Tessa Lloyd’s book Forty Fathers: Men Talk about Parenting, is a collection of intimate personal narratives about fatherhood from a diverse group of Canadian men.
As a counsellor working with children and families, Lloyd found that men often didn’t lean on each other or share their feelings about parenting. In her book, Lloyd decided to ask men to tell her about the relationship they experienced with their father and, as dads, with their children. The men who contributed, including well-known authors, athletes, artists, academics and politicians, discuss these experiences — warts and all.
Below are some of the themes that emerged in the book:
1. Subscribing to a narrow version of masculinity hasn’t served dads well.
Shea Emry, who played football for the Montreal Alouettes, said: “I think about the ‘dude’ culture. As guys, we amplify some very negative aspects of being male that are one-dimensional, and that cut us off from who we really are. For me, everything was so tense. My dad was there for me; I could have talked to him, but I just couldn’t do it. I tied myself in knots instead. In alpha-male environments, a lot of ‘peacocking’ goes on.”
Ian Brown, author and Globe and Mail columnist, said: “I’m as affected as anyone else by the models that were held up for boys as an example: the strong, silent, buttoned-up, wealthy, successful but cold model of success. That was a vision I tried to fight off, though the mirage lures me to this day. You see its effects everywhere, especially in the number of men who still cannot talk or even write about the crazy delicacies of human interaction, who refuse to ‘talk about their feelings,’ who have been raised not to talk about their feelings —by their fathers.”
Artist Robert Bateman suggests getting kids away from screens: “It’s past time to stop fostering aggressive behaviour in boys. I wince when I hear about some of the things boys are routinely exposed to. Turn off the TV and get rid of these violent video games! Pay attention to the kinds of toys you put in the hands of your children and think about the messages those things communicate. Get your kids outdoors! Nature is pure magic.”
2. Men can experience a lack of confidence in their own parenting abilities when they become dads and can easily feel discounted and excluded.
Kevin Newman, former host of CTV’s W5, said: “When we brought Alex home, Cathy and her mum were clearly the experts. I should have trusted myself more. I should have tried harder and asked for more patience when I fumbled. It took a long time for me to be able to tune in to Alex, to understand his language, what the sounds and cries might mean and how to do something to soothe him. If I could do it all over again, we’d talk about it and I’d step into more of a principal role.”
3. Today, many dads feel more confident, but the negative attitudes about dads prevail.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Canada’s “Appa” from CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, said: “In media, dads are portrayed all too often as buffoons. I think that has quite a lot to do with why some men avoid hands-on parenting, because there’s a built-in bias. I’m a lucky guy — fortunately, I didn’t take that stuff too seriously. I wouldn’t trade those early years with my boys for anything.
“When I was a full-time parent, I felt quite isolated. People also made assumptions, like I was ‘babysitting’ my kids. I took umbrage. I was the primary parent. I wasn’t babysitting my kids, I was raising them.”
4. Most men, like Justin Trudeau, Peter MacKay and Peter Mansbridge (who wrote the foreword to Forty Fathers), talked about the challenge of managing competing demands of career and family.
Alan Doyle, musician, said: “One of my biggest challenges as a father was learning to say no to awesome stuff that I’ve wanted to do since I was 10 years old. Once, I missed out on a tour with Sting. If you’d have told 15-year-old me that, I’d have shot myself. As a father, I get another version of awesome stuff. I learned to put family time on my calendar. It’ll have days blocked off with DAD. I have to do it, or it won’t happen. If you are not careful, you can miss it all.”
No matter what the relationship is [was] like with your own father, you are the author of a new relationship between you and your child. So here’s a challenge: What can you do to build the kind of relationship where your children will feel respected and understood? What will allow them to look to you for support, always trust you and want to be with you?
Make it happen, for the joy will last a lifetime. Happy Father’s Day!
Tessa Lloyd is a counsellor at St. Michaels University School and has worked with children and families for 35 years. She has four children and six grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Victoria.