Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

The Unspoken Epiphany of Fatherhood

Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.
December 4, 2002

"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a fathers protection."
--Sigmund Freud

"My father died many years ago, and yet when something special happens to me, I talk to him secretly not really knowing whether he hears, but it makes me feel better to half believe it."
-Natasha Josefowitz

"When Charles first saw our child Mary, he said all the proper things for a new father. He looked upon the poor little red thing and blurted, 'She's more beautiful than the Brooklyn Bridge.'"
- Helen Hayes
In a society that has sprung a gushing torrent of "feeling" at every pinprick or tittle, we have an epidemic of alexithymia (the inability to think about feelings) on the subject of the emotional connection between men and their children. There is a strange and palpable silence in the world when it comes to the depth (gasp!) of a father's love and attachment.

The arbiters of feeling among us have demanded for the past 40 years that dads must bond with their children. And dutiful as ever, dads-to-be have attended pre-birth classes, joined the La Leche league, and manned the stirrups as their progeny wailed forth. They have swaddled the new little creatures, still covered with the debris of birth, bathed, burped, diapered and rocked them into slumber. These are the facts and artifacts of moderne fatherhood.

But there is so much more. It is so momentous as to be almost inexpressible. It is the epiphany. What man has stood at the foot of the birthing gurney as that tiny head emerged from the birth canal and not wondered at the enormous miracle that he is witnessing. Oh, it may not be immediately expressed or acknowledged because the moment has its demands, and besides, there are so many strangers around. Can't look like a gushing fool now, can he?

Maybe it's on that late night or early morning ride home from the hospital. Or maybe when he steps outside away from prying eyes and listening ears that a huge whoop issues forth. I AM a dad! I made that baby! It's a boy, it's a girl, it's a little person ... and I did that! Oh yah, mom had the exclusive during the pregnancy, but now the precious little being is out here where I can see it, hold it, experience it. Wow!

How about the joy-terror that he feels when he first holds the little one in his arms, so fragile, so beautiful, so helpless, so damned scary. And that feeling sometimes that he just wants to hug them so tight that they'll squish, and fears that he might. And when no one is around, he showers him or her with butterfly kisses and tender touches and marvels at how it seems his heart will burst from the feelings this little being can wrench from the depths of his gut.

That's the onset of the epiphany that is fatherhood. And soon it settles into a matter of course. I am dad, and this is what I do, and this is my child too, and I want this child of mine to grow healthfully and to reflect my values too. And soon he or she is a reflection of part of me and part of mom. The epiphany has become a spiritual and ineluctable link to his own being. He is joined at the heart; more so sometimes it seems than he and mom.

And then comes divorce. The assault on heart and spirit feels overwhelming. As if outside himself, and numbed with disbelief, dad hears the cold words and the flinty pronouncements that lacerate him from what was a part of his heart and soul. The epiphany becomes a death sentence, transmuted into epitaph. Disbelief becomes immutable pain. What is this pain? This is what happens when the total communion of love becomes the stark reality of grief and loss. "This cannot be happening!", he shouts in despair.

And soon he becomes "visitor". And with each "visit" he tries to recapture a spark, just a tiny sliver of the epiphany. But now, it's different. If he ventures too far with his heart, the pain becomes too great. Whoa! Pull back. I'm not going through that again.

For many dads, distance becomes a defense against the recurrence of the nightmare that was once a dream. The rage-pain of betrayal and loss becomes channeled into the sterile language demanded by the law, and his feelings are suppressed so that the guardians of the State will not judge him emotionally unstable or threatening.

He becomes frozen in his rage and this other-imposed alexithymia. But he remembers the epiphany, and he loves and grieves quietly and apart, hoping that he will live to see and rejoin with some small part of himself that might remain in their later years. But he fears that that too will be extinguished with the passage of time.

Shhh! Don't tell anyone we had this conversation. They will feel frightened and justified in their judgment. They don't want to know about your bond with your children. They don't want to hear about your grief, your pain. They don't want to believe in your feelings. They want to think that you are just selfish and brutish. Wallets don't feel pain, and dads are to be seen, not heard ... or felt. The kids are better off without you.

It's in the best interests of the children, don'cha know.
Be kind to thy father, for when thou wert young,
Who loved thee so fondly as he?
He caught the first accents that fell from thy tongue,
And joined in thy innocent glee."
-- Margaret Courtney

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