by Bruce Linton, Ph.D
Becoming a father and a parent can be a transformational process for a man. When a man becomes a father, through loving his child, partner and family, he comes in contact with a deep paternal masculinity. When a child enters a man's life, a new depth of feeling and emotion are awakened within him.
In my work with fathers, what I hear new dads talk about most is their interest in being a participating and active parent. They want to be able to nurture their child and family by being more than just the "breadwinner" -- as many of their fathers were. They don't want to just put bread on the table for their families, they want to sit down and eat dinner with them too.
A whole world of feelings are awakened in a man through the process of pregnancy and birth. It has been my experience that although women often appreciate this new awakening of feeling in their spouse or partner, they don't really understand what it means to the new or expectant father.
Men's involvement in pregnancy and birth and their participation in the early years of their child/children's lives has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. In 1965, about 5% of fathers attended the birth of their child. In 1989, almost 95% of fathers were present at childbirth. Men are clearly asking for more participation in the childbirth process. It is also interesting to note how, in a recent survey on men and work, 75% of the men would accept slower career advancement if they could have a job that would let them arrange their work schedule to have more time with their families.
At the prospect of becoming a father, men are filled with excitement, fear, wonder, worry, love, and confusion. (Just to name a few feelings!) Throughout the pregnancy and birth, the man, who is now becoming a father, is trying to find ways to express and integrate these and many more feelings.
Men in western industrialized countries get little preparation as to how to make the transition from man to father. Participating in prenatal classes, going to prenatal visits with your partner are ways in which expectant fathers can be both supportive of their partners/wives and at the same time include themselves in the pregnancy process. Many men begin during the pregnancy to develop a bond with their child. Expectant fathers in my groups have talked about how they-enjoyed laying their hands on their partner's belly and talking to their babies. This very personal and private communication is very powerful as a prenatal bonding ritual. Helping choose the birth attendants, midwife or doctor, and being involved in the choice of where the baby will be born is another way men begin becoming involved.
In my work with fathers, through the Fathers' Forum, I see men seeking to understand the journey from man to father, and I see how something very special happens when this "search for understanding" is shared with other men/fathers. Finding a relationship with other men/fathers during pregnancy is an important way in which we can help "initiate" each other into fatherhood.
Men today want to participate in the birth process. They want to be there with and for their partners. They want to be involved in offering support and love.
Fathers who are able to participate in the birth of their child often report that the sharing of this experience with their partner/wife remains one of the most important moments in their relationship and in their lives. Even if the birth is difficult or a cesarean delivery, men still feel strongly about being together at this special time. Fathers' importance in participating at the birth is finally getting the acknowledgment it deserves.
Expectant fathers also need to explore what they need at the birth. What kind of support does the expectant dad need to ask for? Many of the new fathers I have worked with talked about how important having a male friend available for them was.