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Fathers: Some Assembly Required

July 22, 2011

Fathers:  Some Assembly Required — Phillip White

Men who are just about to attend the birth of their first child often are vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and trepidation.  Though they may have attended childbirth education classes, they feel that those classes are focused on the physical aspects of their partner’s pregnancy and touch little on the concerns they have.  Men often feel dislocated and disregarded due to the way society does not prepare them for becoming dads and less to support them.   In looking into this topic, I ran across the book “The Faith of a Child” which was written by Stefan Lanfer a few years ago, and when I looked at his website, I was struck by learning he had initiated his own men’s only education event by calling in reinforcements, a gathering  he called the Father’s Assembly.

This week I caught up with Stefan, a  father of three at his home in Boston, Massachusetts to learn more about his motivation for creating this event, and to ask him some questions about how such an event builds relationship between men.  Stefan told me that he had watched as his wife had participated in the baby shower and another women-of-faith gathering which was based on the book, The Red Tent.  He said that he was a little envious of the attention and communal focus his wife had received, and knew that he too needed community.  Now Stefan is an articulate and intelligent young man, with excellent communication skills, so he quickly fired off an email to some personal friends, his father, and some men he knew at his church (including his pastor), inviting them to come to his home for a homemade dinner that he would prepare; all to gather some men he respected to talk to him about fatherhood and childbirth. 

He said what amazed him most was that they all came.  It was like he had hit struck an ancient chord that resonates between men, the initiation into fatherhood.”  Stefan emphasized to me in the interview one specific point about this gathering.  He said that he didn’t want to hear advice from these men, he wanted their stories.  He wanted them to talk about their personal experiences as husbands and dads. 

The meeting resounded with ritualistic elements, as the men first each took turns of describing childbirth experiences they had witnessed and how that affected them.  Next they offered tales of early fatherhood, putting forth the highlights of their personal lives that usually go unspoken.  Stefan sat and absorbed their words, while their anecdotes eased his anxiety of becoming a father.  He felt encouraged by their presence for  the sharing of their own emotionally edged  stories helped him to realize that they had felt exactly as he had been feeling – what reassurance!

Lanfer Family today

The gathering ended when the men prayed a blessing over Stefan and his wife and coming child, sealing the evening with high hope and eager expectation.

After discussing this ingenious all male assembly, I asked Stefan whether or not his idea had taken root within the men, and more importantly, had been added to things that were sponsored within his local church.  He told me that in fact two other men had called for the Father’s Assembly, and that he had attended both events.  He thought his church was very receptive to the idea, but that like many things at church, great ideas don’t always have sustaining power, and that the church had not had a ceremony in quite a while. 

With keen insight, Stefan talked with me about the hunger that he saw in the men for male community when he had placed his call out for the event.  This concept also parallels the happenings in the New South Wales men’s childbirth education classes which I mention in an earlier  blog piece.  When men were asked if they would want to attend a male only education group, there was nearly a unanimous response of “YES!”

Stefan wrote “The Faith of a Child ” because he realized his need to hear stories, so he wrote down his stories after he had his first child.  He wanted to provide something that was not in the fatherhood and childbirth literature, a do unto others act.  He knew of many books on preparing for fatherhood, but they were only advice books.  He had seen plenty of pregnancy books, and knew they were deficient in describing men’s experiences at the birth of their children and in the early years of parenting.

Stefan talked about the feelings of intimidation when he was preparing for his first child’s birth and that creating the gathering had helped him overcome the stress.  He said that if other men wanted to do this, by creating a Father’s Assembly, that they should reach out to men they admire and respect.  He is confident that men will respond favorably to the call as had the men he had contacted.  It seems that key to his success was his relationship with those men.  This had to be with those who already were a part of his life.

I asked him what he thought could more formally institute such a gather for men regardless of whether they attended a church together, and that is where we both were caught without solutions.  The fact is that men in America have little binding them together socially and intimately.  Unfortunately the health care system in the U.S. doesn’t recognize the need for men to prepare for fatherhood like they do in Australia.  Men are on their own here.  It requires men to step up and provide a socially relevant ceremony or event to bring fathers together and to teach them about being husbands and dads.

If you are a first time dad, I recommend you acquire Stefan’s book and read his blog, and that you too reach out to those men in your life who can support you during this most eventful time in a man’s life.  You won’t be sorry.

If you have a similiar experience in having men gathering around you in preparation of your becmoning a father, please post a comment!

The Father's Assembly

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