The Emotionally-Present Father

Fatherhood Today

Fathers today are expected to be more emotionally involved in their kid’s lives than ever before. Yet many of us find this to be new, uncharted terrain, quite different from the fathering we experienced as children. Often the message we received was that dads provide financial support and discipline. In the emotional arena, fathers were a periphery figure. Mom put on the bandaids, comforted the tears and dealt with the tantrums.

But this mindset is changing. From stay-at-home dads to baby-wearing dads, fathers are becoming more involved during the early years of child-rearing. Just try to name a dad who doesn’t change a diaper these days. Often women are working more and therefore men are being called to step into this role. But also, men are beginning to discover the value of being more emotionally involved in the early years.

The Desire to Emotionally Check Out

As a part-time stay-at-home dad I find myself day-dreaming of a “Mad Men” life. One where I check into the office and check out of my life for 10-12 hours a day. It is not something I truly want, however, just a mental form of escape from the constant assault of emotions, tantrums and literal physical assaults that come my way on a daily basis. Child-rearing is tough, messy and chaotic. Many of us men, find ourselves totally untrained for this process. It’s tempting to revert back to something we feel more competent and equipped to handle, such as office work (or almost anything else for that matter!).

Another common pitfall I face, as a task-oriented male, is the tendency to be there but “not really be there” with my kids. This includes looking at my phone, trying to get work done and reading books while I caretake. There is certainly a time and place for this. When my kids engage in independent play I seize those opportunities. But I remain aware of the importance of giving them my full, undivided attention for 1-hour increments during the day.

Goal Setting

It is helpful to keep your long-term goals clearly in your mind, and written down somewhere you can read them on a daily basis. One of my long-term goals is to have a deep connection to my children. To be the most emotionally-connected father that I can be. And the reminder of this goal keeps me battling in the trenches to make that a reality.

Along with writing out long-term goals and utilizing daily reminders to keep yourself on track, writing realistic short-term goals is also extremely valuable. Goals like, “take my kids to the space museum this week, engage in uninterrupted play for one hour today and read to my kids each evening”, can be great short-term goals that keep me on track. The key to short-term goals is that they are attainable, small pieces that get you closer to a long-term goal.

Self Care

And, as with anything, take time for self-care. This is where you can use mindfulness, spirituality, exercise, adventure, socialization (particularly with other dads who share your value system) and creative outlets. This is an extremely important piece of being a good father and when I begin daydreaming of the “Mad Men” life, bike-touring alone across the U.S. or living in a National Park, I know it’s time to incorporate some self-care.

Some of us tend to become martyrs of parenthood. Claiming that we are neglecting self-care for the benefit of our kids. But If you don’t take care of yourself it is actually destructive to your goals, moving you farther away from the life you want. I cannot be emotionally present for my children when I am totally overwhelmed.

It’s like continuously driving a car and refusing to do maintenance. Things will catch up to you and the car will be destroyed, or at the least be out of commission for quite some time. The human body needs forms of maintenance as well, and self-care represents this form of maintenance.


Sometimes therapy may be necessary when the obstacles in your way begin to feel too large to get around. If you just cannot seem to make time to incorporate self-care, there may be much more to it than simply trying harder. A therapist can direct you towards healing in the areas that may be causing this mental and emotional block. Likewise, if you cannot seem to find a way to be fully present with your children, or if their emotions continuously feel overwhelming to you, therapy can help. Asking for help is difficult. But it can often be an extremely valuable, and necessary, tool to add to our collection as men and fathers.