Fathers Make
a World of
Difference
 

April
Chapter 3. Freeing the Father - Preparation


“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” Jim Valvano

Gifts from Our Fathers

We have each received gifts from our father. There were the material gifts, perhaps toys or sporting gear. Also there were the non-physical gifts. Did your dad spend time with you? Did he take the time to personally support you in things that were important to you? Did he believe in you? What messages did he give you about who you are? Here we will reflect on the non-physical gifts, rather than the material ones.

A variety of these gifts have been received knowingly and some unknowingly. The gifts we received from our father may have seemed like a shiny, red bicycle or perhaps they felt more like a rusty old bike with a flat tire and a bent wheel, metaphorically speaking. Maybe they were wonderful, endearing and cherished or possibly not. ‘Negative gifts’ you received could be having an ongoing detrimental effect. If left unresolved, events from our past can affect our life and relationships indefinitely.

The opportunity here is to integrate the gifts, regardless of their nature. If you are to discover their value it may necessitate an unwrapping and close examination of them in order to decide how they can be useful to you now, as an adult. The gifts from your father may have included love, support and encouragement or criticism, anger and blame. More likely than not, you received a combination. What if you were able to embrace the gifts, and the giver, and thereby receive value from them? For those who received what seemed like unloving gifts this may not always be an easy process, and it is possible.

The following exercise can help. Judge for yourself how deeply you want to go into the questions raised and explorations into your background. If there are deep, unresolved issues you may want to consult with a counselor. This is just the beginning of our exploration. Throughout this book your enquiry will be guided by the use of various techniques. Whatever type of fathering you received, you have the ability to work through issues and resolve them so you can feel more confident about your own fathering.

You may wish to write a list of the gifts you
received from your father. Perhaps divide it into
two lists; one of the cherished and empowering
gifts and another of the ones that seem unsettled
for you. This may include specific memories
or general feelings and thoughts.

Fathering School

We each had an upbringing which was one of a kind. No one else had the same one, not even our siblings. We were each conceived, spent time in the womb and were born and raised under unique circumstances. We also arrived at different times in our fathers’ life as an individual and as a father. As such, we have each had different influences.

This time growing up could be compared to going to school. Your father was the lead teacher in your fathering school. You were taught about fathering by your father. It was virtually the same as if you had been learning accounting, in accounting school, except it was typically for a much more extended period of time and imprinted at a deeper emotional level. Imagine attending the same school for eighteen years and every day you have a lesson on one particular subject; fathering. Some days the lesson was explicit; other times it was more subtle. Fathering may have been your favorite class. You may have had an outstanding teacher who treated you with love and respect. Perhaps you were even his favorite student. Or it could have been an unpleasant experience for you and not your favorite class, or teacher for that matter. For most, it was probably a mixture. In any case your father was giving lessons and you were receiving them.

A review of your fathering curriculum could prove valuable. View the teaching you received as your career training for fatherhood. You may want to do some review or post graduate studies in order to have more freedom in your choices about being the kind of father you want to be.

You could take this opportunity to contemplate or write about what you think you learned from your father. What was your childhood like? What was your father like, and your relationship with him? How was your father’s relationship with your mother? How did he treat her? What was your father’s relationship to your family? Spending time reflecting on these questions could be quite enlightening for you. Often, answers are available to us when we ask the right questions. You may wish to speak with your father about this, if possible. You could also write and explore some of these questions in an autobiographical way. Feel free to do this as and when it suits you.

According to Dr. Thomas Verny, a psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of prenatal and birth psychology: “Findings in the peer-reviewed literature over the course of decades establish, beyond any doubt, that parents have overwhelming influence on the mental and physical attributes of the children they raise.” This influence begins before the children are born, not after. In his groundbreaking book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child he states further: “New research is also beginning to focus much more on the father's feelings. Until recently his emotions were disregarded. Our latest studies indicate that this view is dangerously wrong. They show that how a man feels about his wife and unborn child is one of the single most important factors in determining the success of a pregnancy.”4

Walk a Mile in Dad’s Shoes

Another useful insight to consider is where your father was coming from, literally. He may not have had the best relationship with his father. This may have affected the way he was with you and your family.

