An Australian Perspective on Modern Fatherhood
My son recently turned three years old and those three years have felt like both an eternity and a snap of the fingers at the same time.
Over the course of the last three years, my understanding of modern fatherhood and my son’s needs has developed organically, in a very fluid way. From the first year, where he is dependent upon us in every aspect of his life, to the emerging toddler years where he has been dealing with big emotions, learning how to be in a relationship, and learning how to engage with life, meeting his needs is a constant tuning in.
A child’s development is so incredibly rapid and it can be quite a bumpy ride, for all involved. To ride those waves, one parenting principle stands out to me as being pure essential gold: open-hearted, loving connection.
This is easy for most of us when the moment is a playful, joyful moment. It’s so easy to get swept up and to soak up the love between you and your child. What about those more difficult moments though? Imagine your child screaming and crying in the middle of a busy store, throwing themselves down on the ground kicking. It is easy for it to quickly become about us: our embarrassment/frustration that triggers anger.
If we aren’t paying close attention, for some of us it can turn into shouting and shaming. What if there were another approach though. What if the best tool in our modern fatherhood toolbox is our presence and the quality of the connection we feel with them. As a young child in particular, connection is essential.
In the moment of their trashing and screaming, understand (and the saying goes) that they are not giving you a hard time, rather they are having a hard time. Those are moments that they need to feel we are there for them. When we shame, our children experience it deeply as something fundamentally wrong with who they are. When we set limits without connection, they experience feeling unseen and unheard by us.
In those moments, especially those moments, our children need to feel connected with us. In those moments of emotional upheaval I remind myself that this is developmentally exactly where he is right now. It is going to be messy and it is going to be stormy. The more he thrashes and fights it, the messier and stormier it becomes. As I remain steady, present and available to him I’m teaching him that he will one day be able to do the same. None of that is possible without connection.
Our children are our greatest teachers and the responsibility we have as parents is to equip our children the best we can for a life that is challenging and unpredictable by nature. There are forever ups and downs. Given that, what do we most want to teach our children in order to help them thrive?
To Love and be forgiving and compassionate with their self. To dare to stay awake and engaged with a changing world.To connect with life with open-hearted and compassionate curiosity
To be of loving service to the greater evolving good.Even if just one moment a day, one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is our connected presence, helping them understand at a fundamental level, that they are loved (and can love) simply for being who they are.
It is said that when we have children we walk around with a little mirror that reflects back to us aspects of ourselves that we have forgotten or that we have tried to push away. Ever wonder how you are in relationship with others? Ever wonder about the impact of your habits on your life? In particular, how about the ways in which we may be unhealthy?
“Every interaction with our children is a reflection of our own relationship with ourselves” – Dr. Shefali Tsabary
For me, what has struck me recently as my son approaches 3 years old, is how he is eating. Just recently I have been noticing my son consuming food quickly and in large bite-sizes, stuffing food into his mouth. When I stop to get a drink he stops to get a drink.
I notice him watching how I eat and drink and then doing the same. It struck me, in that moment that I often turn to food in times of stress. It’s not the quantity for me, however rather my relationship with food, one that is very unconscious. It has not been an appreciation for being nourished, rather it has been used to provide temporary comfort. That is what I have been unconsciously modelling to my son. Broke. My. Heart.
What this all means for me is that now is the time to develop a new relationship with food, one that emphasises nourishment rather than being driven through a lens of scarcity and comfort. I’m now presented with stopping and turning to face what is underneath that behaviour, as painful as that is likely to be. Yet, I must.
Something I have been doing since becoming more aware of this relationship with food, I am practicing a new approach, sharing this experience with my son, who has immediately taken to it with great curiosity:
- Pausing before eating to consider what all transpired in order for me to be eating what was placed before me.
This has had an immediate impact upon me. When I stop to consider the life that this food contains, how it grew and how it got delivered to be on my plate, I am so much more grateful for it. I feel a deeper desire to honour it and the path it took before nourishing me. I am more aware of my own ethics as it relates to food and the choices I make (as well as how out of alignment my actions are when I am not conscious). So I pause for a moment and simply allow.
- Taking slower, smaller bites
I witness what I scoop up with my fork and see all that is on it. What is the texture? What is the colour? I slowly bring it near my nose and smell it, sensing what I can notice about what is here in this moment of smelling this food. I eat it, chewing slowly, feeling the texture, feeling the temperature, experiencing the taste with my body rather than just my mind. I enjoy it (or not).
- My full attentive curiosity
The attention I place on each bite is so full of experience, yet I am often eating so compulsively that I am missing it. Each moment being so full of potential! It asks me to slow down to life and experience it more. I am grateful for this practice because it reminds me that life is about how we experience our moments and the connection we feel with others. Modern fatherhood isn’t about becoming a better parent or overcoming our past. It is simply about our presence and engagement with each moment, enjoying one another’s unique expression of life, together.
I am discovering that as I continue to become more curious about the present moment, tension I carry in my body would relax, purely as a result of being a witness to what is asking to be seen and experienced. The more I resist waking up, the more tension it creates. What tugs at me from within wants to be seen by me. I am slowly surrendering to what is truly here, in this moment, even in a single experience of eating a bite of food, in gratitude for the nourishment that it gives me in each bite.
“It’s when we aren’t present in our own life that we find it difficult to embrace our children in their as is form. Instead, we seek to impose upon them ideals that are plucked from our past conditioning. Because our children are “ours,” we believe we have an unbridled right to do this.
