Fathers Make
a World of
Difference
 

September
Chapter 8: Fathering In Early Infancy


“It doesn’t matter who my father was;
it matters who I remember he was.” Anne Sexton

Your baby has arrived and you are now, visibly, a father. Welcome dad. Our modern culture rarely provides opportunities to be with infants before the birth of our own child. This new relationship will require time and attention, just like any new relationship. You will want to get to know each other. You will know you are ready for this phase of life because your baby has arrived. You have everything you need to be a great father. You have tremendous value to contribute to your child’s life, that only you can.

During this early infancy time you will likely be called upon to stretch yourself beyond any previously known boundaries: physical, mental and emotional. This is not something you can practice for in advance. However, the tools and exercises in this book can continue to be of use to you. Breathing and meditation will still have a place. Perhaps meditate while holding your baby or to help calm them when upset occurs. Affirmations and paying attention to your thoughts will also continue to have a role and of course the Fathers’ Circle. Notice your stress levels and work to reduce them when necessary. This phase of fathering will introduce additional dimensions to your life which will begin the more active period of your fathering. Be patient with yourself.

Empathy exercise: A baby during early infancy

Imagine you are a newborn. It is now your initial time outside the womb and you are getting used to a body, people, sounds, sensations and images. You are also needing responses and support from the outside world for the first time: food, warmth and comfort among them. Your nourishment is now from an external source and you may have to exert yourself to get it. You are also building a relationship with your mother, father and perhaps others.

Picture what you would want and need during this phase of your life?
Can you imagine what life is like as a newborn baby? How would you feel?
How would you want to be handled; by whom and when?

A mother during early infancy

Can you imagine what those initial few months are like as a first-time mother? You may be facing many challenges and insecurities as well as joys. You will be in a deeply intimate experience with this child. You are also no longer ‘just’ a woman, you are also a mother. Imagine what it is like to have this new little being dependent on you for virtually life itself. What about breastfeeding? What is this like? What about your relationship with the baby’s father?

What do you imagine you would want and need to support you during early parenting, as a mother? Explore the possibilities. This will help you to better understand your partner.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be a profound and deeply intimate part of the relationship between a mother and her infant. It is also a very clever, convenient and easy way to provide the best nourishment possible for a baby. There are mothers who cannot breastfeed or choose not to. As with other aspects of this time it is best if the two of you research and discuss this, and then support the mother in her choice.

There can be no measure of the value of breastfeeding for mother and baby. There are, however, volumes of research which reveal beyond any doubt that it is highly beneficial for both of them, physically and emotionally. Mother’s breast milk provides a child with the best possible foundation for his immune system. It also builds on the bonding between mother and child and adds a level of security to the baby’s world. A breastfeeding mother is also less likely to experience post-partum depression. This is because of the hormones that come into play as well as the emotional connection it creates between them. The most natural length of time to breastfeed is very individual and best left to each mother and child to determine. Many mothers and babies enjoy breastfeeding for two or more years. Know that your support of the breastfeeding couple is most important and irreplaceable. This is another real form of providing for your family.

Veronika Sophia Robinson, in her book The Drinks are on Me writes, “Breastfeeding is a sacred art. It opens our soul and brings us to a place which connects generations past with future generations.”19

If your partner is breastfeeding you may have varying responses. You could find it wondrous, sensual and satisfying. You could also feel left out or jealous. You could perceive it as a sexual event that you do not appear to be included in. “Those are my breasts. They have been a source of much sexual pleasure for me and now someone else, possibly even another male, is having his way with them. I am excluded. What about me?” How you respond may surprise you. Be honest with yourself and speak about it with your partner, with care however. Perhaps cuddle with your family when they are breastfeeding. Include yourself, respectfully of course. Be willing to expand your definition of intimacy. Also, go skin to skin with your baby, you will both benefit.

You could write autobiographically about how this is for you. You may discover an underlying cause if you have upset about this. You could also make use of affirmations. The affirmation, “I am included”, can be very useful.

Father and Child Bonding

There is a correlation between the amount of time spent parenting and the degree of bonding between parent and child. Because most mothers are spending more time with a newborn than fathers they will seem to have a stronger bond. If you are off to work and doing the physical caretaking of the whole family, your direct time spent with your baby is naturally less. Your connection with your baby, at first, may therefore not seem as strong as the mother’s. And the potential may surprise you.

