The Father Lode

by Phillip Dye

People write books for many reasons. Many express a story that's been within and scratched to get out for years and years. Some, yet I believe not many, are legitimate experts in an area of public interest. Most however, write in order to learn what they find most elusive. They actually learn and develop from the experience of writing. Writing indeed becomes cathartic.

I fall into this final category. I began writing about fatherhood in 1993 when my partner told me I was going to be a dad. After a few days of elation and immersion in the nuclear family fantasy, the reality began to sink in. I was clueless. What made it worse was I knew I was clueless.

With antenatal classes, thirty or so books on pregnancy and a doctor partner who seemed to know what every kick, squirm and gurgle meant, I began to get prepared. I also began to get depressed. I had no friends who were fathers. My father had been absent a great deal of my childhood. What role models I had were more mass media constructions than real people. As the change to fatherhood approached, a sense of doom invaded. It was a time of immense confusion.

I though it would all improve once Michaela was born yet it didn't work out that way. Confusion and role anxiety was more the rule than the exception.

When Michaela was three months old, I wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald on power relations between new mothers and fathers. In the article I revealed many of the anxieties I had experienced on becoming a new dad. It contained some pretty damning comments on men's role of support during pregnancy, childbirth and the early life of their child (once support, always support!). It looked at our politically correct expectations of role sharing, and the lack of strength and identity that comes with not having a separate and important role. Above all, it looked at my feelings of powerlessness around the whole affair. Love my daughter - YES! Smooth sailing and Hollywood glitz - NO! It was disclosure gone mad and I prepared for the flack.

Far from receiving the wrath of men and women I knew, it was the complete opposite. Men who had been in my antenatal class phoned and congratulated me on "hitting the nail on the head". Men who had been a dad forty years ago told me they had felt the same. Men I didn't know looked up my number in the phone book and rang for a chat. Some men thanked me for exposing the myth that all men felt overjoyed at watching their baby born. Women wanted to know more. What else did I feel? Did all men feel like that? What was needed?

It was then I decided that this was worth more than a few columns in the Herald. There was a book in this somewhere. With the assistance of a colleague from the University of Western Sydney, I began researching some 350 men about their experiences on becoming a father. The interviews should have averaged 20 minutes. Most went far longer. The longest was just over two hours.

For most men, my interview was the very first time they had been able to speak openly about their feelings. Several men cried. I cried with them. Most spoke with a rawness which left me needing debriefing afterwards. It was clear that in being a rock of support to their partner, most men had forgotten to acknowledge or express their deepest feelings at this time. Their feelings had been 'swept under the carpet', and if any feelings had been expressed, it was only the socially acceptable ones of joy and happiness that had been given an airing.

Yet among all these interviews and hours of writing, something about me began to change. I was actually becoming the father I wanted to be. I'd built a somewhat disjointed community of 350 dads who had shared their experience with me. Curiously, I was the one who was nurtured by all this. I was the one who changed and grew as a result. I was the student who was nearing graduation.

These interviews, together with my feelings around this time have now taken a different shape. They now occupy some 210 pages of manuscript which caught the eye of not one but two publishers. In what seems an extremely odd turn, I've been offered contracts for producing my own education. Someone is paying for my catharsis.

I've given the book the unusual working title of 'The Father Lode'. A 'lode' is a vein of metal or ore running through a mass of rock. This 'lode' was seriously missing in me. It's missing in many dads. The book will hopefully help build a strength or 'lode' in new fathers. It contains ideas on rebuilding 'father strength' through the time of pregnancy, childbirth and the first year or two of a child's life. It also looks at rebuilding a community of men who can help advise and mentor new dads through the emotional and practical hoops.

Through all of this, I can now say I'm a good dad. 'The Father Lode' will be published around June next year by Allen and Unwin. I will actually give birth to the book which helped make me a good father. The Buddhists would call it Karma. Van Morrison would call it "Raving On". Joni Mitchell would call it "The Circle Game". I reckon it's a bit of each.

According to one of my friends, this book will cause me far more trouble than Michaela ever could. It will be far naughtier and ruffle far more feathers. I'm looking forward to it.

Phil Dye is interested in hearing from more men about their experience of becoming a father. His phone/fax number is 02 94773257 or E-mail address is:

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