About the Book — Excerpt

The "Good Enough" Father

Fatherliness has instinctual roots; indeed, most every man has the capacity to develop fatherly ties that render his relationship to his child a mutual developmental experience. Despite its instinctual basis, however, the specific benefits of fatherhood don't come so automatically. Whether we attribute it to biology, culture, or a combination of the both, many men, unlike women, need to learn to become responsible fathers and to guide their sons along the same pathway. As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted in a remark during the mid-1700s that still rings true today, the mother-child bond is fully natural, while the father-child bond must be cultivated. Indeed, treating fathers as the "forgotten" parent may be an outcome of the cultural penchant for favoring a mother's "nature" over a father's more often, hard-earned ability to nurture.

One of the ways men can cultivate this bond is by becoming actively engaged in the lives of their children. This involvement can't be restricted to external activities, like changing diapers or attending school plays. First and foremost, it must be extended to their children's internal lives, particularly their subjective, more emotional experience. To accomplish this, fathers simultaneously need to value and attend to their own internal lives as well, which includes their emotions, impulses, thoughts, wishes, beliefs, and memories and impressions. By attending to his own inner life, a father is provided with the understanding that will enable him to recognize his child's subjectivity. Fathers who are willing to face themselves in these ways are on the way to being "good enough."......

"My Father Before Me is a tour de force of scientific wisdom, practical suggestions for parents, poignant stories that move us deeply, and a model for understanding the incredibly powerful emotional forces of fathers upon their sons, and sons, in turn, upon their fathers."
William S. Pollack, Ph.D., author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood and Real Boys' Voices

There are various tasks a father must fulfill in order to be a good enough father, tasks that require a father to recognize what his son needs from him at specific junctures in his son's developmental journey. I will discuss and explore these provisions and phases in the son and father's development throughout this book. All of these tasks are essential to ensuring the healthy development of a son or daughter. Indeed, the absence of sufficient good enough fathering is likely to produce specific consequences at each developmental junction, such as particular conflicts and deficits, often manifest in the painful affective state of yearning known as "father hunger."

My framework for understanding the nature of good enough fathering considers the roles a father assumes in response to his son's needs, beginning when the child is first conceived and moving forward in time until death. Each of these roles and phases will be explored in subsequent chapters. During pregnancy and the first months of life, ..., a father functions as a guardian, or watchful, protective presence. In the first years of life, a father becomes "the second other," the parent who, in his role as liaison, is able to pull the baby out of the exclusive orbit with the mother into the larger world. As the son reaches the preschool years, a father acts as a model for and sanctioner of his son's nascent sense of masculinity. During the "oedipal years," when the son starts school, a father works as a challenger, helping his son learn to rein in and manage his impulses and strong emotions, while guiding him to compete in healthy ways. In the middle of childhood, a father becomes a mentor to his growing son, teaching him a sense of mastery over things while initiating him into the world of men. In adolescence, a father becomes a hero, embodying all the traits the boy aspires to. During later adolescence, a father becomes a fallen hero, as his teenage son needs to break away and renounce what his father stands for. As the young man reaches early adulthood, a father reprises his role as a mentor to adult manhood, easing this difficult transition. A man becoming middle-aged will turn to his father as an aging equal and very often a wise elder in traversing the tides of later adulthood. And finally, when the son enters late middle age, his elderly father becomes an aging elder, who often depends on his son as his son once did on his father, while the father helps to prepare his son to face his own end-of-life issues.

My Father Before Me
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