My brother Pete Houser wrote

After Denise and I came home from the hospital our new son, Jake, would need care at certain times of the day and night. I decided early on that Denise had carried him for nine months and it was now my turn to perform. Denise never got out of bed in the night. As soon as Jake peeped I'd get up to bring him to her for feeding, what could be better, I loved it. Little did I know it at the time but I was catching up on their ultimate bond. That is the only way I can explain the very close relationship I share with my kids. I became a connection point through my participation with them, all the way through high school and even today.

I guess my point is that fathers have a lot of ‘work’ to do to achieve the bond that mothers get in a different way. Spend as much time as you can, all kinds of time...diaper time, feeding time, sick time, doctor time, play time and sports time. Don't be the father who expects the mother to do all of these things while you bring home the bacon. You can do both and I guarantee you'll be glad you did. Being a father is the single most joyful role I have ever imagined or experienced.

Jonas Himmelstrand wrote:

My wife, Tamara, made some very clear statements on how she wanted to be supported by me, in her role as a mother, around the birth and babyhood of our children. She wanted a homebirth, she wanted family-bed, she wanted the baby to be carried rather than being in a stroller and she wanted long-term breastfeeding and no pacifiers. I realized that the best gift I could give to my children in babyhood was to acknowledge my wife's wishes and support her in every way possible to be the mother she wanted to be. It took me a long time of study and inner work to come to terms with some of her wishes, but I eventually did.

It turned out that Tamara did not have a strong enough back to carry our children, even when they were babies. I stepped in and took the role with pride. As a father you are the ‘vice-mother’ to your baby. If the mother can’t do it or needs to rest, the job is yours and no one can compare to you. I have carried all of our children from birth, through a series of different carriers up, to about three years of age. At that point they have wanted to walk most distances themselves. It has been the greatest pleasure.

During babyhood the baby is often more important to the father than the father to the baby: whose primary needs are met by the mother. Every father needs to feel deep in his heart that this is his child to care for. Having had my children born at home, as I have had the privilege to experience, this bonding is considerably strengthened. During babyhood the father’s most vital support to the baby may be in supporting the mother. Being a mother to a baby is a 24/7 job and she needs support from another adult, ideally her baby’s father. Having food on the table and a safe home comes first on the list, but also practical and emotional everyday support for the mother is important. In addition the father’s connection with the baby will, of course, be enhanced by the father carrying the baby, singing to the baby, talking to the baby and gazing into the beautiful, divine presence of the baby’s eyes.

Elmer Postle wrote:

As a father, my initial understanding of gratitude centered on the idea that children would be grateful to their parents. However, nothing has really prepared me for the gratitude I have to Lucien, my 2 year old son; for what he is giving to me. He is bringing more to my life than I could ever have imagined I would receive from anyone. To receive this gift requires a different perception of how we give to one another. It is not a ‘top down’ process from parent to child but an exchange between us, for which I am deeply grateful.

I highly recommend mothers and fathers ‘wear’ their baby. There are any number of slings, pouches and carriers which are great for this. It provides a closeness to and security for your new baby that is unachievable otherwise. I am also in favor of co-sleeping, a very wonderful experience for the whole family. For more information on ‘attachment’ parenting see Resources section and the internet.

Allow yourself to receive all of the love your baby has for you and know that your love is received by him as well. Remember, “My baby loves me”. Your participation is important for you and your baby, it is different than the mother’s, and it will change over time. Know that by you supporting their connection your presence is felt and appreciated and your bond will deepen.

Inner Strength

Sometimes you may be called upon to develop gifts you didn’t know you had. After my first son’s intense birth, Kathryn was very poorly. She was physically and emotionally bankrupt. Anandas was unsettled at best or crying and once asleep would only stay sleeping if he was being held. Breastfeeding was painful for Kathryn and not going well also. She was detached and withdrawn because of the emotional and physical impact of the birth.

The house we were building was not finished so we were living in a summer cottage, in December. Within a few days after the birth the temperature dropped below freezing and it snowed. Our heat source was a wood burning stove which was ineffective for the conditions. Also the water pipes froze so we had no running water. I spent my days acquiring firewood and hauling water from the pump house. In between these activities I fixed meals, changed (and hand-washed) diapers and tried to comfort my family.

