I have experienced. I feel that he knows me, is interested in me, and cares about the decisions I make. It changes the way I live my life.

From stories like “The Cellar” and personal connections like musicality and grandpa’s guitar, I gained an appreciation of where I am from, who I am, and who I can become—even though I have never met him in the flesh.  

I’m confident that most, if not all, of us, have a sense of identity gained from stories of our loved ones that have passed. In fact, a presentation given by Dr. Timothy Rarick (also the author of the Family Good Things blog) shows the scientific research behind children’s identity related to connectedness to ancestors. This sense of identity and confidence in children leads to greater connectedness in our current families and leads to more open and healthy relationships at home.

I found great happiness in my family growing up through this connectedness, just like Mulan. Make this a part of your family by telling stories. Maybe start at the dinner table. Tell a story about your grandpa, or maybe even a sibling. It can be funny, inspiring, instructive—whatever you decide just do it! As you do so, you will see your family connectedness begin to grow. If you really want to see it take off then write down the stories you share. It will become a gem for your family.


Another great way to get connected with your ancestors is by doing genealogy. You would be surprised at who you are related to when you start following your line. This is also something that kids and teenagers will love as it will involve the computer. Go to sites like familysearch.org or ancestry.com to start looking up your ancestors. It is a great shared family activity that can bring you all together and be a lot of fun.

Start this today. Get a computer, tell a story, or call your parents and get a good story. The love and closeness that it will bring will have far-reaching positive effects on your family.

Why Family Leadership Matters

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What is leadership within a family? To me, it’s one word, as described in this riddle:

“It can be bad and dangerous, right or wrong, good, popular, or positive. It can be given and expressed. You always have it, you will always provide it. It might escape from you or you might lose the right one. What is it?”

The answer is Love.

One of my sons struggles with a sour attitude. I have learned that when he is not accommodating, it’s because he needs more love, and he unknowingly spells that: T-I-M-E. That seems to help my son become more positive while interacting with his brothers and sister. Interesting that the time I spend with my son has nothing to do with interacting with his siblings, yet it helps! Sometimes I have to wrestle with him, or take him to the gas station for a soda. Other times it requires talking with him or reading with him.

The Power of Examples

Once I have acted so all of my children feel loved, then and only then can I be a leader to my family. What is that one word for leadership within my family? To me, that word is Example. An example is something good, bad, right, wrong, positive, popular and is always expressed. Whether we like it or not, we will always provide an example to others.

When I choose to set a good example for my kids, it can be really tough. When I tell my kids, “Hey, you need to turn off the TV”, I need to be ready to turn off my own program. When I tell them, “Don’t eat junk food before dinner.” I can’t scarf up a cookie myself. I have to be ready to check myself for the kind of example I am giving.

Another one of my sons feels loved through positive words. As stated in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” I shouldn’t criticize, condemn, or complain to my children, but rather accept, approve, and appreciate them.

How would my example in my home change if I could continuously say positive things to the kids, instead of only speaking to them when I have something to be corrected? My family will follow my good example when they feel loved. It is so critical in today’s day and age to be a solid leader within the walls of our own homes.


I am inspired by the movie Courageous. This movie is the story about a police officer who, after a traumatizing event in his life, strives to become a better father. Through his police work, he recognizes the enormous void in a young person’s life when there is a father (or mother) missing. The impact is dramatic. He decides with his co-workers to make a pact about the example they set to their children and within their community. His individual determination is very noteworthy.

The character, Adam Mitchell, provides a stirring example throughout the movie, including a talk he gives to his church at the conclusion of the movie. I’d like to share some of his words. Although Adam Mitchell speaks in terms of fatherhood, I’d like to encourage interchanging the word father for “mother” or “leader in the home”.

“In my home, the decision has already been made. You don’t have to ask who will guide my family, because by God’s grace, I will. You don’t have to ask who will teach my son to follow Christ, because I will. Who will accept the responsibility of providing and protecting my family? I will. Who will ask God to break the chain of destructive patterns in my family’s history? I will. Who will pray for and bless my children to boldly pursue whatever God calls them to do? I am their father. I will. I accept this responsibility, and it is my privilege to embrace it. I want the favor of God and his blessing on my home. Any good man does. So where are you, men of courage? Where are you, fathers who fear the Lord? It’s time to rise up and answer the call that God has given to you and to say, I will, I will, I will” (Kendrick, 2011).

It’s time to step up and love your family more. Spend a little more time with them. Speak a little kinder to them. Teach them about god, respect, and responsibility. Influence their lives a little bit more. Be a little bit better of an example for them. Others will follow what they see. It’s a win/win scenario for you and your family!