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The season of goodwill to all dads?

by Dr John Barry

One of the iconic images of Christmas is the family sitting around the tree opening presents. Although images of this kind are commonplace at this time of year, for some people it serves as a cruel reminder of what they are missing out on. A large number of such people are fathers who won’t see their children at Christmas due to family separation and child custody issues.

In a survey of over 1,000 divorced parents, fathers went on average over three years without spending Christmas day with their children, and travelled on average 392 miles to see their children at Christmas. Another survey of 402 parents by Families Need Fathers (FNF) found that about half the children of separated families only saw one parent at Christmas. In many cases court orders for contact with the child were ignored. For those who didn’t see their children, around three quarters didn’t get a card, gift or phone call from the child. Many respondents said that parental alienation was an issue.

The mental health impact on fathers who are unable to see their children at Christmas must be enormous, inducing in some a state of grief. Very little research has been done on this topic however, which tells us some important things:

  • There is a gender empathy gap. In general, it seems likely that problems facing men aren’t noticed as much as problems facing women
  • It is the fashion to view fathers negatively. Fathers may see themselves as important to their children’s wellbeing and development, but are often viewed in a negative light by organisations that deal with issues, such as domestic violence, that can result in family breakdown
  • Sympathy for fathers is discouraged. The legal rights of fathers are often minimised or dismissed, and sympathy is sometimes actively discouraged, as shown by this workshop which makes the harmful claims that “Father’s rights groups… are interested only in reducing their financial obligation to their children [and] Are interested only in extending or regaining power and authority over ex-partners and children” (p.47).

These three issues mean that fathers don’t receive the support that they should do, and are left at risk of mental health problems, especially at key family occasions such as Christmas. Moreover, we don’t even know the true scale of the problem, because interest in this topic is discouraged so funding is virtually non-existent.

 

What can fathers do?

Although Christmas can be a very challenging time to be a father without his children, there are several things you can do, including:

  • Don’t give up. The new year is around the corner, and things might change for the better, especially if you set out a few achievable goals for yourself.
  • Talk to someone about how you feel and what you want to do about your situation. Families Need Fathers have helplines to offer practical advice and emotional support . Other helpline numbers are listed below.
  • Realise that you are not alone. There are many fathers in exactly the same situation as you are, and despite the efforts from some quarters, sympathy for your situation is increasing, even amongst the judiciary. No doubt one day common sense will prevail and fathers in the UK will no longer be treated in a way that causes such deep distress.

 

For further help over the Christmas period:

CALM is open 5pm – midnight (365 days), phone 0800 58 58 58 or webchat https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/

Samaritans are one of the few helplines that is open right through the holiday period (open 24/7, 365 days) Tel. 116 123 (UK & Ireland)

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

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Book review. Updating timeless advice for fathers: Owen Connolly’s ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’

Review of Owen Connolly’s book ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’.

by Dr John Barry

In his book The Boy Crisis, Warren Farrell warned us about the dangers of ‘dad deprivation’. This is the phenomenon of boys who drop out of highschool, become unemployed, prone to imprisonment. Almost every mass shooter since Columbine has been a boy who grew up with minimal or no father involvement. So what has happened to fatherhood? Masculinity is often devalued (e.g. the recent controversial APA guidelines) and dads are portrayed as bumbling fools in the media.

Against this backdrop of boys who desperately need dads, and men who feel disenfranchised from the fathering role, what is a man to do? Well, consultant psychologist Owen Connolly may have some answers in his book ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’.

In a slim volume that avoids unecessary jargon, Connolly gives practical advice to men in a way that answers questions to the everyday problems of parenting. The giants on whose shoulders we stand are those generations of men who have lived before us, and through their struggles and survival have passed on instincts we can tune in to in order to sense that we are doing the right thing for our children. So a lot of the advice is about tuning into our own feelings and needs as well as those of our children and spouse. But it’s not all touchy – feely. For example, there is the Top 10 Discipline Tips which offers practical ways of dealing with your child when they are being unruly.