My world was concentrated on my family and doing whatever it took. I notice that we will typically find the inner resources to handle what we are asked to, if we are committed. You will also.

Although intense, this was a very intimate and bonding experience for us. The birthing time carries with it a commonality of experience which can solidify a family, regardless of the appearance. Within a couple of weeks we found a holistic practitioner, a chiropractor/iridologist. Iridology is the study of the eyes’ ‘map’ of our body’s physical health. He looked into Anandas’ eyes and saw a hip and shoulder dislocation and with two gentle movements Anandas was at peace. He looked into Kathryn’s eyes and saw that there was a bit of placenta still in her womb and gave her a mineral douche to use. Within a short time she expelled this and her body healed. The emotional effects took longer but they healed as well, through willingness and therapeutic support.

Expanding Your Relationship

You and your partner are expanding your relationship and including another person. The leap from two people in a relationship to three (or more if there are other children) is significant and may have more impact than you initially realize. It can be a most endearing and profound shift. One aspect of this, from a modern fathering perspective, is that you can cradle your infant, through cradling your partner. I suggest you do this literally as well as metaphorically. The loving care you give to her also includes by its’ very nature, caring for your child. This is a really important point because integrating it will allow you to feel more included. For a mother and child to have your support in this way is very important and valuable.

Notice if this expansion comes easily for you or if you find yourself struggling or reacting in some way. You may expose previously un-revealed ‘negative’ thoughts or uncomfortable feelings. Many of us were not held, physically or emotionally, as much or in the way that we would have liked. It is common that needy feelings come up at this time. There can be a tendency to try to get these needs met through your partner. With her attention elsewhere you could feel like you are being left out. This can appear as jealousy of the baby. You could also find yourself trying to stop various levels of intimacy within your family as a reaction. If you have this experience, be kind to yourself and speak with your partner about it.

You may want to create an affirmation and work with it to achieve more peace around this issue. “I am enough, I do enough, I have enough”, could work for you. “I am included”, “I am important”. Seek support for yourself and write about it.

Fatherhood has the potential to be a highly intimate experience. To hold your tiny baby in your arms; to experience their fragile nature and look into their eyes and know that they love you, trust you and depend on you for their very existence is remarkably intimate. At times, when my Fathers-To-Be colleague Elmer is with his son Lucien, he imagines his own father holding him, as he is holding his young son, and finds this profoundly satisfying and supportive. This makes for a lovely picture in my mind. How wonderful can you imagine your fathering?

The quality of your presence in your family is invaluable. Your willingness to do whatever it takes is deeply felt by them. Fathering a family is something you will grow into and get more comfortable with through time and experience. It is a journey and not a destination. Consider parenting to be a process of refinement.

Following is an excerpt from a lovely book which supports parents during a baby’s upset.

CALMS-Five Simple Steps to Harmony
From the book What Babies Want by
Carrie Contey Ph.D. and Debby Takikawa D.C.
You want to do what is best for your baby, and like most parents, you’re not always quite sure what that is. CALMS is a set of tools to provide you with ideas about how to stay connected to yourself and your child as you learn to understand what it is your child is trying to communicate to you when they are distressed. A child in upset is one of parenting’s most challenging occurrences and CALMS can help you through these events. “CALMS” is a way of being rather than a mode of doing. Here is a brief overview of the CALMS method.20
CALMS

C Check in with yourself. The first step in calming your crying baby is to check in with yourself, take a pause and identify your own feelings.

A Allow a breath. Take several deep breaths and allow things to simply be just as they are in this moment.

L Listen to your baby. Take a moment or two just to wonder what you think your baby is trying to say.

M Make contact, mirror feelings. Let your baby know you hear him and you see that he is sad or angry, frustrated or frantic.

S Soothe your baby. Now is the time to do the rocking, walking, swaddling, breastfeeding and soothing that wasn’t working earlier.

