I always figured it was impossible to describe to a father-to-be what having his own child will mean to him. Words simply cannot do justice, and each man needs to discover it on his own. While still true, I am going to take a shot at articulating how being a father feels so we can compare experiences, and I don’t mean tired, poor, stretched, etc. I am talking about the profound stuff; how doing our job for our family can make us feel as men.
Our stereotyped desire is wanting to be seen as attractive, sexually active and successful with women. Pick up any men’s magazine: in keeping with the fantasy, among the articles on six pack abs and turning her into a nympho, you will be hard pressed to find any evidence any of us are married, or worse, are tied down with children. So while we still buy the magazines (hey, it’s a fantasy), we know better.
The reality is that we men broadly report that being seen as honorable, resourceful and respected is much more important to our sense of manhood. Before our child arrives, we already know that having one woman who cares deeply for us feels a lot better than having a list in a little black book. And caring deeply for one women; being protective of her, having her belong to us, us to her, knowing we can count on each other no matter what; for all our differences, having a mate totally trumps the alternative.
We then make the big leap – a child, fatherhood and family, with our mate turning into a mom – and run into another stereotype: the notion that fatherhood is emasculating, that becoming a father, with all that diaper changing, baby talk, nurturing, etc. somehow make us less of a man. And we learn otherwise.
We find that taking care of a sick baby through the night is not for wimps, and that providing for a family can require a great deal of strength. As we teach our child new things and he gets excited when he sees us, we learn how incredibly important we are to him. It takes time, but we discover that caring deeply for a child - protecting him, having him belong to us, us to him, knowing he can count on us no matter what - gives us a mission in life, a purpose larger than ourselves.
Fatherhood challenges us, but it also enlarges us and reshapes our perception of what is important in the world around us. As we take stock of this new world, we find that doing our job as a dad is inherently honorable, resourceful and respected, and brings to us the dignity that goes with the territory. Far from being emasculating, being a dad makes us men in the finest sense of the term.