We brought my first son home from the hospital on Christmas Day. After the flood of family and friends departed, we were finally left alone with our tiny infant. I remember thinking to myself “OK, now what!?”
As a professional coach who sometimes works with dads, I once conducted a survey where I asked, “What training did you receive to be a father?”
One dad shot back, “You’re kidding, right?”
I wasn’t kidding. The sad truth is that you get more training to drive a car than to have a child.
The kind of father you become can be heavily influenced by notions you don’t even know you have the day your child is born. For better or worse, it’s impossible to enter life as a parent unaffected by the framework and culture of your upbringing. That’s your starting point.
I myself was exposed as a young boy to many different models of fatherhood from various sources on TV, at the movies, in my family, and around the neighborhood:
• the quiet, aloof dad who comes home from work and is left alone to sit in his chair (hey, he worked hard all day) while mom cooks dinner
• the docile dad who leaves all the big decisions to his wife, “the boss”
• the all-powerful patriarch who rules the roost without opposition
• and the Great Santini-style marine sergeant who is always ready to knock some sense into his young charge.
I also grew up in a time where fathers were expected to be breadwinners, not nurturers. So I figured I was in charge of making the money for the family, taking care of discipline, and academics.
It’s not as if my wife and I discussed any of this. They were just assumptions I made without realizing it. I think it’s safe to say I inherited these roles from my own father, like an automatic download.
But I knew I wanted more. Most dads do.
I wanted always to be able to talk to my children, to maintain an active and open channel of communication. I wanted them to know I could see what they were doing and who they were becoming. I wanted them to know that, in good or difficult times, we would always be able to talk.
I also wanted my children to know and feel, without any doubt, that I loved them unconditionally — that no matter who they became, what they did, where they went … that I just loved them. I wanted this love to give them the freedom to be whoever they wanted to be.
Though I am far from perfect, I have worked at being present in this way to my two sons. And this has been the greatest joy of my life.
I don’t mean to suggest that everything has gone just swimmingly. Hardly. My wife and I have experienced many of the great moments that parents dream about, but also some of the moments you pray will never happen.
So here’s my bottom line about being a father. It’s easy when the report card is aces, when health is good, when the kitchen is full of laughter. But your finest hour doesn’t come until the going gets tough. And it inevitably does.
It is in the most challenging circumstances that you get to see what kind of father you really are. If you haven’t taken the time to consider this, you may too easily default to some automatic setting. And that’s probably not who you really want to be for your children, nor who they need you to be.
Recently, for completely different reasons, I chose to have a difficult and uncomfortable conversation with each of my two sons. Both times I was nervous. Both times I was able to be vulnerable, as they say. I’m not ashamed to say there were tears. And both conversations ended with an embrace.
It’s been 21 years since the doctor gently placed that tiny boy in my hands and here’s what I’ve learned: In the end, the key to being a father is to see your children — to see them so clearly that they can feel it! Because this is how your children will know that you are standing with them — not just one part of who they are but all of who they are.
And when in doubt, go with your heart, not your head.
A Day of Joy
Who is the number one person that deserves a day of joy?
Mothers. A Day of Joy is an all day event with 4 workshops, lunch, and goody bags. Mothers get to spend a day playing! Dancing! Creating art! And most of all Relaxing. No talk of children, or schedules or what’s for dinner. This day is for Moms to recharge their fuel tanks…
The inspiration for this event came from trading stories with a colleague. While discussing funny things the children we work with do, we got on the topic of Mothers who don’t get to experience the fun. POOF! A DAY OF JOY!
Joy is what rules children. At the core of their existence, children have the capacity to experience joy every single day. As children get older and eventually become adults, they/we can lose our connection to joy, because of responsibilities, fear, judgment, self doubt, guilt, worry, shame etc.
Children experience joy naturally and spontaneously. It can be seen with a sudden skip down the street, a burst of laughter, or seeing a balloon. It’s physiologically healthy to be expressive and clear on what is felt and desired. Adults do not have the space or courage to let all this energy and emotion out, plus the police might be called or we could end up on the front of the local newspaper or for shame: on social media looking crazy.
Mothers’ are overwhelmed. I see the depletion of energy, lack of zest, and low emotional, spiritual, and physical states in Mothers, this is not the most worthy place to parent from, and children are directly impacted by this.
A Day of Joy is a day for Mothers to play and to tune in to their inner and outer Self. There are no expectations other than to show up on time, creating a sacred space. An important agreement we make at the start: “give no advice.”
Mothers attending A Day of Joy experience mind body connections that last in their lives beyond this one day.
I have witnessed women having soul connections, with no words spoken. Spontaneous laughing, hugging and dancing erupt. I have also witnessed Mothers eating lunch alone by choice, and really enjoying not being a caretaker for anyone else, free from any obligations and worries, even if just in the moment.
Mom’s reflect back on the day with peace of mind and disbelief on how good it feels to be free in their bodies and minds.
I know awareness reaches heightened states by having these experiences and opportunities. When some sadness, guilt, worry, bitterness, shame and sorrow get expressed, then real JOY has a place to expand. This kind of joy is the kind that makes life peaceful, makes the skin glow, brings blood pressure down, reduces anxiety and stress, and brings in hope and possibility. This kind of joy elicits the fact that no one is alone in parenting struggles. In place of stress and anxiety are thoughts of humanity, love, trust, compassion, and joy.
Bio: Shane Kulman, MS SpEd is the founder of Your Beautiful Child LLC, private practice. She offers workshops nationwide, as well as local women’s groups. For more information on Shane go to http://www.yourbeautifulchild.com