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Good fathering needs true male warriors

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For most men, as a father we replay the fathering skills that were learnt from our own dad. Some men are fortunate that this approach represents a healthy approach. For most men I would suggest there are varying degrees of unhealthiness in what we learnt. For some , like myself, the instruction manual was very sparse and / or incorrect.

Experts in the area of family dynamics suggest there is a cycle in families which continues from generation to generation, irrespective of how dysfunctional it seems to outsiders. This cycle relates to the roles individuals play in the family with the aim of the cycle being to keep the family in a state of equilibrium. If there are members of the family who exhibit dysfunctional behaviour, then others will adapt and develop their own dysfunctional behaviour to keep things in balance.

Children of parents who exhibit abusive behaviour will often develop their own compulsive or addictive behaviour in response to this. Also, let’s not kid ourselves by saying that my dad was an alcoholic and I’m not, so the cycle is broken. A bit like the wardrobe and set function in a movie, we can change the content and the style of addictive behaviour, but the underlying role is the same. In my experience I have seen a myriad of ways a man can play the role of a lost, absent or angry father. Whilst I never had this conversation with my dad, I believe he withdrew into alcohol as a way of not repeating the physical abusive behaviour of his father. I’m grateful that he tried.
While all this may seem like doom and gloom, the challenge and opportunity for men is to break this cycle. Its not about being the perfect father. More about developing awareness of our own childhood experiences and influences, and a willingness to do things differently.

The world needs good men and children need good fathers. For boys, someone from whom to learn to be a good man from, and for girls the opportunity to experience what a relationship with a good man is like. Whilst the movies paint a picture of the ultimate male being the lone warrior who doesn’t feel pain and will fight and win the battle, the truth is that for most of us the main battle to be won is inside our head. Traits such as humility, humour, everyday wisdom, patience and kindness are signs to the world that we are winning this.
For men one of the key challenges, in my opinion, is to parent the boy inside each of us. If that boy feels unheard, lonely, angry, scared, there is work to do. I believe that on a sustainable basis we can only give to others what we can give to ourselves. So what are some of the ways men can achieve this you might ask. There would be thousands but here are my top five.

1) Find and keep good mates
Good mates like/love us no matter what. We don’t need to impress them or do things for them so that they like us. They may be existing friends we can talk to about our bad days and our fears. They don’t have to solve our problems, just listen and not judge. If we just have mates, but not good ones, then try deepening the conversation. I would suggest there are men in your circle who also want good mates, and are waiting for someone to talk about real stuff (Yes I know most men, myself included, can talk about crap for days).

2) Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself
To be a good man you don’t have to be the strongest, hardest working, needless, don’t feel pain etc etc. I can assure you that this type of thinking is always about comparison, and in this mindset there will always be someone better. I encourage you to say to yourself “I am ok and enough today”. Then, find your passion and work towards it. In doing this you will become more of the awesome you that you already are.

3) Treat yourself as well as you treat your best mate, wife, partner etc
Think of the person you care about the most. What would you do for them ? I would suggest you would be kind, supportive, generous and want them to have fun and laugh. Do this for yourself. You are worth it. That boy inside you just needs a man, not another boy, to look after him and nurture him. A word of caution here. Being nurtured doesn’t mean having all your boyish needs met. My sons would love eating Maccas every day and play computer games 24 x7. As a father I need to show moderation. The same goes for your internal boy.

4) Get help when you need it
If you need help with anything, get it. Your health, your state of mind, a niggling problem . Unfortunately, it is unlikely to fix itself by ignoring it (a common male fantasy). There is an awesome amount of people willing to help. I have found that magic happens when you put your hand up and say I’m lost, I can’t do it by myself etc. We would do this if we were struggling in the surf. I also have met some of my best mates in this space.

5) When you are angry with your children, stop and think about the boy inside you
There is nothing wrong with being angry with your children, but when it happens put the pause button on. Look inside and see what is going on with the boy in you. Is he angry or upset. Deal with him first if you can, and then come back to your children and deal with them from that space. I know that this is not easy, and for many of us we need to get help. As a man this is a critical one. Our actions have consequences, both in the present and in terms of what we are modelling for our children.

Following these five steps is the work of warriors. Real men in my opinion. They are not easy as you need to be prepared to go inside yourself and that is a life’s work. In my opinion, whilst women have their own equally important work to do, men’s work is that on which I need to focus. My sons will not be perfect men and I’m sure I will give them some bad habits I will cringe at in later years. What drives me to be a warrior is the idea of hanging out with this young adult man who I look at in admiration as a real man, and say to myself that this man is my son. For men with daughters , seeing them become healthy adult women is equally satisfying I’m sure. For men reading this who have already achieved this I look up to you. You are a warrior role model.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I still look in wonder at my sleeping sons and consider myself fortunate to have them. I like the idea from Kahil Gibran’s poem that children do not belong to us, and that we as parents are the bow from which the living arrows, our children, are sent forth.

Scott Carroll is a qualified and accredited Counsellor focussing on working with men and on male related issues. He is practicing in Kincumber. Please e-mail him at Sydney_scott@yahoo.com.au or phone on 0433 119 103 to make a time for an initial consultation to see if there are aspects of your life on which you would like his support to work on.

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