In this conversation Dr Bruce Linton describes the four stages of fatherhood and why dads who regularly share their challenges and celebrations with other men are more comfortable in their parenting.
Bruce Linton is a family therapist in California, US, who supports fathers of younger children through a bundle of great resources at Father’s Forum. In our conversation Bruce shared some wonderful stories and experiences from his work as a therapist and facilitator of dad groups over the past 25 years, and his discovery of four stages of fatherhood.
I highly recommend that you watch what Bruce has to share, to understand the four stages of fatherhood and learn what he sees as the main the benefits of support for dads. If you want a taster, look below the video for a paraphrased summary of our conversation.
Summary of the conversation and the four stages of fatherhood
What shifts for us as men when we become fathers?
Being a dad is a real opportunity for us men to open up, to become more vulnerable and available. It’s happening all over the world. We all have our own ways of doing things, but we’re all going through similar journeys, even though they differ from one culture to another.
What are the developmental stages of fatherhood?
I’ve found there are four stages of fatherhood that we may go through when we become fathers.
- The first stage of fatherhood I call the emergent phase, when something arises within us, a realization that we need other people. Understanding our dependency is the doorway to recognizing how dependent and vulnerable our children are, especially in the early years. We realize we need our band of brothers, our family, our close friends.
- The second stage is the attachment stage when we let all the pieces of our new experience come together. This stage we need time to get to know our wife as a mom and experience all our feelings over the next few months.
- The third stage is the affiliation stage. The dads in my groups and workshops feel an affiliation with other men, which supports the dads internal growth. It normalizes a lot of the anxieties we have in the early years of parenting, and we see that we’re not alone in our experiences in the transition to fatherhood.
- The fourth stage is the community stage. I see that happening when our kids are four years or older, when they are in kindergarden, pre-school or first grade. As dads we begin to feel concerned about the environment, education, global economics. ”This world and what goes outside of me is affecting my child.” The dads in my groups talk about this a lot: they are no longer focused on themselves but on a bigger world. The fourth stage marks the birth of a new humanism within us as men, where we reclaim our emotional lives that are often cut off in the modern, industrialized, fast-paced, self-interested world. Instead we feel part of a bigger community and develop a sense of our responsability towards the coming generations. This stage gives a deeper meaning to our lives.
What happens to a dad’s careers when we reach the fourth stage?
There’s an acknowledgment among fathers that we’ll be missing out if all that our work does is provide economically for our families. We want to be in the emotional arena too.
Arthur and Libby Coleman wrote a book called Earth Father Sky Father–The changing concept of fathering where they looked at parenting without gender.
What happens outside of the house they called Sky Parenting. And what happens inside the house they called Earth Parenting. The question was asked: How much work out in the world do we need as a family? How much time inside the house, at home, do we need as a family? And how do we balance earth and sky?
Each couple, each family, each father needs to find their own balance between earth and sky.
What’s most powerful for a father in receiving the support of other men?
The main benefit is an improved relationship with our partners. When we just go on our own as a couple, the pressure on the wife is very high. We want her to be our wife, our lover, our best friend, our closest confidante, the person who is there for us at all times. That’s too much to put on one person.
Dads find that hearing how other dads are struggling with work, marriage, sex, issues with their own dads, with family members, allows us to take pressure off the marriage. And we end up with much better relationships with our wives and in our roles as parents.
What is the major theme in your support groups?
The biggest theme is our relationship with our own fathers. We all have different experiences of our own fathers. And sometimes as all of us dads talk about our fathers, we bring into the room one big father from all our shared comments. Everyone contributes to defining what a caring, loving father is. It’s as if we imagine a fatherhood we all aspire to, something larger that we’re a part of.
What are some ways fathers can invite support into their lives?
My first suggestion would be to get together with 2–3 dads every other week or once a month. That could happen in a variety of ways. That’s critical, particularly in the early years. When your child is older, you start being part of a community where you are with other men pretty regularly. I’m focused on the first five years when we’re mostly on our own, and when we need other dads the most.
About Dr. Bruce Linton: Bruce Linton, MFT, PhD is the Founder of the Fathers’ Forum programs. The Fathers’ Forum offers Men’s Groups for Fathers of Young Children and workshops for expectant and new dads. He is the author of “Becoming a Dad: How Fatherhood Changes Men”. Bruce received his Ph.D. for his research on Men’s Development as Fathers. Bruce also has a private counseling practice in Berkeley, California in the USA. He specializes in working with fathers, men, and couples with young children.