Accessibility. Engagement. Responsibility.
These three characteristics are vital components of what it takes to be a good father, says Glen Wurglitz, PsyD, St. Catherine Hospital Neurobehavioral Medicine Program director.
“Good fathers are actively involved in the lives of their children. They need to be available to their kids, directly interact with their children and provide kids with resources,” he says. “Dads do what moms do by nurturing children to grow up with values and be productive and good members of our communities.”
Preparing for the role of father is an exercise that encompasses both the mom and dad.
“First-time fathers are not unlike first-time mothers in that they are not sure what they should be worried about or what to prioritize. Fathers who actively participate in the parenting and engaging with the baby and being supportive of the mother will reap both the joy and benefits,” says Paula Dranger, president and clinical director of Choices Counseling Services, which has locations in Valparaiso, Crown Point, La Porte and Michigan City.
“They are part of a couple and should communicate together and make decisions together as partners.”
Key ways to get ready include being involved in the basics such as organizing and decorating the room, helping make decisions on the birthing plan, attending doctors’ appointments, reading up on parenting, joining a support group or reaching out to family and friends.
“Birthing classes are for both moms and dads. It helps you prepare physically and also mentally that a baby is coming,” Wurglitz says.
“Go to as many doctors’ appointments as possible and really listen to what the doctor says,” Dranger says. “Learn as much as possible about pregnancy and the growth and changes of the fetus, labor and delivery and about infants and their growth.
“Men should pay attention to any squeamishness or timidity they face and stay focused on building up their comfort level with the baby or holding the baby and/or tending to the baby.”
Wurglitz says challenges for dads are rooted in stereotypes that moms are traditionally the more “important” parent. Research shows risk factors for such issues as substance abuse and dropping out of high school are six times higher for children who grow up without a dad in their lives.
“Problems tie in with stereotypes when folks say dad is the breadwinner. Kids really crave more of an ‘actively’ involved dad more so than a father who can provide luxuries,” he says. “Fathers provide kids with a lifelong example of what it is to be a good man, good husband, good parent and good person.”
“Pregnancy can bring on stress as the commitment made as a couple is now even more prevalent. That can be scary and so can the thought of the responsibilities that come with fatherhood, financially, emotionally and lifestyle changes,” Dranger adds. “(Remember that) you are the father! Understand that your role is vital and that you can be both supportive and a participant in your growing family.”
Men who can find their own way and take time to slow down are the happiest and healthiest fathers.
“Relax, relax, relax and look for ways to be helpful and to be there for your child and his/her mother!” Dranger says. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and be fine with imperfection. Perfect parents are a myth but involved and loving parents are great parents. Develop and build up an interwoven family network and look to create your own traditions along the way.
“Enjoy the ride and the memories.”
“Roles of moms and dads have to be grown into. Have the courage to be imperfect. Courage has its roots in (Old) French: live by the heart. Take heart to acknowledge imperfections,” Wurglitz adds. “Go to people who inspired you growing up as examples of good fathers within your family or community. Talking to them gives perspective and emphasizes there is no one right way to be a good dad.”