The Nurturing Father

Family Therapy Sterling, VA

In my work as a therapist, I have had the privilege to work with and know many fathers who are engaged in their children’s lives and in nurturing them to become emotionally healthy individuals. In a culture that often portrays dads as either insensitive, bumbling fools or angry, vigilante protectors, it can be challenging to find a portrayal of a father who is sensitive to the needs and emotions of his family and able to model healthy ways of expressing a full range of emotions, not just the more “acceptable” male emotion of anger.

Today, I want to honor the fathers and father figures who are engaged in the important work of nurturing their own and their children’s emotional health. I’d love to share with you what these fathers are doing in the day to day. And I want you to know that wherever you are and wherever you’ve been, you can become this kind of father as well. It’s not about perfection. It’s about growth, humility, grace, and vulnerability.

  1. Nurturing fathers have a support system. Our culture values the independent man who is the rock for others but doesn’t need a rock of his own. Somewhere in elementary school, the friendship of boys starts to change and lose the intimacy that is shared in early childhood. We have a mental health crisis among young men in our modern society, and part of the reason is that our boys have learned that it is not acceptable to be vulnerable and loving with their male friends. They need those relationships to hold them up when life gets tough. They need to know it’s OK to ask for help. Nurturing fathers model these healthy relationships for their sons and for their daughters. They have supportive friends that they spend time with and are not afraid to be affectionate and vulnerable. Not only do their children see a healthy model that they will copy for themselves, but the father who has a support system is able to cope with daily stress and the tragedies of life with grace.
  2. Nurturing fathers show emotion. I already alluded to the fact that in our culture there are few acceptable emotions for men. Sadness, anxiety, and fear are viewed as weak and what is left is anger. For many men in our culture, vulnerable emotions are often buried and instead expressed as anger. Nurturing fathers have learned to identify their complex, vulnerable emotions and aren’t afraid to express in healthy ways the sadness, anxiety, fear, and anger that they feel. They take responsibility for their own emotions and their own reactions. Their children model what they see and feel safe to open up to their fathers about what they are feeling.
  3. Nurturing fathers are empathetic. Because the nurturing father is in tune with his own inner world, he is able to identify more readily the emotions of others. He’s able to pick up on the fear underlying his child’s tantrum and the disappointment and shame driving his child’s difficult behavior in school. He helps his child to identify their emotions, empathizes with the realness of those experiences, and compassionately guides them in finding healthier expression of their feelings. He helps them to problem solve from this place of understanding and they value his opinion because he has valued theirs. He does not dismiss or minimize their concerns and feelings, and when they cry he provides comfort. He creates stronger children, not by having them ignore their feelings, but by teaching them to see their emotions as signals to stop and evaluate themselves or a situation.
  4. Nurturing fathers are playful. When our kids are young they love nothing more than for us to get down on the floor with them and enter their world of imagination. As our children grow, they may leave behind the world of imagination but they still desperately need their fathers to enter their world and be interested in what they are interested in. The nurturing father knows when to set aside his to-do list to spend time having fun with his children. He knows his children on a deeper level and they trust him. He is playful, even in discipline, and because of that his experience of parenting includes frequent moments of joy and connection.
  5. Nurturing fathers are forgiving. Parenting is the hardest gig out there and it doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. You can go to the bookstore and find a hundred books on parenting and each one will disagree with the next. The truth is, we don’t always know what we are doing and our kids are pretty much guinea pigs. Being a nurturing father requires grace and forgiveness, for ourselves first of all, and for our children as they navigate the challenges of growing up. The nurturing father owns his mistakes and apologizes to his children without the loaded “but if you’d only…” When they apologize to him, he readily offers forgiveness and a hug. He models for his children how to seek the forgiveness of others and how to offer grace to those who have hurt them.

Maybe I’ve just described you. Perhaps you recognize your father or a father figure in the description above. Maybe you see the father you want to be. Take some time this Father’s Day to honor the men in your life who have nurtured you and helped you to grow. Take stock of the areas where you could use some focus and support to grow more nurturing for your children – both young and old. You and your children are worth it.

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. – Author Unknown

Hannah Lindsay, MSW, LCSW-C provides family and individual therapy in our Sterling, VA office — and she loves working with dads (and their kids!) on parenting issues. Call or email Hannah today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.