Connolly recognises that we all have strengths and weaknesses. He asks men to recognise this, and to play to their strengths. He understands that when men are distressed, they often want a practical step-by-step approach to solutions, so the simple Q&A format adopted in this book makes perfect sense, as is the practical advice.

An example of the Q&A format is the question: ‘Does a man’s childhood affect the way in which he will parent his own children?’ The advice given is: “When each of us reaches 16 or 17, we become our own person, and after that it’s important for all of us to have a look at our lives and value who we are and shed many of the labels that were put upon us. We have to start looking at the positive aspects of ourselves” (Connolly 2006, p. 14). This is based on the idea that if we don’t learn to love ourselves, our negativity will be a disadvantage to anyone around us. Such advice fits in very well with modern ideas around positive masculinity, and the book has many examples of timeless good advice.

The book has four sections: Men & Women, Parenting Small Children, The Teenager, and Parenting Today. There is also a workbook section at the back, with some questionnaires, as an aid to self-reflection and development. These add to the overall user-friendly feel of the book. Those who like an index at the back of the book and references supporting every single statement will feel a bit lost at times, but for those who simply want solid advice, such academic niceties are not needed.

One of the take-home messages of this book is ‘any man can be a father, but not everyone can be a dad’. The aim of this book is to help men to connect with parts of themselves that are beyond modern fads about masculinity, and understand how to be a dad.

 

Connolly, O. (2006). ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’. Dundrum: Nurture Press.

To purchase this book please email info@counsellor.ie 

 

About Owen Connolly

Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice in Dublin. As well as “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – From Father to Dad”, he is co-author of the book “Parenting for the Millennium”, a best-selling book on childcare. He completed his training in the UK, Ireland, and the USA. He lectures in childcare and parenting, and is Chairman of the Nurture Institute of Further Education for Parents, a not-for-profit organisation which runs parenting courses and day-long seminars on fatherhood throughout the greater Dublin area.

Owen is running a workshop on the subject of ‘fatherhood and being a good dad’ at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL in June 2019.

 

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Men Ageing Without Family become Invisible and Alienated

Dr Rob Hadley discusses a disturbing social trend: How Men Ageing Without Family become Invisible and Alienated (i.e. join the M. A. W. F. I. A.).

The global trend of a declining fertility rate and an increasingly ageing population has been extensively reported. Childless men are, compared to women, missing from gerontological, sociological, infertility, and psychological research. These fields have all mainly focussed on family and women, with the fertility intentions, history and experience of men not collected.

Infertility research has shown that failure to fulfil both the personal, and socially accepted, status of parenthood leads to a complex form of bereavement. The grief associated with the multiple losses, and distress levels of females and males in this population are equal to those with serious medical conditions.

Despite the high numbers, there is very little literature on the impact of male childlessness. Rob will draw on his own research and the research of others to show the impact of childlessness on men’s social wellbeing and health. He will demonstrate the structures that maintain men’s invisibility to policy makers and institutional stakeholders. Finally, he will offer solutions to the structural exclusion of men ageing without children or family.

This talk will be followed by a question and answers session with the audience.

 

About the speaker

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

Tickets

Tickets are required and must be shown before admission to the talk. Tickets are free and can be requested here

 

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Myths of Manhood: Breaking Dad, Fracking Fatherhood

by Dr Robin Hadley, author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

“Men can have children at any time in their lives.”

“Men aren’t bothered about being a dad.”

 

These statements are often made, without really considering how much truth there is in them.

These statements are often overheard by myself and many other men who are childless-but-wanted-to-be-dads.

Unfortunately, the belief that men are not interested in reproduction is widely held in the public and across the social sciences.  Marcia Inhorn et al (2009) argue that men have become the ‘second sex’, in all areas of scholarship because of the ‘widely held but largely untested assumption’ that men are not interested and disengaged from, reproductive intentions and outcomes’ (Inhorn 2012: 6).

The reality for men who don’t conform to the ideal of fatherhood is very different than many people realise.

