We have a dilemma in our country around fathers who, leave their children because they cannot live with their woman anymore, or more likely, the woman has decided she can't live with the man. The dilemma is how to help these men retain and strengthen their relationships with their children, most importantly, their sons. I don't think many men have the support they need to help them negotiate this path.And I am not advocating any cessation of the support for women and children who escape from an abusive relationship with a man. Many men spiral into abuse and they do it almost automatically. Why?
The hard part for many men is to reconcille the situation with their role and responsibility. Too often we get the lament that they were driven to violence, that they had no choice. But it is all rubbish that clouds the truth of accepting responsibility and moving on. Counselling is often the best way to front up to the underlying issues causing a man to be abusive. Often father issues arise. The experience their children are going through activates memories and fears that they have felt, when they were young. With no techniques for negotiating the conflicing feelings many men retreat into depression. Our fathers were supposed to teach us how to cope with these situations, but for too long fathers have not been able to furfill that role.
I'm reading a book about Enstein at the moment. He left his two boys and his wife, this is what he had to say about imaging life away from his sons;
”I would be a real monster if I felt any other way. I have carried these children around innumerable times day and night, taken them out in their pram, played with them, romped around and joked with them. They used to shout with joy when I came; the little one cheered even now, because he was still too small to grasp the situation. Now they will be gone forever, and their image of their father is being spoiled.”
Men have a great fear of this. That their sons will forget them, if they leave. Where did this fear come from? Is it just a normal part of our psyche? How does it relate to the dilemma outlined above, that face men who are leaving their families?
I think the world wars had a lot to do with it. A least two generations of men damaged by those world events. The women also damaged in so many ways. The men that came home had to just get on with it, they had to carry everything inside them.
I am not sure if that made them good fathers. Humankind has been carrying the unintended results of that global conflict for many years.
They did their best, these men, but they were damaged. How could they not be? Their sons grew and continued the same distant parenting style. On top of that, men nowdays, have the pressures of work Our society has sped up so much it's frightening. We do everything fast nowdays. This affects people, especially men, because our society encourages “man as breadwinner” as a social norm. As pressure comes on to provide for our families the cracks can start to form. They appear as increased drinking or drugs, as unhappiness and anger, as violence and abuse. The feelings of self loathing increase and the downward spiral begins.
I think a lot of these feelings of “unworthyness” are a result of our wanting our fathers to be there for us.
If, as you go through a relationship breakup, you keep on thinking of the children, what's best for them, how to make it easier for them: then you stop feeling selfish and acting selfishly. You start to concentrate on what is doable, you think about ways forward and options. At that point, as a man, you become empowered and in your power, in your mana.
It is those moments of understanding when you need your dad, or at least his words and advice. And often that is when our fathers are not there for us. But we can be there for our children, even if we are seperate from the mother. Being there for our sons is our sacred duty. We must be there for our sons by putting our own fears and hurt and embarrasment, and self-denial, and blaming others to one side and let it go.
I believe that the models we are using need to be revisited. Maori men for instance need maori support and a maori way of teaching and learning. We are polynesians not english.
Co-parenting is a good way to be there as a parent.
Developing safe communication tools is the best place to start – I recommend Non-violent Communication - a language of life, by Marshall B Rosenberg
Enstein was, in many ways just like the rest of us. He made mistakes, he was selfish, and he left his boys to be bought up by their mother. He was able to forge good bonds with his sons and we can too.
Enstein letter to his son;
“I will try to be with you for a month a year so that you will have a father that is close to you and can love you. You can learn a lot of good things from me that no one else can offer you. The things I have gained from so much strenuous work should be of value not only to strangers but especially to my own boys. In the last few days I completed one of the finest papers of my life. When you are older, I will tell you about it.”