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New fathers in lockdown – a golden opportunity

By Dr John Barry

First published as a BPS blog here

If you are like me and became a new dad in the past year or so, you may well have found yourself with unprecedented amounts of time at home with a baby.  For most people this will be a challenge and even trigger depression (see helpline details below), but in fact there can be a silver lining, or even golden opportunity, in being locked down with baby.

A recent meta-synthesis of 13 studies looked at the experiences of new dads of babies up to 12 months old (Shorey & Ang, 2019). Three themes emerged:

 

Development of the father-infant relationship

Bonding started at around two months when infants began to be able to smile and interact with their dad.

In my experience, it was surprising at how much a baby is able to communicate nonverbally, showing a range of facial expressions that I had presumed must be socially learned. Babies ‘talk’ a lot more than you think.

On reflection, in my experience the bond started the day I very clearly saw my son on a 4D scan, moving around in his mum’s womb in real time. I would recommend 4D scans, especially to prospective dads, because a 4D scan makes the reality of the child much more personal and tangible, and allows men a greater sense of the physical reality of the child before they are born.

 

Obstacles to getting involved e.g. work

Although reportedly often treated as helpers or even “bystanders” by healthcare professionals during visits to hospital after birth, lots of new dads felt “joy and closeness” when playing, taking care of, or holding their child. Reluctantly in many cases however, work had to come before childcare. This raises the thorny issue of how much a man can afford to take time off work before his career begins to suffer. This is a complex reality that is not easy to resolve. However, lockdown gives many men a great opportunity to get more involved with their child without it impacting their career. Yes, working from home still means you focus on work, but it also means that breaks from work can be much more fulfilling than a quick visit to the canteen.

Becoming a family man

Many new dads felt that the helplessness of their baby caused them to feel protective, responsible, and family-orientated. Furthermore, “fathers were found to intentionally neglect their feelings so that they could focus on their spouses and infants” (Shorey & Ang 2019, p. 15). This occurred in situations ranging from being calm when the mother was nervous and upset, to supressing sexual feelings until the mother felt ready for sex again. This finding is interesting because it is common today for men to be criticised for being stoical, whereas this study shows that strategic stoicism can be altruistic and beneficial, though I should add that talking about your stressful experiences is important too (Liddon & Barry, 2021).

In summary, bonding with your infant can be a uniquely rewarding experience. If you think babies are boring because they can’t talk, stop and think about how much they might be able to tell you with a smile when you cuddle them. Whatever you might think of lockdowns, if your employer is making you stay at home, please do yourself a big favour and don’t let the opportunity to enjoy being a dad pass you by.

For men or women dealing with the stress of being a new parent, contact the PANDAS free helpline: 0808 1961 776. Or for info for new dads contact Fathers Reaching Out

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 around 80 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). His new book, co-authored with Louise Liddon, Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction, is published by Wiley in early 2021.

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New book: Perspectives in Male Psychology

  • Should we believe everything that we hear about men and masculinity?
  • What role do evolution, biology and culture play in men’s behaviour?
  • Do we tend to blame men for their health problems more than is reasonable?
  • What can be done to reduce male criminality?
  • How can the standard approach to men’s mental health be improved?
  • What does gender equality mean for men?

A new book on male psychology will be available in early 2021, authored by Louise Liddon and Dr John Barry, and published by Wiley.

In around 300 pages this book uses evidence from science to shed light to some of today’s heated issues around men and masculinity. A spectrum of the topics – including education, sport and the workplace – are explored, and questions answered.

You can pre-order the book here.

More information will be available soon. To hear updates on this and other news, sign up to the free newsletter

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Do you underestimate the value of a good father?

by Dr John Barry

In a week that has seen two thirds of coronavirus deaths being men, we have heard claims that the pandemic is tougher on women.

In a week that has seen increasing opportunities for men to be good fathers at home, we have seen calls for the end to the traditional family unit.

Social isolation is not a recipe for good mental health, so in these times of social distancing and quarantine how can we make sense of this confusing narrative?

