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Embracing the growing pains of fatherhood

June 23, 2014

Embracing the growing pains of fatherhood

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

“Promoting public and private conversations about fatherhood.” This is the mission I identified when I began writing this column.

The inspiration for this effort emerged from my own identity crisis as I stumbled through the early years of fatherhood.

Entering fatherhood at the age of 40, I carried the privilege of white, middle class origins; the product of a two-parent family, stable neighborhood, good public schools, regular church attendance, Boy Scouts, high school athletics, college education, international study and a variety of professional experiences.

I had also learned, through trials and tribulations, many ways that intimate relationships don’t work, which eventually motivated me to better understand myself, and how to be a more healthy person and partner — a work in progress.

But fatherhood, despite the benefits of a life well-lived, left me decentered, struggling to hold together both the pieces of me, which I had worked hard to claim, and us, which my wife, Lori, and I had been creating in our pre-parenting bliss.

I have come to regard this tension — the push and pull of the self, husband and father parts of my identity — as the growing pains of moving from a life that was about me to “us,” and now, to “we.”

As a father of two rapidly growing children, I often find myself reassuring them both that the aches they feel in their stretching arms and legs — the growing pains — are a necessary and natural part of their development. So, too, I have come to learn, growing pains of the heart are a natural part of parenting.

Nearly eight years a father, nine years married to Lori and author of 32 monthly columns about my fatherhood experiences, my work as an organizational consultant has propelled me into a new identity crisis.

For the past four months, I served as a consultant to the Men’s Resource Center for Change, Inc., supporting the design and facilitation of a summit, which served as the official launch of The Healthy Men and Boys Network of Western Massachusetts.

More than 100 participants, representing more than 70 organizations, from more than a dozen professional fields, engaged in a daylong program designed to mobilize those committed to promoting the healthy development of men and boys.

The event included a series of conversations designed to collect strategic input about the future of the emerging network.

Inspiring and award-winning presentations by three recent high school graduates, articulating what we can do to make a difference in the lives of Black and Latino men, produced standing ovations.

Provocative performances by a university-based men’s health dialogue and theater program exposed the raw tensions of the male-identity crisis and gender-based violence that permeate our culture.

A presenter with local, national and international credentials moved many to tears through a visualization exercise that profoundly demonstrated the vital importance of affirming our shared humanity.

I offer a version of this exercise for you. I invite you to settle yourself in your seat, take a few deep breaths, one more breath, and now, notice the energy in your own heart. Notice the quality of that energy, notice its color, and feel the power of this energy to heal and transform yourself and others.

Now, guide that energy to the heart of a father in Afghanistan who at this moment is secretly educating his daughter despite the risk of death they both face, to a teenage son who is speaking to his father about how hurtful it is to watch the domestic abuse of his mother, to a religious leader in Nigeria who is empowering the boys in his village to reject the social norm of sexual assault of girls and women, to a father that is comforting his son who is haunted by his experience as a soldier, to a passionate school teacher of young men whose life conditions leave them more prepared for prison than college, to a teenage boy telling his male friends that bullying a transgendered peer is unacceptable, and to a whistle blowing father in China who risks his livelihood to stop the wide spread polluting of his industrial employer.

This exercise, and its endless examples, awakens me in a way that stretches the boundaries of my identity – from the familial “We” to the “WE” of all humanity. And, while I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of human suffering, I also feel empowered by the endless possibilities to alleviate human suffering by promoting the healthy development of men and boys.

Follow the emerging network on Facebook at Network for Healthy Men and Boys Western Massachusetts.

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