Can you think of any bigger, more demanding, more impactful (on you and others) or more scary job in life than becoming and being a dad?
From the minute you find out you are going to be a dad (either biologically or through circumstance) that is it, you will from that point be dad for the rest of your life, whether you want and choose to be or not.
What other role in life will demand more of you in terms of your time, monies, energies and commitment?
Unlike any other job, being a dad does not come with a handbook or role description, clearly setting out what is expected from you and giving you guidelines on how you should act.
Even if you manage to do the job of being a dad well, it is unlikely that you will gain a promotion or get a pay rise. It is usually a job in life that will cost you so much more financially that you will ever gain from it.
If you decide to not engage with the job of being a dad, or quit the role, you can never fully resign from being a dad. Even if you do not acknowledge your position as a dad, there will always be a child on the other side of that equation who cannot escape the fact that you are their parent.
Then imagine how much more complex it is when you become a form of ‘dad’ to someone else’s children (through a step-family, fostering or adoption). Not only do you need to work out what your role and position is in that child’s life, you may also be on the receiving end of the psychological turmoil that child is battling with as they adjust to profound changes in their family dynamic.
So with all these challenges associated to fatherhood, why would anyone bother taking on what can often be a costly, demanding and at times thankless job?
Well sometimes becoming a dad can happen as a result of unanticipated circumstances (unplanned pregnancy, dating someone with children etc). For many, many males through, becoming a dad will be a role they will actively seek out and aspire to as part of their life journey.
Done right, being a dad will be the most rewarding and satisfying thing you will ever do in your life. What could have more meaning or value than seeing how your efforts to nurture, shape and encourage, unlock the life potential in another human being, your child?
What other job could bring you an equivalent sense of joy, pride and satisfaction? What other form of bond could feel as deep and fulfilling as the loving bond between you and your child?
Being a dad will not be for everyone and that is fine, it is and should always be your choice. One thing is for sure though, if you do decide to become or take up the role of being a dad, it will be a huge life landmark, so it makes good sense to prepare for and be supported as you carry out that role.
Becoming a Dad
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2019 there were 712,680 live births in the UK, that is nearly three-quarters of a million new dads in that year alone. Not forgetting that in the same year there were 2763 stillbirths. That is nearly 3000 dads to be who had the anticipated joy of fatherhood taken away from them.
According to the Home for Good website throughout the UK, there are 101,500 children looked after away from their own home. In 2020, there were 69,777 children being looked after by foster families, and 4040 children were adopted into a family in that year. In a great many of those households, there will be a male taking on a parental guidance role.
If is hard to find exact statistics for how many males get into some form of step-family dynamic (through cohabiting or marrying a partner who already has children). However, you can be sure that each year throughout the UK, many thousands of males enter into a romantic relationship with a partner who will be a parent.
Whether you take on a dad role by birth, by taking on the responsibility for a child in care, or by the formation of a new romantic relationship, each method has its own unique challenges you should be prepared for.
Becoming a Dad By Birth: When the woman tells you she is pregnant, whether planned and wished for (or not) that news will have a profound psychological impact. During pregnancy the woman of course does the ‘physical heavy lifting’ of carrying and giving birth to the baby. But often we can neglect the support that the father-to-be needs to adjust to the changes in his life that are coming and their mental and emotional impact on him.
Then when the child is born, the weight of caring, financial and practical responsibilities, the physical demands and the disruption to lifestyle can impact on the dad too.
We are conscious that many women can experience antenatal (during pregnancy) or postnatal (roughly the first year after giving birth) depression, some men can also experience similar episodes or pregnancy-related depression too.
Becoming a Dad Via A Caring Role: Taking on a parental responsibility role for a child through the care system (either through fostering or adoption) comes with a range of challenges some of which are set out on the National Fostering Group website and the Fusion Fostering website.
Firstly, it may be important to remember that if the child is in contact with their birth family, they may already have a dad, and that relationship may not have been a positive one which could make them fear or resist relationships with other adult males.
No child chooses to be taken into care, so there is likely to be resistance to the arrangement and fear. Can you imagine how fearful it must be to be suddenly placed into someone else’s home and told that is where you now must live.
One of the biggest challenges you may face as a foster/adoptive ‘dad’ will be the possible outworking of the traumatic experiencing that the child has been exposed to that contributed to the decision to take it into care in the first place.
Becoming a Dad Via A Romantic Relationship: You may have fallen in love with your partner and chosen to have a relationship with them, but that will not mean you would have chosen to have a relationship with their children too, but the situation means you cannot have one without the other.
As with fostering/adoption the situation is often complicated with the child’s biological father still being in their life. In that circumstance, you are not the child’s dad, that other man is (rightly or wrongly).