The majority of men are fertile from puberty onwards typically with sperm in constant production. However, there is increasing evidence that sperm is affected by the day-to-day environment – diet, heat, and stress all adversely affect sperm  (Li, Lin et al. 2011). Moreover, sperm declines in efficacy from about the age of 35 years onward with a positive correlation between age and genetic issues (Yatsenko and Turek 2018).

In addition to biological pressures, there are socio-cultural normatives to contend with. Most societies have expectations of when the most appropriate time to be a parent is. In Europe the maximum age to become a parent is commonly thought to be 40 for women and 45 for men (Billari, Goisis et al. 2011). When an older rock star or famous actor becomes a father there is widespread media praise. However, few men become older fathers, with less than 2% of men in England and Wales, registered as fathers aged 50 or over (Office for National Statistics 2017).

Men have reported a ‘biological urge’ or ‘societal duty’ or ‘personal desire’ as factors in their wanting to be a dad (Hadley 2009). Childless men indicate a sense of time running out to become a father deepened from their mid-30s onwards (Hadley and Hanley 2011). Consequently, men described feeling being ‘off-track’ compared to peers and anxious with regards how age would affect the quality of their interactions with their (potential) future children (Hadley and Hanley 2011, Goldberg 2014, Hadley 2018).

The concept that men are unaffected and not interested in reproduction are ‘false and reflect out-dated and unhelpful gender stereotypes (Fisher and Hammarberg 2017: 1307). Moreover, the psychological impact of male infertility is on a par with suffering from heart complaints and cancer (Saleh, Ranga et al. 2003). . Fathers feel more happiness (Nelson-Coffey, Killingsworth et al. 2019) and less isolation (Hadley, 2009) than men who want children, but don’t have any.

Some men and some women do not want to be parents. However, to label all men as ‘not interested’ is to do a disservice to both men and women. In addition to ‘missing out’ in an important element of their identity, involuntary childless men are ‘missing’ from narratives about children and parenting.  Being a dad is rewarding for men, children and families, so maybe let’s think twice before we glibly say that men don’t care about having children.

 

About the author

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health and will be speaking at UCL on this topic on 25th April 2019 at 6.30pm

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Men Bereaved by Abortion

by author and journalist John Waters

One of the more commonplace arguments that crops up in relation to abortion is that it is a matter on which only women should have a voice. Even if we are to take this argument on its own reductive “gender” terms, an obvious question arises: may anyone speak on behalf of the male 50 per cent of those human creatures whose existences are snuffed out by abortion?

But there is another unspoken category of overlooked humans here also: the might-have-been fathers of those obliterated children. It is noticeable that, when this issue is referred to at all in these discussions, it usually gets disposed of in the conventionally censorious terms our society has contrived to dispose of fathers: “Oh, he won’t be seen for dust”, etc. etc. Just as self-styled “liberals” use hard cases to bludgeon problematic principles, they also like to advance worst-case caricatures to disallow the claims of inconvenient parties whose involvement might complicate things more than liberals like (a pretty low threshold, generally speaking).

But imagine a 19 year-old boy, perhaps your son, brother or nephew, who gets his 18-year-old girlfriend pregnant. The pregnancy is unplanned, i.e. in conventional terms “unwanted”. In the culture we have constructed of recent times, the question of the child’s survival is a matter primarily for the woman. Perhaps her parents will become involved, but nowadays this is unlikely to alter the dynamic significantly. The man or his family have no right to an opinion. The culturally-allocated role of the might-be father is to offer “unconditional support”.

But let’s imagine that the woman has not quite made up her mind.  She is taking her time with the decision. This, we insist, is her prerogative entirely. The man – the putative father of the child-in-the-balance has no entitlement to speak for himself or his would-be son or daughter. He waits to hear the fate of his child.

In that period of uncertainly, what is to be his disposition? He may be about to become a father or he may not.  Indeed, in his own mind he may already be a father, but this is something he will be well advised to keep to himself.