Bonus Fathers

There are also men who have answered the call of being a dad even though they are not birth fathers. This includes step-fathers, grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, spiritual fathers (Priests, Rabbis, Vicars, Ministers, Monks, etc.), and other men (and women) who assume responsibility for the guidance and support of young people. My brother, Mike, has no children of his own yet he fulfils fathering through his charity work with organizations that support children in need. The contribution of all such fathers is highly valuable to our society. I acknowledge them for their love and support of our children, and society’s future.

Father’s Compass: Looking Ahead

How do you want to be remembered as a father? Contemplate for a moment this scenario. It is decades from now and your child is asked the question, “What was your father like when you were growing up?” Can you imagine what they will say? You actually have a choice. What if you have the opportunity to write the answer to that question yourself and influence your own legacy as a father?

How do you want to be remembered as a father? If you like, you could write your own fathering declaration. What is your vision for your fathering? This will be different for everyone. It could be a few words or phrases, a list, or even several paragraphs. You may also want to update this as the years go by.

This declaration could become your personal Father’s Compass. Consider coming back to this declaration regularly as you grow and practice being a father. It could help you navigate the terrain of fathering and keep you on course, especially during the challenging times. If you already have children, it is never too late. A new direction can be chosen at any time. Gifts of this nature are always welcome.

When I was growing up I always had a compass. I found it fascinating that something that simple could be so useful and potentially valuable. You could also gift your child with an actual compass, as a symbol of your commitment and something special between you. One comes in the Fathers-To-Be Tool Kit.

When your children come of age, or they are about to become a parent themselves, you could present them with your personal Father’s Compass. Imagine having a conversation with your child about parenting, with your intention as a father as the central theme. Naturally, this works equally well for sons and daughters. Our daughters are learning about mothering from their mothers. They are also learning about fathering, and what to expect from a future partner they may have children with, from their father. Sons are, of course, learning from their mothers what it means to be a mother, for future reference. Mothers-to-be can also benefit greatly by much of the information in this book.

Consider that your children will be bestowing the very same gifts they received from you on to your grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on for generations. Your practice of a Father’s Compass could become a treasured family heirloom that is passed on for generations. How do you want to be remembered as a father? What if you have a choice and what if you get to make it every day of your life as a father?

Conscious Evolution

We could also view parenting from an evolutionary perspective. An aspect of human evolution could be dependent on us, individually and collectively, through our practice as parents. The application of this practice is then archived and passed on to the next generation, hopefully with more grace each time around. I was told recently by an expectant woman that her husband has always said to her about his future fathering, “I am going to do it differently”. I have heard this from many men. Well, that resolve plus awareness, guidance and high-quality support is all that is required for our evolutionary advancement as parents. The customary view is that we are at the effect of evolution. What if, instead, we are actually instruments of it?

With first hand knowledge of four generations of Houser fathers I can testify as to the actuality of evolution in fathering. As I witness my own sons’ fathering I am deeply moved by their level of commitment and participation with their children. Let’s embrace future generations, today.

A Great Beginning

I invite you to continue exploring what you really want for yourself and your family. As a father, you have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the health and wellbeing of your family as well as human culture.

You now have new knowledge and new choices. Equipped with a fresh understanding you can help to provide for your partner and child and protect them in ways that will be as supportive as possible. The blending of love and knowledge equals wisdom. The application of this wisdom is the essence of fathering.

Resist the temptation to judge your performance. This is generally a perception of good or bad. Evaluation instead will allow you to learn from each phase and build on your fathering knowledge and skills. Avoid any tendency to think you must become super-dad. Be willing to forgive yourself when things do not go to plan or you experience upset. You are actually a father-becoming. This means, among other things, you are a work in progress. Your family is growing up together. Be gentle and kind with yourself. Ask for support when you need it. By simply exposing yourself to new concepts, reading this book and engaging in the exercises, you have already become a better father. Notice your thoughts and what your emotions, your body’s sensations and feedback from life are telling you. Work with that information to make adjustments in order to produce the results you want. This is a journey to explore and enjoy, with love and your commitment to your family as your guide.

What you achieve on the journey of fatherhood can only be measured in your family’s hearts, and in truth it is immeasurable. The first step is awareness and you have already crossed that bridge. Congratulations.

Take the risk to love with every ounce of your being, to share your gifts and receive the ones your children have to offer you. Welcome to Fatherhood!

A new father has arrived.

©2010, 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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