What Men Fear Most About Fatherhood
Making the leap to parenthood is the most momentous decision a couple can make. Find out what holds most men back.
by Carol Lynn Mithers
It's no secret what drives women to motherhood — and what scares us most about it. On the one hand, we hear the siren call of biology and yearn for the delight of soft baby flesh. On the other, we panic about losing our identities, our careers and whether we'll be able to do it all.
But men? Though celebrating fatherhood is in vogue these days, no one talks much about how men feel about becoming parents — either their deepest doubts or the leaps of faith that give them the courage to go ahead with it. We talked to men about the complex emotions surrounding this major life decision. Below, you'll find some of the reasons men are wary of fatherhood. In part two, read about what turns them around.
Reason #1: "I'm afraid that my nice life — not to mention sex — will never be the same."
Some men are afraid of becoming dads because they're simply afraid of change (it's that commitment thing revisited). They know that after children, things will never be the same. "I'm a true conservative," says Eric, 31, a contractor with a newborn. "My feeling was, my life's great. Why mess with it?" More specifically, men fear that fatherhood will wreck their marriages, vaporize their sex lives, strip them of the freedom to be spontaneous or, even worse, self-centered.
"Even though I was 31 when my wife started talking about having a family, I felt like a kid myself," says Harry, an attorney who's now 34. "My wife and I were staying up late, jetting around on vacation and having a lot of fun. I essentially had no real responsibilities. But with a kid, if you don't come through, you can really screw up its life. Plus, my sister had three kids right in a row. To me, her life looked like a nightmare. She would say things like, 'I don't have sex anymore; I'm too tired,' and I'd think, Oh God, I'm not ready for that."
Reason #2: "I'm afraid I'll go broke."
"One of men's most basic fears is 'Will I be able to provide for those I love?'" says John Barron, a therapist in private practice in Encino, California. Of course, this fear made more sense back in the days when men were expected to be the sole supporters; however, the fear is still there. Even men whose wives work and have no intention of stopping say they feel like they bear primary responsibility for bringing home the bacon.
"We'd always contributed equally to running the household, but let's be realistic: Having children changes things," says Ronald, 34, a probation officer with a daughter and a son. "From the time my wife got pregnant, I was aware that she could have complications and possibly be out of work for months. And I knew that, afterward, if one of the kids got sick, she'd probably be the one to stay home, which means I'd be the one paying the bills."
Reason #3: "I'm afraid I'll turn into my father."
"Sometimes we assume that men are emotionally clueless, but most understand that becoming a parent is the most radical transformation they'll ever experience," says David Dollahite, Ph.D., an associate professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. "They take it extremely seriously." In fact, fear of not being good enough truly torments men whose relationships with their own fathers were bad.
"For a long time, I was afraid of becoming a father," admits Hank, 38, a hospital administrator whose daughter is four. "No, make that terrified. My own father was an alcoholic who had no friends and no interests outside work. Whatever passion he'd once had for life had long since been repressed. When you have a father like that, it's tough to imagine being a father yourself. I didn't have any clear idea how other fathers behaved. You grow up hearing 'like father, like son.' I knew I had a temper, and I absolutely didn't want to become the petty tyrant he was. Becoming a parent is always a leap of faith, but for me, it seemed like a much bigger leap."
What changes his mind »
from page 2. )
A host of fears — from resistance to change to money worries — keeps many men from embracing fatherhood. Yet most eventually get over it and go on to become loving parents. What changes their minds? In part two of our series on what men really think, fear and love about fatherhood, we detail the subtle and not-so-subtle reasons men decide to procreate:
Reason #1: "I got swept away."
Sometimes, a guy's fears of fatherhood are obliterated by a sudden, unexpected rush of passion. For Ed, 35, a social worker with an 11-month-old son, the intense pain he felt following his wife's earlier miscarriage of an unplanned pregnancy "let me know how much I actually wanted a child." In the months that followed, Ed says, he and his wife completely changed the way they lived, switching apartments, exchanging their "hand-to-mouth" careers in the arts for steady jobs, and "devoting our energy to creating a home for a child rather than focusing solely on our social and creative lives."
For Aaron, a happily childless professor, the change of heart came about when he spent the weekend with the family of a friend he hadn't seen in years. "I saw so much life in the house that it stunned me," he says. "There were people cooking, kids running, people obviously connecting to each other emotionally. The place was a mess, but it was alive. I came away feeling that the life I led was so narcissistic it made me sick. I literally went home and told my wife, 'I want to buy a house and have kids, and if you don't want to do those things with me, we should break up now.'" They did. Two years later, he was remarried and expecting.
09-10-2004 12:36 PM
Re: What Men Fear Most About Fatherhood
Reason #2: "I fell in love."