There were eight of us in my family. We were as much a team as a family. I learned about relationships and co-operation from an early age. My father, Jim, was the friendliest man I have ever known. In our home town, as he drove down the street, he would wave to virtually everyone who went past. He did not necessarily know each person, it was just his nature. His friendliness, however, was not always experienced by his own family.

In the early years my father was very involved in our family. He engaged in play and evening activities; baths and bedtime. However, as our numbers increased and we got older, we moved from the farm where I had grown up and my father went to work for his father. My grandfather had an automobile dealership and my father was the service manager. Although my grandfather was loving with his grandchildren, he was persistently critical towards my father. He belittled him constantly. Anger was my grandfather’s most common method of communicating with him. This deeply affected my dad. His resulting conduct in our family often wavered between expressing his anger, toward his children, and disappearing (physically and/or emotionally) so he would ‘do no harm’.

Their relationship had a knock-on effect, often experienced literally by my siblings and me. When my father dispensed discipline (aka corporal punishment), it was often fuelled with his frustration and resulting anger. This left us with an experience of what I call a ‘Father’s Cloud’ over my family. The way in which my father related to his children was affected by how his father related to him. I also perceive that my father felt insecure about his participation in our family because of the harmful effects he caused at times. It was this insecurity which resulted in his ‘disappearing’.

As I reflect on my own fathering I recognize that there were times when I would find ways to disappear from my children. I would watch television or find excuses to not participate with them. Although this was mild in comparison, and there was no aggression, I can sense the family origins. For much of my children’s early childhood I was a stay at home dad and was very involved in their daily lives. However, I often felt insecure about how to be with them.

The saving grace for my siblings and me was that my father and mother were deeply in love. One expression of that love was their love for their children, which they gave us generously. My father was a great and loving contributor to my life for whom I am deeply grateful. He wanted to be a ‘good’ father and I think he did the best he could with what he had inherited from his own father.

Know that your father was probably working with what his father had given him. What characteristics do you think you have inherited from your father that have become part of your personal landscape? Let’s redefine family inheritance to include matters of the heart and bequeath to our children gifts of love and joy, strength and tenderness. Be certain about what you want to pass on to your children and make clear choices about that.

The Power of Choice

Some men face varying degrees of apprehension about fathering. This can be because of their personal experiences or perhaps a lack of information. I have known two men who had vasectomies at a young age because of their personal fears about the possibility of ‘becoming their father’. They were not going to risk doing to another what had been done to them. The nature of their particular action was radical to say the least. They did not know how to ‘unlearn’ what their fathers taught them and they did not trust themselves. They thought they had no choice. Rest assured, you do.

This raises the question, will I become like my father? If you had a great dad who did everything you could hope for to support you and provide you with ideal fathering you would, more likely than not, follow a similar direction with your own children. You would carry out the fathering training you had received. If you are trained as an accountant, you do accounting and you do it the way you were taught, with variations of course. This ideal father scenario is not always the case. Many of us had an upbringing by our fathers that was lacking in a variety of ways. This could have included ambivalence, neglect, disapproval, physical and/or emotional abuse, disrespect and abandonment.

Even if your father disappeared early on, or was absent in other ways like mine, that action and others had an effect on you. You made decisions about fathering as a result of how you were fathered. You may not be aware of these decisions because often they are held in the subconscious mind. When you are becoming a father, these unconscious patterns can surface. If they do, typically one of two things will happen. One possibility is that you pass them on to your children, through unconscious behavior. Another is that you bring them into your conscious awareness and work on resolving them so this does not happen. Shortly, you will be provided with various tools to help you move past such challenges. You can then make decisions, in awareness, and have more choices about how you are with your children.

In a counseling session I received years ago I uncovered an unresolved issue from when I was a teenager. There was this great black and chrome motorcycle that I wanted. Since quite young I delivered newspapers and did odd jobs for money. I was good at saving money so I could afford the motorcycle and I really, really wanted it. My parents had forbidden me to purchase the motorcycle. I argued but to no avail. I was angry and felt controlled by them.