Being a step-dad can be a very rewarding and satisfying role to assume. But you can naturally expect that the child will need time to work out what role they want you to take in their family circle, and where you fit into their family construct.
You also need to think about how you can fit into the overall adult role model mix in that child’s life in a way that compliments what is already there, and ideally in a way that brings positivity and reward for both you and the child. The All Pro Dad website has some top tips for being a step-dad and the Good Men Project warns of the top pitfalls to avoid.
Decide on the Type of Dad You Want to Be
Because being a biological, foster/adoptive or step-dad does not come with a ‘how to’ manual. Often males default to adopting a fathering role based on either what they themselves were exposed to from their own dad, or what they see other dads doing.
What if your experience of having a dad was not a good one, or you had no dad-like figure in your early life at all?
Parenting is such a huge job, and it is so unfair that unlike any other type of job we take on, there is not someone there to guide you through the process of parenting and help you explore and make decisions and take actions that are right for both you and the child.
When you become a dad, often there is little time, space or support to step back from the role and reflect on how it is going, and where there might be mistakes being made that can be learned from and corrected.
One thing is for sure, there is no such thing as a perfect dad, no perfect way to do it and everyone will make mistakes. That is ok. Making mistakes it to be human, and if studied in a constructive way, mistakes are something to learn from and grow. However, if left unchecked, these mistakes can mount up to a strain on the father-child relationship that could have lifelong impacts for both sides.
Whether you are becoming a dad for the first time, are already a dad, or would like to improve your role as a dad, why not carve some time out of your life to do a dad audit and from it, consciously decide for yourself the type of dad you are going to be in future.
The Dad Audit
Either alone or with support, empower yourself to have a clearer picture of the type of dad you want to be by asking yourself the following questions:
- What was your own experience of having a dad, and what was good/bad about it?
- What are other men’s experiences of being dads and what has worked/not worked for them?
- What type of dad do you want to be?
- What type of impact/contribution do you want to make to the child’s development?
- What practical ways/methods can you adopt to be the dad you want to be and have the impact you want to have?
- Who is about that can support you to become the best possible dad you can be?
Challenges to Being a Dad
Life can present many challenges to being a good and positive dad, even when you are doing your very best, that can inhibit or hinder your attempts to be a dad, and which can adversely affect the child’s life chances too.
A report by Relate found that only 66% of people described their relationship with the dad as good/very good, compared to 78% who said their relationship with their mother was good/very good.
Research by the International Longevity Centre UK found that almost 1 in 4 older males had less than monthly contact with their children.
The Lads Need Dads website reports 1.1million children in the UK are growing up without a father. Interestingly it also reports 76% of young men in prison in England and Wales had an absent father.
The Fathers For Justice website reports that 1 in 4 children do not consider their father to be part of their family.
Yet the All4Kids website clearly sets out how involvement of dad is critical to a child’s psychological development and life chances.
It may be you are not as involved in your child’s life as you like not through your choice (through the likes of relationship breakdown, work commitments, a care order, incarceration, or the child’s wishes).
Alternatively you may have previously chosen not to play an active dad role, or your involvement with your child has fractured due to relational tensions between you.
Children, no matter what age they are, truly do need a dad/dad-figure just as much as they need a mum/mum-figure.
No matter what the situation, if there is any relationship there at all (even part-time parenting ones) they can still be improved, you can always work to become a better dad. Often it can be more about quality over quantity.
If damage has been done and the dad-child relationship has been ruptured, ask yourself is there any way to re-establish the bond and heal the wounds? We all of us carry around inside us a perception and concept of our dad (or lack of one) for the whole of our lives. Even if you are unable to salvage your relationship with your child, is there some form of understanding, insight or reasoning you can gift your child that can help them to greater peace and success as they carry that concept of dad around within them.
Recognise Being A Dad Is A Big Deal And Get The Support You Need
Hopefully by now you will have gotten that picture that becoming and being a dad is a huge deal in anyone’s life, which can be further complicated by any number of life events.
It is worthwhile to alone or with support, take the time and space to decide what that means for you and how you want it to be. What bigger job will you ever be asked to take on?
You will struggle, at times you will make mistakes, that is ok. Nobody is perfect and nobody can expect you to be the perfect dad (including your child). But if you can learn from mistakes made, you can help forge a more successful and worthwhile relationship for you and your child.
If you relationship with your child is strained or broken, does that have to be the end? Is there some way with help, support and mediation, you can make some improvement that will give both of you more peace?
Some Sources of Dad-Related Wisdom
Check out the Dads House website
Check out the Dadsnet website
Check out the Everything for Dads website
Check out the Fatherhood website
Check of the Fathers for Justice website
Check out the Families Need Fathers website
Check out the Fosterline website
Check out the Lads Need Dads website
Check out the Separated Dads website