Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Four roles, one Father....

Today, it's difficult to define the role of fathers and it's very much a case of 'ask ten people and you'll get eleven opinions'

An eleven year old son, a seven year old son and a five a year old daughter from a previous marriage. A twelve year old stepson. A ten year old stepdaughter. Two inside cats. And two outside dogs.  That's my home, on certain days of the week...certain days of the month and certain holidays of the year.

You go from father to divorced-father to single-father and "weekend-dad" with the probability of step-father with a second family. Each role has its own difficult challenges. There's this internal fight that constantly goes on inside you. It's more than a debate. It's a weighing of options. Internal conflicts.

You know you're a father. You constantly remind yourself you're a father. The fact that you're even in a position requiring you to remind yourself that you're a father makes you furious. The court now says you're a non-custodial parent. You're no longer gender identified. They could've at least left you your dignity and allowed you to keep the one identifier that made you stand out, set apart...your gender. Maybe the title of, "non-custodial father?"  Or better, "non-custodial Dad." Because after all, it's the father-child relationship that is the defining factor of the fatherhood role in life. A "Dad" does not have to be a child's biological father. Many children, as my own step-children, refer to their stepfather as dad.

In spite of all the cheesy clichés out there (and I hate clichés), which voice a two-fold message of positive support coupled with a "get your act together" message, I continue to find myself engaged in conversations with discouraged divorced-fathers and step-fathers who for one reason or another have grown weary of fighting a no win battle with their step-children or against ex-spouses hindering their relationships with their own biological children. I'm referring to clichés such as, "It takes a real man to be a dad.”  "Well thank you for the encouragement, or then again are you being cynical with a 'get my act together' one liner?" How come I have never read the lines, "It takes a real woman to be a mom" when research shows at least 2/3's of divorces are instigated by the mother? And that over 80% of violent crimes against parent's children are by the mother. And almost 100% of false child abuse accusations are claimed by the mother. Fathers have recognized it long ago, and the rest of society should face reality that children are possessions and they belong to the mother.

Since my previous marriage I have encountered many men who fall into either the biological divorced-dad or step-dad roles. Within those there seems to be groups and subgroups. For the biological there has been a tiny group of custody winners who are not angry at "the system." They just want to be more socially accepted as a primary male care taker. Since I've been primarily a stay-at-home-dad I can relate. But then there's the much larger group that itself consists of subgroups. This is the group of dads that have lost their kids. Lost in a broad sense. Not necessarily meaning as being taken away by the court.

For divorce is a new way of life, a life of new rules, a life of schedules, of visitations and payments of which you have no say. A life of standards, but never your standards. There are subgroups to this large group. One is the group of men that quietly disappear. They fade away. How sad it is for the children. Maybe they were angry at first, but eventually through time they just gave in and relinquished whatever control and involvement they still had. They continue to make child support and what other court ordered expenses, rather fair or unfair. But the attempts at father/child relationships become effortless. One father I know told me he hasn't seen his son almost two years because he just got tired of putting up with his ex-wife attempts to alienate him from his son. I don't feel sorry him.

The other group consists of fathers who too were burned by irresponsible, if not downright selfish and immature mothers. These fathers are infuriated by what has happened and is happening to them and their children as well as how things affect their current remarriages. They refuse to allow circumstance, motives and words interfere with their relationships and with their children. It becomes a balance of offense and defense. You have to fight for your role as a father while, at the same time defend your role as a father.

And what of step-fathers? I encounter them as well. They convey somewhat of the same frustrations. For the most part it's like taking a double shot to the chest if you are divorced and then remarry. Strife is added to the original loss of a father's biological child(ren). When there is discontent, a chance for a peaceful home is lacking when it is currently being held captive by someone beyond your control. And that causes resentment questioning your very own role and authority in your own home. Co-parenting with the ex after you've remarried carries the possibility of strife. Blending the new family while continuing to maintain connections and with old can prove to be someone conflicting.