During the course of my session I released my long held upset. For all of the years in between I had no conscious recall of my hurt. In the session I also became aware that my parents were acting out of love, for my safety. They were concerned I would be injured, or worse. My original interpretation had been quite different. I had felt helpless and powerless at the time and thought that it was not fair. What followed the session was my calling them, in an emotional state, and expressing my gratitude for all they had done for me throughout my life. They were a bit confused by the call yet grateful; the gift of their love was being received. I did not mention the motorcycle as that was my issue, not theirs. What was important was that I had removed an unconscious barrier I had to loving them more fully. There could now be more love experienced between us.

This event may not seem paramount; however it was unresolved for me. Many of us have issues to contend with regarding our upbringing. We can learn to resolve them, dissipate our attachment to them, and thus their residual effect on us. Tremendous freedom is available to us when we let go of old emotional baggage. We all have the ability to heal past injuries and move on.

We can learn how to turn what looks like a liability into an asset, a true gift. Using affirmations, attending classes and reading, speaking with your parents and counseling can all help you to resolve past negative influences. We have the option to truly receive the gifts from our fathers, in love. He may not have known that he had a choice or the support to make one, as you do. You have the possibility to do your fathering exactly how you want to.

Affirmations

There is a saying that a man’s children and his garden both reflect the amount of weeding done during the growing season. Affirmations can work similarly to weeding your garden. They help you to thin out undesirable thoughts, which took root at an earlier time. As you use an affirmation negative thoughts or feelings can be brought to the surface, like weeds to be removed. The affirmation then takes root, as a new positive thought. Affirmations help you to reframe your experiences, and any decisions you made about them, and start fresh.

Affirmations should always state what you want, as opposed to what you do not want. For example, “I am a good father”, rather than, “I do not want to be a bad father”. Research shows our mind does not integrate ‘not’, and tends to not ‘hear’ it. Reread the second statement above, leaving out the not, and you will understand the importance of this detail. I encourage you to embrace affirmations and the support they can give you in fathering.

Work with one affirmation at a time. Choose one, write it, pause… take a breath… ‘listen in for a response’ and write out the response. Allow yourself to be open to any response; thoughts, feelings or sensations in your body. If you do not detect a response after a pause, simply write the affirmation again and continue. Resist any temptation to ‘censor’ your responses to the affirmation. Then pause, take a breath and write the affirmation again, and your response, and again. Repeat the exploration over and over. There is no prescribed number. Notice how you feel and what you are thinking. Your response could be the same each time; however it will typically evolve and change. Be patient. Here are some sample affirmations for you to use for the transition to fatherhood.

I always know how to best support my partner and my child.
I always know how to best support myself.
This is the perfect time for a new baby to come into my life.
I am the perfect father for my child.
I am a capable and gifted father.
My partner is safe.
My baby is safe.
I trust myself.
Birth is safe
I am safe.

You could work with one affirmation for minutes, hours or days. This is a process which develops. As your responses change you may be inspired to modify or alter the affirmation or shift to a wholly new affirmation. Engage with an open mind so as to inspire a new way of thinking about yourself and your fathering. You could also work together with your partner on this and encourage her to use affirmations to support her mothering.

I also recommend you assign affirmations to your mind. Choose a phrase to hold mentally and to repeat regularly throughout the day. This is also very effective at improving your daily outlook in general.

There are numerous opportunities throughout this book which will reveal affirmations for you to utilize. I encourage you to explore the benefit of using affirmations regularly. Often the more you use a particular tool, the better you get at working with it. Over the years, I have known people who completely transformed their lives through the use of affirmations alone. Affirmations are true Power Tools.

Forgiveness

Many years ago I worked with a client named John. He told me that he had hated his father all of his life. John was committed to never having children as a result of the abuse he had received from his father. John’s relationship with his father was a burning issue for him, which was why he came to me. I mentioned the value of forgiveness, for him personally as well as his relationship with his father. He was not the least bit interested.

John’s session was powerful and deep. His father featured strongly. During the session he released a significant amount of anger and, ultimately, felt some sadness regarding his relationship with his father. Near the end of his session I asked him if he could forgive his father for the way he had treated him. His response was, “Never”. I then asked if he would be willing to consider forgiving his father at some point in the future. He said, “Not a chance”. So, I then inquired if he would consider that at some time in the future he might be willing to think about the possibility of forgiving his father. “I’ll think about it”, was his answer, with a very slight grin. This was a successful first step, for John. We all need to start where we are.

