I have always wanted to be a father. I am fortunate; my dad is a genuine, loving man, my mentor, my soccer coach, and biggest fan. He has always been supportive and passed on many essential values: honesty, integrity, charity, service to community, commitment to family, respect for others, humor; the list goes on.
Amidst all the excitement and joy of being a new father, I was shocked to realize the depth of self-awareness and the crystal clear reflection, mirrored by my twins. Wow! After fifteen years of deep, inward work, the dense mass and burning in my solo plexus was often charged as if I saw an ex-lover with a new beau. Ouch!
The first and most salient emotional response I experienced was when either (or both) of the twins would cry for longer than a couple of minutes. After extensive writing and conversations with several conscious fathers, I realized that this anger was common. In truth, I was experiencing fear that my own needs would go unmet. My mind wanted to blame them when the projection of my own emotion was the cause, preventing an empathetic response.
Additionally and contrary to the suggestions of some “professionals” (with which I vehemently disagree), I lay down with the twins every night until they fall asleep. I found myself getting very upset during the squirmy, frustrating twenty minutes it took them to finally fall asleep. I wanted so bad for them to instantly be quiet, close their eyes, and turn off their engines. After dinner, bathing, drying, brushing teeth, several bouts of intense negotiation, and dressing two babies, I was exhausted. I wanted to clean up the house and kitchen so I could relax or tackle a couple of critical work tasks, i.e., my selfish agenda.
One of the most powerful practices I developed was meditating during this time, focusing on the feeling that was rising in my stomach, allowing and acknowledging the emotion, not the bullshit meaning my mind created to distract me from the discomfort. After eight months of practice, the upsetting response dissipated.
We now enjoy some of the most intimate and sweet moments together during this time. Fear has transcended into love and connection.
Situations that incite the most poignant emotional responses:
- Incessant crying and/or whining
- When I have an agenda, need to get something done, and the twins demand my attention
- The twenty minutes of squirming and delay tactics before bedtime
- When I am agitated or experiencing F.E.A.R. (false events appearing real)
- At night or in AM when I am tired (and fussy!)
Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) I have come to realize I often act in similar ways. After all, our kids are simply an expression of our own nervous systems and the physiological and emotional lineage of our ancestry. It is humbling to imagine what they carry into the world and what a beautiful gift it is for them to teach us.
To develop empathy and compassion during these frustrating situations, and to better understand myself, I have found the following questions to be helpful.
- What situations incite the most frustration or irritation in me?
- In what ways does this situation remind me of my behavior?
- How would I want to be treated in this situation?
- How can I guide and share my experience while allowing them the freedom to be themselves?
I still find myself fussy when I am tired and occasionally when the kids cry for long periods. Writing and talking about my emotions has transformed my experience as a father. Through consistent, personal reflection, I have been able to name my part, take responsibility for my reactions and develop a deep sense of empathy and compassion in situations that used to frustrate and overwhelm me. I anticipate so much growth ahead, so many more layers to peel away as we pass through stages of maturity in ourselves.
Before the twins were born, a spiritual teacher told me that they would be the perfect medicine. I had no idea, the extent to which her prophecy would become true. As is always the case in my limited experience, the best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth arrive when our emotions are aroused fully. It is in this place that we are undoubtedly human, can witness our imperfect nature and grow toward God if we choose.
My children are the most important reason for living today. They teach me how to love, unconditionally. They offer a perfect reflection to round off the edges of my character, like stones in a raging river. Being a father is not always pretty, but it is always love, and always about about self-acceptance. My children are my best teachers.