So it is that we raise our children in a manner that squelches their essential being. We add to the pool of unconsciousness in society instead of lessening it.” – Shefali Tsabary, The Conscious Parent
Ugh. Right? I mean profound and eloquent at the same time. Shefali has a true gift and I have felt so grateful to discover her words. What she is sharing from my perspective is a call to all of us as parents. We have a choice. We have a choice in choosing to walk the path to uncover what in our unconscious is impacting how we perceive and engage in the world.
We all have a unique lens and what is it about our unique lens that alters our perspective of the world? There is gold in there. It’s not always pleasant to experience, however the shift that happens when we shine a light on our unconscious can be profound. I experience this a lot as I read The Conscious Parent. The quote that I shared above is one of those paragraphs that penetrates me. There are several things that strike me in its meaning:
So easy to say, so difficult to do. Being present doesn’t simply mean being attentive to our children, it also means being attentive to what is within us. If we are not awake to what is within us, it can run wild without us even noticing it. That is why it is so important that we are present and awake. We have more conscious choice in each moment when we are not simply reacting from our unconscious and that can only be a good thing for ourselves and those that we love.
This is pretty personal for me because it hits so close to home. Whether it is our own story or the story of someone that we love, there is often this sense as a child that we are owned. It is heartbreaking to experience or witness the suppression of one’s essential being. I have always been one to notice the potential in people and sometimes that bites me in the ass, however as I have gotten older, I appreciate this quality about myself.
It hurts even more, however I am grateful that I can feel it so deeply. Being with my son, seeing the beauty that he is, I can’t imagine trying to suppress his own unique expression of life, however the reality is that I may try! Even if unconscious, this is why it is so profound for me to see the choice that I face (that really isn’t a choice) in how present I am in my life. Now being a Father, being awake is not simply a responsibility to myself. It is also a responsibility to my son.
Modern fatherhood inspires me to reconsider all that I once thought impossible. With that, I know it is not my path alone. I am sharing this ride with him and embracing the responsibility to help to create the conditions such that he can flourish on his path. If I view my son as “mine”, I ignore his brilliance.
Pool of Unconsciousness
Being a Father has also expanded my sense of responsibility to be present: my responsibility is also to each and all of us. Collectively, we are given the key and the choice to wake up.
The responsibility is also to contribute to a movement to awaken for the benefit and health of all of us and those that come after us. I think about being a potential Grandfather one day and I want to be able to look back on my life knowing that I did my best to wake up, to care for others, to give back, and to do so with an open heart.
In my own Fatherhood journey I contemplate what is demanded of us, as men and women to be parents to a new generation. To leave them a world that is more awake, more kind and caring than we found it. For a long time I would be consumed by a yearning for the world to wake up, waiting for it to happen as though it did not demand my participation except from the sidelines.
When slowly it started to change. I started to realise that judging our world from the sidelines was not really helping matters. I started to recognise that it requires each of us to wake up to ourselves with intention. We can’t wait for others to do or to say what needs to be done or said. We can’t wait for others to advocate for us and our needs. It’s on us…… and that means it is also on me.
I pause here because that is the difference. Now that I realise that, what choice do I have? Consciously choose to resist it? That’s just not the life I want to live.
I was coming around to this prior to my son’s birth, however since his birth, and through those tidal waves, this responsibility has been staring me straight in the face. Here I am, seeing quite clearly that change DOES begin with us. I all of sudden have a new appreciation of Gandhi’s quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I had heard that quote years and years ago, however I heard it as an modern fatherhood observer, not as a participant.
That is key. All of a sudden, here it is. As the Jean Val Jean character sings, “Who am I?!”, becoming a Father has done the same to me. Who am I and why am I here? It is to wake up. It is to love. It is laugh. It is to cry. It is to share. It is to sing. It is to be loved. They all seem easy to read don’t they. However, I read each one and I ask myself: Do I allow this? Do I allow myself to love.
Do I allow myself to laugh? Do I allow myself to cry? Do I allow myself to share? Do I allow myself to sing? Do I allow myself to be loved?
Yet that is what is demanded of me. I welcome it wholeheartedly even while my body trembles with each new step that I take.
Our own unresolved needs. Unmet expectations. Frustrated dreams. Is there any other way to become aware of these things within ourselves without waking up? What does it mean to wake up and how is it that being a parent provides the ultimate experience TO awaken to ourselves? I can’t recommend Dr. Tsabary’s book enough in that regard.
What it ultimately inspired in me is to use myself as experiment. What would it be like to try to live what she suggests? What it would mean to gently shine a spotlight on my own shadows? What would it require of me? How would it impact not just my relationship as a Father, however all of my relationships?
I have felt all of these things in my first seven months of having Jasper with us outside the womb. I will share his birth story soon, however suffice it to say that it was the most awe-inspiring, beautiful, joyous, heartbreaking, challenging, profound experience of my life. I felt an outpouring of love that shook my entire body, culminating many hours later with tears of relief and ecstacy. The meteor of becoming a Father struck and struck deeply.
The tidal waves continue to roll in over these months as the dust begins to fall back to the ground, I brush myself off and find that I feel like a different person with a new level of conviction in this life. Waking up to myself is a responsibility I embrace more fully than I ever have. I am deeply inspired and welcome this unfolding journey.
My awareness develops and expands along with the tidal waves with each week offering more to consider. I don’t know what the end of this path will look like however I hope that my story is useful in some way to others who are equally inspired.