Western societies increasingly take the following view: If his child is allowed to live, this man must be available, for the rest of his life, to love and provide for his child – emotionally, materially, psychologically, and in manifold other ways. He will be expected – by the mother, her family and friends, and by society in general – to step up to the plate and become a loving, caring and responsible father. He will also be expected to live his life thenceforth as if these days or hours of indecision and mulling-over have never occurred –  as if the idea of obliterating his child had never been considered. From the moment his child is delivered from the threat of the abortionist’s knife, he must locate in himself the qualities of love, devotion, duty and protectiveness that society feels entitled to demand from a father while implacably refusing him the legal basis from which to protect his child.

If, on the other hand, it is decided that his child is to be destroyed, he should be able to go about his life as if nothing has happened, as if he never had a child, the prospect of a child, even the thought of a child.

You do not hear or read much in the media about male bereavement by abortion, but it is nonetheless a real syndrome, documented in numerous academic studies. This research tells us that abortion causes many men to become emotionally overwhelmed, to experience disturbing thoughts, feelings of grief and loss. They react either by silence or hostility.

Reviewing how abortion impacts intimate relationships, Coleman, Rue & Spence (2007) reported that men tend to exert greater control than women over the expression of painful emotions, and so tend to intellectualize grief, and cope alone. The study also found that men are inclined to identify their primary role as providing support for their partners, even after an abortion—even if they opposed the decision. The study also revealed that men are more likely than women to experience feelings of despair long after the abortion, and are accordingly more at risk of suffering chronic grief.  Another study, (Coyle, 2007) found that men whose children have been aborted experience feelings of grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, helplessness, powerlessness, and other feelings akin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that they tend to repress these feelings rather than expressing them.  PTSD symptoms, which manifest in 40% of men implicated by abortion, can take an average of 15 years to manifest. Some studies (Coleman & Nelson, 1998; Kero & Lalos, 2000; and Lauzon et al., 2000; Mattinson, 1985) have found evidence that some men grieve more than the mother following the loss of an unborn child, giving the lie to conventional notions about the male as emotionally disconnected from his child. In fact, a great number of men experience abortion as the actual death of a child. Such feelings are frequently exacerbated by the man’s inability to understand what the woman expects of him, with many women experiencing ambivalent feelings which cause them to emit contradictory and confusing messages. Due to the relentless propaganda that attends such matters, many men assume that their role is to ‘support’ the woman even when he disagrees with the decision to abort, whereas in truth the woman may secretly wish for the father to talk her out of killing the child.

I wonder: in the event that his child is not permitted to live, at what precise moment is the father expected to extinguish in himself the love, duty, affection and devotion that would have been required to parent a living child – and demanded of the father by society, even though it simultaneously forbids him to have any say in the matter? Or, conversely, if the child is given the green light, does the father’s responsibility to ignite in himself the various qualities that are expected of a good-enough father begin from the moment of the announcement of the baby’s reprieve? Or is such a suddenly incorporated father entitled to a period of time to initiate the process of ignition in himself? If so, how long might he have to do this?

Of what do we imagine a man is made?

Does modern Western society imagine that its young males come equipped with some hidden mechanism for use when their children are annihilated – when, having been briefly invigorated with the possibility of fatherhood, they find that the emotions normally called upon in this context are not needed? Or, on the other hand, do we—collectively, I mean—believe that a man who has started in himself the process of grieving his child should be able to arrest this procedure and behave as though his child had merely had a miraculous recovery from a serious illness?

What kind of men might such a society expect to produce? Automatons with switches secreted in various regions of their bodies for turning on and off their human passions and emotions? Or – if flesh-and-blood males with real human desires, affections and capacities – what might we expect to happen to the hearts of men under such a regime? Would a society such as ours be entitled to be surprised if it ended up producing male humans who were incapable of loving, or grieving, or telling the difference between?

 

About the author

John Waters is a Permanent Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. Having started his career in 1981 with the Irish Music journal Hot Press, he later wrote in The Irish Times from 1990 to 2014. His first book, Jiving at the Crossroads (1991), about Irish politics around the 1980s, became a massive best-seller. He has written a number of books and plays for stage and radio and currently writes a fortnightly essay for the American magazine of religion in the public square, First Things. His latest book – Give us Back the Bad Roads – has just been published

 

 

 

 

 

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