Being the Father You Wish You Had

Author Calvin Sandborn blames patriarchy for stealing the hearts of fathers, and here is an article written by Scott McKeen, which appeared in the Edmonton Journal recently:

This one's for men who seethe inwardly, men who rage outwardly and men whose reflexive anger protects them from hurt feelings.

In other words, it's for the vast majority of men in our society. Last Monday I wrote about the psychological void in most men caused by emotionally distant fathers.

Today's column is about how that void is oft filled with anger -- one of the few emotions men feel safe to express, along with laughter and lust.

Calvin Sandborn's book, Becoming the Kind Father, is today's inspiration. Sandborn is in town to give a workshop on the topic of male anger.

Lest you think his book and workshop is only for violent spouses, think again. Physical violence is the rare but shameful expression of a common darkness in the hearts of men.

And lest you think I'm siding with radical feminism, you are so wrong. I do not believe men are inherently violent or angry. Nor are they born emotionally stunted. In fact, studies show male babies to be equally or more emotionally expressive as female babies.

The sad fact is that both boys and girls are warped by societal expectations -- by what Sandborn calls patriarchy.

"I know, all red-blooded men cringe when they hear that word, patriarchy," says Sandborn. "But in our resentment against feminist criticism, men have missed a vital point. Patriarchy has stolen our hearts and is killing us."

The theft, according to Sandborn, is of the ability to express, process or even feel a normal array of human emotions.

Patriarchy stresses power over weakness and individual achievement over community and intimacy.

Girls lose their voice, their power, under such pressures. Boys learn to be ashamed of their sensitive or "sissy" feelings. So boys suppress such feelings, though they can't ever outrun them.

Sandborn says men, if made to feel ashamed, sad or hurt, react by getting angry at the cause, be it a boss, spouse, child or friend. The "other" gets blamed for making him feel what he shouldn't feel as a man -- vulnerable.

"He gets mad, the adrenaline starts flowing, he feels powerful and before you know it, he's not feeling sad anymore," says Sandborn, a University of Victoria law professor who grew up with a raging alcoholic of a father.

"The point is, if you scratch an angry man, you'll often find a grieving man underneath -- a guy who has never learned how to identify and process his vulnerable feelings."

According to Sandborn, no one is victimized by the angry man more than the angry man himself. What he learned from his father, he learned well.

"Most men don't have very good relations with their fathers," he says. "Perhaps 10 or 15 per cent of sons report a good relationship. Others report angry fathers, critical fathers, emotionally distant fathers, absent fathers."

Essentially, how the father treated the son is the way the son now treats himself. The critical voice now lives in his head.

"As Shakespeare put it, the voice of a father is like the voice of God," says Sandborn. "And that critical voice is often incorporated into the ongoing internal narrative that we use to define our world."

Expressing anger doesn't work for angry men, either. A feedback loop starts when anger is expressed at a loved one, for example. Anger leads to guilt, leads to self-loathing, leads to more anger.

This all comes at great cost. Not only are families hurt by angry men, so are the men themselves. Stress kills angry men at a rate much higher than others. Men are twice as likely to become alcoholics -- four times as likely to take their own life.

The answer? To begin, men must soften the cruel self-talk by adopting a patient and supportive inner voice. As Sandborn says, a man can become his own kind father.

"This makes all the difference. By treating himself with compassion, a man allows his heart to re-emerge -- he re-establishes a relationship with self. And for the first time, close relationships with others become a real possibility."

He advises men to pay more attention to their feelings. Give yourself permission to feel things. The truth is that feelings, with permission, will rise and then pass. Admit your guilt or sadness to yourself. But use a gentle voice. Everyone is flawed. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is a perfect husband, father or friend.

Remember, too, that anger is natural when a person feels attacked. But Sandborn says we can express angry feelings without losing our temper. Often, what we want to express to the other person is not our anger, but our hurt feelings.

Sandborn was raised by an angry father. He became an angry man. Yet he knew in his heart it wasn't the kind of father, spouse and man he wanted to be.

"I know people can change because I have," says Sandborn. "And so have many other men."

© 2008 Mark Brandenburg

Other Father Issues, Books, Resources

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To this day I can remember my father's voice, singing over me in the stillness of the night. - Carl G. Jung

Mark has a Masters degree in counseling psychology and has been a counselor, business consultant, sports counselor, and a certified life and business coach. He has worked with individuals, teams, and businesses to improve their performance for over 20 years. Prior to life and business coaching Mark was a world-ranked professional tennis player and has coached other world-ranked athletes. He has helped hundreds of individuals to implement his coaching techniques. Mark specializes in coaching men to balance their lives and to improve the important relationships in their lives. He is the author of the popular e-books, 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers , and Fix Your Wife in 30 Days or Less (And Improve Yourself at the Same Time ). Mark is also the publisher of the “Dads Don’t Fix your Kids” ezine for fathers. To sign up, go to or E-Mail

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