If you had a great father, who you felt participated brilliantly in your life, then fathering may come naturally to you. There may also have been unloving aspects of your relationship with your dad. This could cause you to create a Father’s Cloud around your participation with your children. It could also prevent you from feeling welcome and capable in your role as a father. Forgiveness can work wonders toward healing unresolved issues.

Forgiveness clears the slate. It takes you out of the blame and resentment games that are common if you are holding something against another. It frees up your mind, your energy and your capacity to love and be loved.

Healing begins the moment we make a new choice. Forgiving is one such choice. An important element of forgiveness can include forgiving yourself. You may be holding something against yourself; resolving it is important and forgiveness can help. Do you have any unresolved issues with your partner, or a partner from the past? Now is a good time to clean up any relationship history you may have. Unresolved past events can be burdensome and cause stress which you may or may not be aware of. Forgiveness is an important element of resolution.

You may wish to explore through contemplation or by writing the affirmations, “I forgive my father” and “I forgive my father for…”. Also, “I forgive my mother” or anyone else who emerges as having had a significant influence in your life. Explore with awareness and sensitivity. Try, “I forgive myself”. Write the phrase then pause and listen for a response and then write whatever you hear, think or feel. This will allow a clearing effect in your mind and emotions. Repeat as necessary and vary the phrases as you are moved to, i.e. “I forgive myself for…” or “I forgive myself for something I did or did not do”.

If we are willing to work our way through anger, judgments and resentments we can find the love. Often, people who act less than kind in their words and actions do so because they feel insecure, afraid or inadequate. They are often making a cry for help and want to heal but do not know how to. Many people who have been hurt tend to go on and hurt others, until they decide to break the cycle and choose to love themselves and others. “Forgiveness is the key to happiness”, as A Course in Miracles says.5

Gratitude

Expanding gratitude can also be powerful at this time. Gratitude for your partner is most obvious. And of course gratitude for this magnificent child who has come to grace your life and love you completely.

A friend of mine, Terry, received a phone call from her sister who had been on holiday. Terry’s sister told her that she had purchased a gift for her and would give it to her when they next met. Terry immediately expressed heart-felt gratitude to her sister. Terry had not yet received the gift nor did she even know what it was. She was, however, already receiving an aspect of the gift, which was the love it represented.

Gratitude is a gift we offer to the giver and one that we receive as well. Gratitude usually causes everyone to feel good too. Expressing gratitude, whether you are actually experiencing it yet or not, can clear the way to feeling grateful. Gratitude for the non-physical gifts in our life is most powerful. This may include: people, love, health, trust, beauty, nature, art, music and more. Recall for a moment a time in your life when you were really grateful. It is a glorious feeling, a state of grace. Be willing to embrace all of your life experiences in gratitude knowing that they can be of value, especially the tough ones.

Expressing gratitude for your father can create a huge sense of freedom, especially at this time. Gratitude opens us to truly receiving the gifts we have been given. If your father is available, now would be a great time to express gratitude to him directly. Be willing to free yourself of past negative influences. A profound deepening of the relationship between father and son is possible during this time.

This provides another opportunity to use affirmations and clear the way for you to become more aware of the good in your life. “I am grateful for my father”, “I am grateful for everything my father has given me”, “I am grateful for my child”. Just imagine how much you have to be grateful for. Be patient, breathe in between phrases and be creative with the process.

Through your inner preparation you can learn to integrate the gifts from your father, even if they did not have a lovely appearance or effect. If we are free of past influences and present to the joy in our lives now, more freedom is the inevitable result. We only need to awaken our awareness of it. This will prepare you well for the journey you have begun into fatherhood.

©2009, Patrick Houser


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Patrick Houser is a father and a grandfather. His second son's arrival was the first waterbirth in the U.S. This led him into nearly 25 years of support for both choices and working with parents. He has gained wide experience from various fields including a degree in marketing, owning a construction firm and a natural health centre. Patrick is a Life Coach and co-founder of Fathers-To-Be, a new concept in antenatal education, for men. Fathers-To-Be also offers consulting and training for health service providers. E-Mail or www.fatherstobe.org These articles are excerps from his book Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A road map for the transition to fatherhood.


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