My advice is to decide to see the value in all of the things that men and women are doing. If you think fathers are of little value, then allow yourself to be surprised at the evidence that a good dad is of significant benefit to children. If you think men take too many risks with their health, then think of the huge risks taken daily by those protecting us in the emergency services, the delivery drivers and bin men too, and find out how traditional male values can benefit men’s health. And in doing that, let’s of course remember the massive value of the huge numbers of women who are keeping things together for us all too, the mums, the supermarket workers, and of course the healthcare workers.

Decide to take an opportunity to change how you see the world for the better.

 

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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You can’t put your arms around a memory (of your absent father).

by Dr John Barry

Johnny Thunders, guitarist with the hugely influential New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers, is a rock & roll icon. His is a story of incredible talent tragically squandered to heroin addiction. This article speculates that the cause of this tragedy was dad deprivation.

His story is depressingly familiar, echoed in the lives of contemporaries of the music scene in the late 70s, such as Sid Vicious and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Like Vicious and Jones, Thunders (real name John Anthony Genzale) had a dad-shaped hole in his life. Shortly after he was born into an Italian-American household in Queens, New York, Thunders’ womanising father left home, leaving him to be raised by his mother and older sister.

His sister’s record collection – mainly girl groups like the Shangri-Las – helped fill the void for a time, and we might speculate on how this influenced the cross-dressing of The New York Dolls. But Thunders was also a natural athlete and excelled at baseball. He even got a tryout with the Little League’s Philadelphia Phillies, but he wasn’t allowed to take part because of the requirement of the presence of a father.

But clearly Thunders had spirit and he transfered his energy into guitar playing and fashion. These activities however didn’t fill the dad-shaped void in his life, as suggested by his tendency to take drugs. He and The Dolls became notoriously unreliable due to the influence of drugs and addiction, and his music career was crippled because of the music industry’s lack of willingness to take a risk investing their money there.

Drug-taking wrecked his mental health too. Thunders was sometimes described as appearing depressed. One story tells of him fleeing a hotel room, terrified because he thought Darth Vader was hiding behind his curtains. Psychologists of a psychoanalytic nature might read something into the fact that the Darth Vader character was created as a ‘Dark Father’, which is perhaps what Thunders’ father became due to prolonged absence.

Like his father, Thunders was popular with women. He tried to settle down and had three sons with wife Julie Jordan in the late 70s, but his drug use made his life shambolic and incompatible with family life. In the early 1980s Jordan took the children from him, and he never saw them again. His eldest son Vito, would later be jailed by drug trafficking, perhaps also a victim of dad-deprivation.

There is a rumor that is interesting in regards to Thunders and Sid Vicious, both of whom were victims of dad-deprivation. It is claimed that Thunders introduced Sid Vicious to heroin, waving a syringe in his face and shouting: “Are you a boy or a man?” Perhaps this shows that in the absence of healthy rites-of-passage, men will create unhealthy rites-of-passage.

Thunders’ drug abuse made him hard work for anyone around him and contributed to his notoriety, but it would be naïve to think that it contributed to his talent. In fact his drug use vastly reduced his creativity and output, and who knows how many more great songs he would have recoded had he hadn’t been so addicted and self-destructive.

According to Thunders’ biographer, Nina Antonia: “The thing that was always missing was a father figure”. He could have been a massive success, but he became best known for failure. One of his best known songs is “Born to lose” – clearly that’s how he felt, and that’s how he lived. He died tragically aged 39 in New Orleans in seedy and mysterious – possibly murderous – circumstances. Definitely not the way any father wants their son’s life to end, and something for all fathers to learn from.

 

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 forthcoming 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).

 

Further reading

Antonia, N. (2000). Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood. Cherry Red Books.

Barry J (2017). How much empathy do we have for a Lonely Boy? https://malepsychology.org.uk/2017/01/09/how-much-empathy-do-we-have-for-a-lonely-boy/

Barry J (2019). Born to lose: the sad start and tragic end of Sid Vicious https://malepsychology.org.uk/2019/02/02/born-to-lose-the-sad-start-and-tragic-end-of-sid-vicious/

Farrel, W (2018). The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.

Jones, S. (2016). Lonely Boy: tales from a Sex Pistol. London: William Heinemann. ISBN-10: 1785150677

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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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