Celebrating Fathers with Feelings



As Father’s Day approaches, I wanted to share about the men I help and the problems they want to overcome. While research shows that boys, generally speaking, tend not to be as relationally focused as girls, the real question is how much of this is nature and how much is nurture? I believe the real damage to many men’s ongoing emotional connection to themselves and others comes from their socialization as boys.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.39.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.39.10 PMWhen I spend time with my 10-year-old grandson, it is clear to me that he feels just as much as any girl his age.  He cries when he’s sad and trembles when he’s afraid and gets lonely when no one is paying attention to him. I also watch him want to hide those feelings. The message that so many men have received as boys is that it’s not ‘manly’ to feel, let alone long for connection.  So they become emotionally absent and silent in their relationships, cut off from their own tender feelings and desires. I see many men in my practice who are disconnected and out of touch with how much their absence is hurting the people closest to them.

Men are still glorified in Hollywood movies to be strong heroes, the provider who rarely shows vulnerability. This role probably had evolutionary significance – to protect and fight for the survival of one’s offspring.  But this archetype/stereotype is no longer fitting and it gets in the way of men becoming the type of dads who can be consistently relied upon to be present – physically and emotionally.  This Father’s Day, I’d like to open the conversation about gender roles and how we can redefine what it means to be a ‘strong’ man.

Traditionally, society has viewed women as being emotionally sensitive and of primary importance when it comes to influencing children. I believe that’s why the majority of clients come into therapy holding their mothers disproportionately responsible for everything that went wrong in childhood. Very few focus on the role that the absent and/or stern father played in their development.

The interesting fact is that men are as capable as women of being emotionally attuned.  In fact, in a study in the UK in 2014, researches found men to be more emotionally sensitive than women, although they are much better at hiding it.

“This study suggests that men feel emotion just as much as women, sometimes more strongly, but are less willing to express these emotions openly due to expectations put on them by society.” *

Fatherhood is one of the events that can radically change a man’s life. Apparently it also changes his brain, releasing hormones and activating regions that provide what researchers call a “baby sense” that’s often attributed only to moms. ** In other words, it appears that when men decide to become actively engaged with their children from an early age, they can acquire the ability to be open, receptive, empathic and emotionally attuned, even if they didn’t receive this type of early modelling.

We want to celebrate men in a new way, outside of old, outdated gender roles and stereotypes of the ‘tough guy’.  Most men I see who are serious about building healthier relationships and who want to stop hurting the people closest to them through their absence, want the ability to be fully emotionally present.  Let’s redefine what it means to be a “tough guy” as someone who is brave enough to be caring, compassionate and emotionally expressive of all his feelings.

Let’s celebrate Fathers with Feelings this Father’s Day and support all the boys and men in our lives to feel more deeply as a sign of real strength.

Here is a link to a wonderful article on this topic and below are the links to other research sited in this article.  

If you or someone you know or love is struggling with addiction, trauma or relationship problems don’t hesitate to contact us.  We are here for you.

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.




* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/father-s-day-2014-study-shows-men-are-more-emotionally-sensitive-than-women-they-re-just-also-better-9532945.html

** http://www.livescience.com/46322-fatherhood-changes- brain.html#sthash.xU3OPsY8.dpuf

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One thought on “Celebrating Fathers with Feelings

  1. Hi Sue,
    Thank you for your article/blog on males and the emotional arena. Despite the recent research there is a long way to go. I am among subgroup of males who is able to articulate my inner emotional world fairly well, if not always easily. I also belong to subgroup (about 20%) of the population, who are called Highly Sensitive Persons, according to Elaine Aron, a psychologist who has done research on this area for over 20 years. The technical term is: sensory processing sensitivity; it means that HPS individuals process sensory stimuli at a deeper level than the rest of the population. So as a male who was socialized in North America and also has some understanding how detrimental this has been to males, and how we live in society that asks us to be more attuned etc. The problem still is, in my experience, that women (men of course usually don’t want to talk to each other about this stuff) often don’t want to know about, or hear about men’s emotional experiences in real time. I remember sitting with a group of female therapists several years ago, colleagues with whom I attended a consultation group together. One of the women was talking about her own experience in a relationship with a male. She stated that one of the biggest turn offs was males expressing “neediness”, which, by the way wasn’t defined, eliciting agreement from the other females present. I remember thinking, “Where does a male go to find safety when he feels needy?” Certainly not to his male peers, and friends — at least not in my experience, and also not to his closest female relationship, apparently. I’ve had similar experiences over the years. This is a mind fuck. Females want men to express their emotions, but at the same time don’t want to know about certain emotional experiences. So, what I do is keep my thoughts to myself, often, because along with the illustrations I’ve just provided, I’ve been shot down by my own partner many, many times when I express my needs and yes neediness, and also by male friends.

    Another example: I retired January 1 this year, after a 2.5 year medical leave, as you know. The team I led for 5 years and had been a clinician on for the previous five years before becoming the Clinical Coordinator didn’t acknowledge my retirement with anything — no card, retirement event, nothing — silence. Neither did my manager do anything. So let’s just say I was hurt. I realized at some point that what hurt the most was being rendered invisible, like my 10 years of service to this team meant nothing. I read somewhere that those who have experienced trauma often feel invisible . So a few months ago I was talking to a male friend about this. His response? “What do you expect?…you expect the workplace to acknowledge you? (yes I do) … you’ve go to move on…” Interpretation: suck it up, stuff your emotions and forget about the event. The usual.

    A variety of mens movements have sprung up, beginning in the 90s, but haven’t really made much impact that I can see. Men need to find a way to be together without some activity to draw them — sports, anyone? Robert Bly’s drumming doesn’t seem to have appealed to primal needs of a lot men either.

    I applaud you for addressing this issue, but we have a very, very long way to go. The feminist movement has made huge changes to our culture over the past 50 plus years. However, there is no place intellectually or experientially for men to go to explore what in means to be a man in a post-patriarchal culture, which we have achieved to a very large extent (although there are a few pockets of resistance left).