Every time I hear the statement, "Wow, you have your hands full!" 100% of the time it has been directed towards my wife from someone who has just discovered we have 5 kids between the both of us. Each time I hear this I'm instantly floored with a number of thoughts and emotions. Now don't misunderstand me for what I'm about say. I don't by any means undermine my wife's ability to care for our children or her ability and efforts she puts into the responsibilities she carries for our family. After all, she's great; but the truth remains. She has her roles and I have my roles. We've discussed them. Even though I have worked part-time jobs during our marriage, I have handled the responsibilities of our home. Chalk it up to convenience, or plans that have worked for the best, I know my Parkinson's plays a role in it, but in addition to my roles of divorced -"weekend dad," "step-dad" I can add "stay-at-home-dad." They're separable but inseparable.

What makes this situation worse is that it has always come out of the mouths of females. Do they not realize they just voiced the very stigma and gender bias that so many other women have fought to be freed from? I have never heard one say, in some form or fashion, "Wow, YOU GUYS have your hands full."

At times I encounter the flip side where the term, "stay-at-home-dad" means "lay around-at-home-dad." I mean after all, dads are supposed to work more outside of the home and bring home more money than the mom right? It points out a greater social misunderstanding; that men have no value as care-givers, even for their own children. "Sure he can come to parent/teacher meetings and school parties. Heck, we'll even let him watch the kids a few hours on the weekend so mom can go treat herself." He can be ostracized for being the unemployed father without the capabilities of supporting his family in a monetary fashion. The at home job of taking care of the kids and keeping the house in order is a position that these kind of fathers want. This type of father sees it as a full-time job of keeping the house in order, taking care of the kids and supporting his wife every day. In and of itself the job is rewarding. The acclaims may not come from a boss or colleague, rather instead they come from what he sees, fatherhood, and supporting the household he has helped create; because a man tends to receive greater recognition from colleagues than he does from family.

But staying at home isn't without its downsides, isolation, criticism, and spousal jealousy. Add being the step-dad with biological children who follow a visitation schedule and you've got a complete new set of obstacles. Like questioning your very own role or roles as a father or dad. Call NBC 'cause we've the makings for a sitcom.

The roles we take, whether given or forced, form part of our image of ourselves, and role-identity varies according to the situation. We play an innumerable amount of roles in our relationships with others. While some people may successfully meet the criterion for that particular condition, others may find it difficult to mold themselves completely to fit the specific role or roles. Other difficulties occur when different roles place conflicting demands on an individual.

A common agreement on the essence of personality is that it is the sum of the roles we play. The way we relate to other people is through a role. It must be complimentary and common. Our most developed roles are usually so because we have experience with a more established and complementary role. A good father-son relationship develops a string son role and, in recognition of the strong role model, transfers to a strong father role later in life as well as strengthening the role of the father.
"Like this, Like this"

The roles we play in life never fit tightly together. When our relationships expand through fear or anxiety, this can interrupt or distort the operation of a certain role. Unfortunately this tends to lead to a role deficiency. Within a parent/child and family unit it can be devastating.

A major role deficiency is what's called a "pseudo role."  It seems to plague divorced-fathers and step-fathers. A pseudo role is a copied, non-integrated role. A genuine role does not develop because it is not fuelled by the actions, emotions, feelings and thinking associated with “normal” role. Such roles are not part of the “self," they are roles we adopt to cope with certain situations.

Pseudo-roles do not become integrated with the self which only incorporates authentic roles. They are especially evident with people who have suffered high stress levels without the freedom to respond appropriately, and they frequently become protection mechanisms. Such as divorce, high profile child custody cases, false child abuse allegations, or high anxiety blending families. Relationships built on one (or both parties) pseudo role are doomed. The link may initially appear to be there but they automatically and rapidly deteriorate or dissipate when people find new positions, or new friends, or a new partner. The "weekend dad" now can't quite seem to understand what it means to be a father anymore. It doesn't mean the same. The step-dad has to find balance blending a second family. Part of that balance does mean replacements, not just give and take.

So fathers in situations that resemble these find themselves stuck. They develop this pseudo role. To be more precise, pseudo roles, because to not integrate one is to not integrate another. Let's say, if I used to be the strong-willed dad before getting divorced only to then turn around play the role of the fun weekend dad with no rules, then I have compromised the very grounds which fatherhood stands upon along with my identity. I have done my child no favors by forfeiting my identity for the sake of appeasement or even compromise.

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A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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