Commentary: First-Time Fathers Need All The Support They Can Get

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Commentary: First-Time Fathers Need All The Support They Can Get

Creating a 'Council of Dads'

By Mark Lim | 22 May 2020

“Do you want to carry him?” asked the nurse.

I remember responding to these words with fear and trepidation; even though there was a latent excitement within that was waiting to burst forth. So I gingerly followed her instructions, and before I knew it, the baby boy was resting snugly in my arms. It was a moment of immense joy and I experienced an adrenaline rush like never before.

I was the father of this sweet little baby. And I would do anything to protect him.

I still smile when I think of that day, even though it happened almost 10 years ago. It was the day I first became a father.

As a new father, my life had irrevocably changed; it would never be the same again.

There are so many new things to learn as a new father – how to change diapers, how to prepare the milk, how to hold the child, how to interpret the different types of baby cries. The list is endless and it’s easy to feel alone.

Many first-time fathers do not realise how important it is to bond with their children. One key reason for this is the lack of support from other more experienced fathers. There is no “band of brothers” to walk alongside with them and help them negotiate fatherhood’s numerous struggles.

While I did not have any older or more experienced father to help me through the initial period, I do have two very dear friends whom I call my “bestest buddies”. These are men I have known for more than half my life, and it was helpful that they were there to do “baby things” together, such as buying milk powder and diapers, as well as exchanging baby “war stories”.

Bruce Feiler wrote an amazing memoir titled Council of Dads. In his book, the then 43-year-old and newly-married dad shared how he discovered he had a rare bone cancer, and how he feared that he would never be able to bring up his 3-year-old twin daughters. He then came up with an idea on how he could still give his children his voice even if he were no longer present with them. This would be accomplished through a council of six men from various parts of his life – his council of dads.

All men need the support of fellow brothers who can be with them through tough times and help them negotiate the challenges. I know that when I need help, I need only call my bestest buddies, and they would be there for me. And I would do the same for them.

Bruce Feiler shares four reasons why it is so crucial to have a “Council of Dads” to help us navigate the storms of life:

1. We can't do it alone

We live in a world where “social distancing” has become the norm for most parts of our life. However, Feiler says that while “physical distancing is critical, emotional distancing is dangerous”.

Personally, I feel the scariest aspect of the coronavirus is that it isolates families and friends, and people go about their daily activities mostly alone. But this goes against everything that is natural to us – after all, we are social beings, and we cannot be isolated from each other without feeling some sense of mental and emotional loss.

For new fathers, the world can be an even scarier place. While many first-time mums rely on good friends, their own mums or even virtual communities, first-time dads usually do not actively ask for help. There seems to be an unsaid “macho code” that prevents fathers from seeking help. This is likely due to a general resistance toward asking other men for help.

2. Family is not enough; we need friends

While family is important in providing us with a sense of stability and rootedness, we also need friends to help us make sense of what’s happening in our lives.

This is all the more so for new fathers going through a transition period when things seem new and strange. Friends can provide us with ideas when we are at our wit’s end, or just a word of encouragement when we are feeling down.

3. We crave positive male role models

Feiler notes that the biggest societal change in the last decade is the definition of masculinity. In my role as a counsellor, I have encountered many men who struggle to define what it means to be a man. Many of my clients have had fathers who belong to a more traditional mould, defining manhood with words such as “macho” or “tough”.

But the world we live in has changed, and along with it comes an urgent need to find positive male role models and mentors to help us take a closer look at who we are as individuals. This is relevant for fathers no matter what stage of the fathering journey they are at.

Take for example the balancing act between breadwinner and family man, which many fathers struggle with. But if we can hear from other men who have struggled through this and emerged on the other side, we might gain some clarity on how we can go about achieving this balance for ourselves.

And as we grow in experience as fathers, we too can pass on what we have gleaned to younger dads, creating a positive cycle of empowerment and community.

4. Crises are times of meaning

If we were to look into our history books, we would realise that the most difficult moments in human history have precipitated seasons of change.

The very nature of crises causes us to examine the way we do things, and rediscover what gives us meaning in life.

As new fathers navigate their changing roles, it is essential for them to seek meaning in the things that they do for their child.

For me, meaning is found in the small, mundane things, like each time I hold my son and kiss him; each time I play with him and hear him laugh. As I start to find meaning and joy in these small things, I begin to choose to do more and more meaningful things. And this is perhaps how a man learns and grows to fully embrace and live out his new role as dad.

Think about:

  • Are there fathers in your circle of friends whom you can connect with? How can you build a stronger bond with them?

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and 7.

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