“I realized that I was the most important man on the face of the earth to this child”
~ Barry McIntosh, Director of Young Fathers of Santa Fe
Being a father changes a man. It forces him to look at himself and make choices. He asks himself “What will I be from here forth? Will I be up to the task? What will happen to the old me?”
Every new father awakens to a responsibility that can make him whole or shake him to the core. As reported by the National Fatherhood Initiative, in 2012, 34% of children live absent their biological father. Too often the reasons for the father missing in the home involve not having the internal confidence and/or external means to perform as a dad. Encouragement, mentoring, being welcomed into fathering are sometimes lacking. The lack of any of these can cause a young man to be misinterpreted as not caring.
In the following article you will see how one man awakens to, and cherishes, his new role as a father. As he states in his article, “I realized that I was the most important man on the face of the earth to this child”
Birth of a Father, written by Barry McIntosh, was originally published in 2005 in Tumbleweeds, A Quarterly Newspaper for Santa Fe Families. Mr. McIntosh is currently Director of the Young Fathers of Santa Fe, who serve to support young men to become great fathers.
Birth of a Father
I now know what happened that day. From a purely biological perspective strange things are going on. For involved fathers at birth and for a month after the levels of testosterone drops by 33%, estrogen, even though men only have about 10% of what women have, increases 1 month prior and 3 months after birth and prolactin, the hormone that helps produce breast milk, increases in men by 20% for 3 weeks after birth.
Seeing our daughter for the first time I began to understand what had been going on with my wife and the pregnancy. Many men are visually orientated, and I am one of them, so when I finally saw my child I understood what she had been experiencing during the nine months of her pregnancy. Modern technology, namely ultrasound, has now given men an early view of their children before birth. My conversations with fathers indicate that this view has helped them connect with their child earlier. I suspect that the hormonal changes that occur at birth may be happening earlier because of this connection. This is helping the fathers and helps the mothers feel better about their pregnancy. Mothers to be, now see the fathers more involved. It’s wonderful to observe the many young fathers that I work with proudly carrying around their child’s first ultrasound photo in their wallets.
A father’s role in our society seems pretty clear, the father is the provider. It is assumed that the father makes sure there is a roof over the families heads, and that there is food on the table. He is seen as the protector of the family against intrusion or any damaging elements. Usually he is also the strength around the family, which can mean that fathers are in the role as the main person who disciplines the children.
I had all that growing up. It had been modeled for me well. We were a non-physically affectionate family in true Victorian fashion. My father shared responsibility for childcare and keeping the family together very well, so in some aspects of fatherhood I was well prepared but sadly lacking in others. Unfortunately what was also modeled for me was emotional unavailability. I learned very quickly that I had other fatherly roles other than the ones that were modeled for me.
Our first daughter was born overdue by a week. Consequently her skin was constantly in need of massages with oil. I loved the job of giving her a massage each day and this really helped our physical connection. It was a great time just for me and her, it also gave my wife welcome relief from being the main childcare provider. This expanded when our second daughter was born and I then assumed the role, when returning from work, as the bather of the girls. I loved connecting to both my daughters and this built a fantastic bond to both, I was seen as a fun person to be with, a role that I cherished.
When we became pregnant with our second daughter, I wanted to be much more prepared. We attended Childbirth Preparation classes. At the birth of our second daughter I had learned to really feel part of the team and a support for my wife. I had a job to do including timing contractions, supplying ice chips, protecting my wife from the many visitors, being the communicator for the nurses to my wife and for her to the nurses. I felt in control, which I later found very useful for my wife. If the coach can be in control then the laboring woman can surrender into the birth energy and feel comfortable in being out of control, a necessary place to be to let birth take its course unrestricted. This is important work for a man as it taps into his role as problem solver and protector. I felt useful and successful and the experience of birth was greatly enhanced.
I started to work with my wife in her role of a Lamaze childbirth educator. We had classes in our home and I would see fathers being dragged in by their partners. I saw that these classes were uncomfortable for many men. Childbirth is a woman’s domain with mainly women in support roles as nurses and birth assistance. To encourage men into this environment is difficult at best and takes a lot of skill and intention. So I began to teach the coaches role in my wife’s classes. This was very successful and later I created a session just for the fathers on how to care for a newborn. This class was great fun and the guys felt more confident as a caregiver and support to their partners. Often men need a role of action and problem solving to feel complete and useful and that is what we tried to give them.
Later I attended classes to train as a Doula, not really with the intention of practicing as one but to ensure the males’ role was represented. The training was helpful and fascinating both for others to see a male in attendance and to hear the males perspective. We still have a ways to go because if you look up the word Doula in the dictionary one often finds it described as “a woman birth assistant.” I have also had the privilege of being a Doula for a father, helping him through the process of supporting himself and his partner and moving into the father role.
As time went on my role as father had to change and adapt to the ever-changing family needs. I discovered that I was moving into a realm that was very different to my single days, that of the King archetype. The King is the protector of the land and his subjects, a benevolent leader and when my own father died this role immediately became more apparent and vital. I also looked back and realized that the fathers’ role is unique. A father shows his children how men are in the world and mothers cannot do that. I feel that the fathers role is such an important role and sometimes it is not valued enough in our culture.
My children have been my greatest teachers and continue giving me the most wonderful lessons of life. Now I have merged my knowledge about being a father with my passion for teaching fathers and others about fatherhood. I work with The New Mexico Young Fathers Project to pass on these lessons and support these young men in their journey to fatherhood. Showing them the way to their own unique experience of becoming a father, a king and a man.