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The Seed is Planted: Stepping Up to Fatherhood

The Intention

I intend to create a community project called “The Seed is Planted: Stepping Up to Fatherhood” (SIPSUF).   It would be a series of support group meetings for expectant fathers between the ages of about 16 and 21. Fathers would participate from as soon as practical from the conception of the child until the child is about one month old.  SIPSUF would be an opportunity for expectant fathers to explore what fatherhood means to them, and then to joyfully, intentionally and manfully, step into their roles as responsible new fathers for life.

 The Case for Action

It is the case now that thousands of young men stumble into fatherhood accidentally, either through casual or unprotected sex, and do not think through the implications of fatherhood if and when a child is conceived.  They therefore often lack both the preparation and the authentic commitment and resolve necessary to be fully present for the new child and the new family when conception and gestation arise.

Also, many young expectant fathers have not had the benefit of full, hands-on, and committed fathering themselves, and therefore lack the role models that will inform and guide them in their own emerging role as dads, with all its attendant responsibilities.  Because of these and other factors, including environmental and social factors, young expectant dads often have low self-esteem, and are ignorant of the many gifts that have to offer their children and the children’s mothers. Sadly, their powerful innate potential for nurturing, courage, and support remain forever unexpressed. In light of all this, it is understandable why, when their girlfriends (or ex-girlfriends) tells them they are pregnant and will bring their child to term, panic, denial, fear, confusion, overwhelm and other emotions can set in for these young fathers-to-be, making denial or flight tempting options.  When those options are chosen, it often has a devastating impact on children, mothers, and the fathers themselves – to say nothing of the larger community.  SIPSUF may help.

SIPSUF will provide a rigorous, ongoing, and supportive context for young fathers to explore what fatherhood means in the context of community, by helping them to identify and develop the core values necessary to want to choose to step fully into their new role as dads.  These values will in turn inspire the young fathers to act reliably in ways that nurture and support both child and mother, and which also provide the fathers themselves with a deep, self-reinforcing sense of purpose and gratification as they face the realities of being a dad over the long haul.

How It Works   I envision a group of six or eight fathers, each of whom would enter the program as soon as possible after learning that he has become an expectant dad.  Each father’s program would be divided into three stages, roughly corresponding to the first trimester of pregnancy (from conception to the end of the third month), the second trimester of pregnancy (from the beginning of the fourth month to the end of the sixth month), and the third trimester of pregnancy (from the beginning of the seventh month through the first month of the newborn’s life).  Each stage would represent a level of learning and growth for the father on his path to committed fatherhood.  The completion of each stage would be solemnly recognized in a rite-of-passage ceremony conducted by me or another elder and witnessed by ever-widening circles of his community.

Stage One:  Reflection and Coming-to-Terms

In Stage One, the fathers would begin to integrate the sudden knowledge of their incipient fatherhood, both by sharing their emotions and thoughts about it with the group, and by exploring their own experience and memories of being fathered through journals and guided reflections.  Questions to explore might include: what helped them to feel loved and cherished when they were growing up, and what was difficult or lacking in their experience as sons? How would they do things differently, if at all, and based on what values?  What male figures, other than their biological dads, cared for them, or were inspiring, and how?  How do those values “show up” in their own conduct now, and as dads? Who were their dads as people, and what challenges were they up against?  The purpose of this last piece is to humanize participants’ own dads to them, and to allow them to begin a process of completion with them, along with forgiveness, if necessary.

The Stage One Ceremony will be conducted in the relatively small circle of the fellow group members, the celebrants and his colleagues (workshop guide(s), social worker etc) and, when appropriate, the new fathers’ dads and granddads.

Stage Two:  Imagination and Dialogue

In Stage Two, the fathers-to-be would continue to use journals, visualization and group discussion but begin to imagine and “color in” who this new child developing within the mother is, or could be.  By this I do not necessarily mean the child’s specific personality, appearance or other qualities, or even what he or she will be named (although naming can be a powerful part of the process of identifying with the child, of making it “real”).  Rather, this is a rich opportunity to let the reality (and the strength) of the father-child bond begin to emerge, and to imagine, in a spiritual and emotional sense, who this child is, and what its potential is, both as a partial creation of the dad in combination with the mom, and who he or she is in his or herself, in his or her “otherness.”

During this stage, fathers from many backgrounds and walks of life will come and talk to the group about their own experiences as fathers, and the joys and difficulties and surprises they have encountered in learning who their particular son or daughter is (and isn’t), and who they are (and are not) as dads.   Being a father is a complex and nuanced thing, and just hearing how it “really is” for a dad can take some of the mystery and taboo (and anxiety) out of it.

Role-playing will be encouraged, as will sharing with the group and one’s partner.  Speaking out loud to the child as a form of communication or even prayer, is a powerful tool that will be given as homework. The essential point is for a new dad to develop a real relationship with the baby well before birth, so he can already be actively engaged when the child comes into the world.

The Stage Two Ceremony will take place in the presence of the other fathers in the group, as well as their dads, granddads, the visiting fathers, project staff, and other strong and positive male mentors and role models.  Some image of the child, created by the dad through words, pictures, music, mime or even dance may be incorporated into the ceremony.

Stage Three: Intention, Commitment and Action

In this stage, the expectant fathers explore, then commit themselves to, their own core values as dads, and to imagine what their own personal roles as fathers will entail in light of those values, both from within and in terms of the concrete actions necessary to truly “be there” emotionally, spiritually, and financially as fathers in “real life.”  The expectant dads will create the possibility for true fatherhood in the form of stated intentions and commitments, and begin to plan out, in informal and structured dialog with the mother and others, how they will be truly present available for this new person.  Anger management techniques may be a part of it, as well as job skills and leadership training.  Communications skills will be reinforced, as will the ability to identify goals and challenges and to reach out for support and guidance from the community, if necessary or desired.

The Stage Three Ceremony will take place when the baby is about a month old. In it, the Celebrant will work with the new father and mother to help design a ceremony that formally welcomes the child into the world through naming and other ritual actions. Central for the father will be the making of a personal Fatherhood Pledge to the child, and then a Partnership Pledge to the mother, and to the other parents and the community.  It is vitally important that this “stepping up to fatherhood” be done in the sight of the entire community, and that there be a true acknowledgement of the father by that community for the responsible path he has walked and continues to choose, an honoring out-loud of his integrity and the promise he is making.

Adam Phillips, Civil Celebrant and Multi-Faith Minister
(917) 670-9293