Parenting is the most human, rewarding and challenging of human undertakings. Being a father is a rich ongoing opportunity to be close to, learn with, guide, teach, play with and learn from a young human. Parenting can bring out the best in us as men, and in so doing also challenges us in the deepest ways. As we as men seek to more deeply engage with our children – to go further than our fathers had the opportunity to go with us as parents — it makes a crucial difference to build a network of fathers to gain support from, share in the work, and develop successful and effective parenting practices.
One of the key things that we can do to improve our parenting practices is to become aware of the ways that our socialization as males and our childhood as boys impacts our fathering. As males raised in this society, we bring both strengths and areas of challenge to our parenting. Male socialization is strong on requiring individual strength, but short on encouraging the capacities for closeness and nurturing which are so important in parenting.
Our approach in the Fathering Circle is to develop a network among fathers to offer mutual support, gain parenting skills, and also to heal and recover from those aspects of our upbringing as males that tend to limit our effectiveness in fully engaging with our children.
Our work begins with taking turns listening to each other as we talk about what we love about being a father, what we discover about ourselves as we parent, and what is difficult, confusing, and challenging. We share significant memories of our own fathers or males who helped raise us, and begin to identify what we want to keep and what we want to transform from these relationships. We look at how we were and are affected by the sexism and misogyny in our culture, and how those attitudes towards females affect our relationships with our parenting partners, and with our daughters and sons.
We begin to practice parenting skills focused on listening to our children, following their minds in play, learning to be present when they need to release feelings through tears. The skills, based on the work of Re-evaluation Counseling Family Work, brings understandings of the power of young people and how to support their flourishing. We learn to carve out dedicated periods of time to follow their lead, with our attention fully on them , to allow them to both explore the world fully and also to show us feelings that they may have hidden away. We learn to play with them in active and thoughtful ways, following their intelligence and capacities for fun and imagination – and sometimes to make games of areas where they feel tension and fear, and where we are sometimes inflexible. We learn to bring limits to them sensitively in ways that both protect them and allow them to recover from and channel angry and aggressive feelings. We learn alternatives to ways that we may have been mistreated as children, while building on our own unique strengths as fathers.