Dad. Pop. Old man.
Whatever your favorite nickname for your father is, this weekend is the time to call him and thank him for all the things that he did for you. Men can be amazingly nurturing when given half a chance. He probably did more for you than you want to own up to, but now is the time to do it.
I’ve noticed over the years that the men who want to be good fathers have a very hard road to go down. It’s not easy for a man to open up emotionally. We’re taught from a young age that emotions are for sissies, that we should just “man up” and deal with a situation.
But the fact is that men, like women, have emotions. They just don’t frequently know what the word is for what they are feeling, but they are feeling it. I come across this often in my practice. I have fathers who have a very hard time expressing their profound love for their children with words, so they want to do it with actions.
Many a father would much rather spend a Saturday afternoon at a baseball game with his child where they say little of consequence, than spend two minutes using words to say I love you.
This is understandable when you consider that the American male has a long history of being a fiercely independent trailblazer. From the first colonists to the Tim Taylors of our time, men are given icons who freeze out emotion.
As a child, the messages I received from my father, a man of little emotional intelligence, was that we bottle up our emotions and we only deal with them by drinking, fighting and running. Not a very effective toolset.
At school, the messages that one child teaches another is that to have feelings is to be a fag, a pansy, a sissy, a loser — less than a real man. So this is what the boys of America learn.
As a new husband and father, men are taught to be a good provider, which means to bring home a big paycheck to buy a big home, to pay for daycare and after-school activities like gymnastics, ballet, little league and soccer. This drive for career success provides men with a sense of accomplishment as they become the stereotype of “American Dad.”
Which is why I think it is so very important for us to break the emotional freezer pattern. We must make it acceptable for a man to have a feeling, express it, and not be demeaned for it. The best way to start is to take the man in your life, your father, and thank him. Open the door to letting the emotions happen.
In the early years of child development, when the kids need mom more, dad frequently goes to work, to make it possible for mom to stay home, and his career improves, but at a cost, which is less emotional bonding with his child. But now when the kids are older, and dad can do more with them, he doesn’t have the history of open communication that is needed.
This is where it gets interesting because dad has painted himself into a corner by working hard in the previous years and being a good provider. Now, when he wants to have more connection with his kids, he doesn’t know how.
Opening up is difficult. If it wasn’t, there would be far fewer divorces, and a lot fewer therapists. So the question is, who opens up first? Ideally dad would because he’s the older one, but the truth is, as children, we need to open the door.
For those who have the opportunity this weekend to have a deeper conversation with your fathers, do it. As someone who lost his father at age 19, I frequently wish I had the opportunity to get his insight into things now.
We can do it with the men in our lives who are not our fathers but have been amazing father figures — those grandpas, uncles, coaches, mentors and leaders who taught us how to be an adult. They deserve a Father’s Day thank you just as much, and frequently more so, than the actual biological fathers.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.