For Darrell, 32, a self-described cynic and documentary filmmaker with a three-year-old, love turned the world around. "I knew immediately I was going to marry Jaynie," he says. "She saw everything with such wonder, which made me feel less caustic and judgmental, and more optimistic about the possibility of sharing my life with someone. She was the first woman I felt absolutely passionate about." Within two months of meeting, he says, "we were choosing kids' names, though we didn't actually get pregnant until four years later, mostly for financial reasons. But I knew that it was what I wanted. I saw having a child as an expression of our love, which is a pretty singular thing."
Reason #3: "She made me do it."
There are men who don't feel the burning desire to parent but gamely forge ahead at the urging of their wives. This doesn't always lead to familial happiness. For David, 38, a musician, the birth of his now-10-year-old son was quickly followed by a divorce. "Yes, I loved my son," he says, "but at 28, I just couldn't make peace with the demands he placed on my life. I was always angry, and in the end, that destroyed my marriage."
Going on blind faith doesn't always turn out so badly, though. Harry, an attorney who was initially wary about taking the step, agreed to stop using birth control because his wife was determined to be a mother "before her hair went gray." A week later, she was pregnant. "My first reaction was, Oh no, not so fast! he recalls. But as your wife starts physically changing, you go through your own changes. The pregnancy starts affecting your lifestyle. You can't go out drinking or take off on vacation anymore, so you start to put those things behind you. At first, you're resigned, then the next thing you know, you're in Lamaze classes and seeing ultrasounds, and then you genuinely start getting excited. And nothing prepares you for the first night at home, when the baby wakes up and you go in and see him lying there. He's your child." Harry's son is now two, there's another on the way, and fatherhood, he says, "is the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
Reason #4: "I heard my biological clock ticking."
It's not just women who worry about their biological clocks running out. Men can be urged along by an inner "daddy timer" as well. Many point to their 30s as a time when the pleasures that once tempted them lost some of their power. "Feelings that you've gotta have money to spend on CDs start to look pretty lightweight," says Martin, 47, chief information officer at a school of cinematography, whose daughter is 11. "Plus, if you're working a responsible job, you're not staying out until 3 a.m. anyway. And as for losing spontaneity, the truth is, I had started to crave regularity a bit more."
Reason #5: "I fell in love with someone else's kid."
As siblings and friends start having families of their own, men get to know children in spite of themselves. And sometimes, they simply want what they see. "When I was 29, my brother's wife had a baby," recalls Richard, 34, an accountant with a four-year-old and a one-year-old. "I went to the hospital, and there she was, lying in the bassinet, looking at me. I couldn't stop staring. This was my brother's child! It was like a religious experience. Later, I baby-sat for her, changed her diapers. I felt there was such a bond between us. And I knew that, as strongly as I felt for her, it would be 10 times more intense with a child of my own."
"Having a child wasn't part of the plan until I was in my late 20s and my sister had kids," says Jon, 38, a divorced money manager with a six-year-old daughter. My wife and I spent a lot of time with them, and we got very close. Then her three-year-old daughter developed a serious medical problem. She was only a little girl, but the crisis really brought out the depth in her personality. I started to see how three-dimensional childhood was, that kids have resources you'd never suspect. As a result, I began to see myself more three-dimensionally. I guess I'd always seen parenting as rediscovering my own childhood — watching cartoons and having fun — but now I saw there was a much deeper side to it. The point wasn't so much to see yourself in a kid but to help your kids see themselves — who they are, what they can do, what they want in the world. But I think it takes until 30, when you're no longer a kid yourself, that you truly are able to realize that being a parent is about focusing outside yourself. And I really wanted to do that. Fatherhood started to look more and more inviting."
Reason #6: "I finally grew up."
Age brings maturity, and with it, the understanding that certain fears are unresolvable. No one approaches parenthood with the confidence we imagined we saw in our own parents. "By 33, I saw that there was nothing I could do to dispel my fear that I'd turn out like my father," says Hank. "But while I realized that fatherhood was a role I couldn't totally prepare for, I also listened to friends with kids describe the good surprises. One said to me, 'I always knew I would love my son, but I had no idea what that really meant. I had no idea of the power of it.' That kind of hope can carry you a long way."
Hank knew it would be all right, he says, when he and his wife brought their daughter Sara home from the hospital. "My wife was exhausted from her labor, and she went to sleep. I lay on the couch with Sara on my chest. I remember how small she was; she fit perfectly. I could feel her heartbeat. She was completely helpless, with the softest skin I'd ever touched. Most love is sort of learned — it grows on you. But what I felt for Sara was instantaneous and way beyond anything I'd ever experienced. And I knew then that I was ready to be her father
Re: What Men Fear Most About Fatherhood
I thought it would be
"The fear of babysitting their own kids" lol
Re: What Men Fear Most About Fatherhood
Originally Posted by DAVESBABYDOLL
Re: What Men Fear Most About Fatherhood
That fear of change that they have is actually the fear of changing diapers. lol I guess they think that's "womens" work but the same guys that think that's womens work also expect their wives to work outside of the home. Why should they? That's the "mans" job. It also seems like people are starting families later in life. I couldn't imagine waiting until I was in my 30's to start a family. I'm glad I had mine young. lol