Men, especially those who do experience relationship
problems, often come out of generations of fathering
which may have been absent (ie not there),
neglectful, verbally and/or physically abusive or
lacking in subtle communication skills (ie lacking
emotional language and empathy, being a poor
listener, or simply being unable to identify and
express their feelings, needs and wants).
The socialization of boys and men has also tended to
follow a script which places more emphasis on
‘toughness’ rather than tenderness. Boys will be
boys, boys don’t cry, boys are boofheads - these
beliefs are perpetrated in films, newspapers and
television. Showing feelings can be dismissed as
‘being a softie, a poof or a dill’. Life’s a war –
witness the ‘war’ on drugs, the ‘war’ on crime, the
‘battle’ of the sexes and the political ‘arena’. Men
are often expected to be ‘heroic’, overcome
tremendous difficulties, win the ‘war’ and ‘rescue’ or
‘fix’ the situation. Being a man can often seem to be
more about being in control (or at least pretending),
rather than being a listener, a communicator and an
empathic, sensitive, human being who only fights
when necessary and who does not feel they need to
use their fists. ‘Shock and awe’ does not usually
The impact of this on men and their relationships can
be profound. It can mean they become hollow
images of what it takes to be a man or a father –
being controlling and dominating, while feeling
wretched and inadequate inside. It can lead to them
continuing to bottle up their emotions, feeling bad,
but not necessarily understanding why. It can turn
into seeking solace in ‘the bottle’, namely resorting
to alcohol as a way of dulling the pain. It can also
lead to, conflict in relationship, poor fathering and at
worst domestic violence, depression and suicide.
So what can be done.
- Learn to recognise when one is not coping and
ask for help. Signs can be having an extremely
short fuse, beginning to drink more frequently
and/or heavily, complaints from your partner,
feeling numb or robotic, feeling depressed and
angry, having a lot of angry or negative thoughts
- Talk to other men, women and professionals
about your problems but only if you like them
and you feel listened to. Be wary of those who
try to tell you what you should do. Sometimes
your partner may not be able to do that for you
for various reasons.
- Consider committing yourself to some ongoing
counselling and/or education.Remember if your
car wasn’t working properly you’d go to the
mechanic, and if you’re health was playing up
you’d go to a doctor).
- Slow down and exercise patience and gentleness
with yourself and your relationships. Changing
thoughts and behaviour can be difficult.
- Build up your support networks – cultivate
friendships with other men who are good
listeners and who are not afraid to talk about
Carl Webster September 2007.
Carl Webster - Psychologist and Psychotherapist 0424 650 630
I remember (to my shame) being overly casual about the
birth of my first child. “It’ll be fine,” I said gibly,
preferring to focus on my all important work issues.
Well, it was fine, eventually, after a 24 hour labour, a
small argument with the midwife and a crisis point when
all my wife and I wanted to do was go to sleep and forget
all about it.
Little did I realise that the 24 hour labour was the start
of the 24 hour day of perpetual childcare. There were
frequent sleepless nights (at least in the first year) and
the occasional anxieties of trying to sooth a screaming
Fathering didn’t come easy. A baby’s distress wasn’t as
easy to fix as the car. There wasn’t an easy to read
manual and spare parts weren’t obtainable. But I was
lucky for two reasons. First my partner came from a
large family and seemed to generally take things in her
stride. Second when my son was eighteen months old , I
had the opportunity to work part-time and also take on
the childcare role for a large proportion of each day
while my partner went back to work full time to pay the
It took about three months to ‘tune in’ to my little’un.
I first took on the role of dad as a logistical exercise,
bathing, feeding, washing clothes etc. Not as easy as I
first thought. I got stressed but was rescued by some
other mothers who wanted to share the burden of their
children. We babysat each others toddlers (two’s
company) and shared stories. More importantly I slowly
began to really RELATE to my son as a sensitive, feeling
and highly communicative little person. Instead of just
focusing on the logistics and sweeping him along with my
agenda, I began to engage at his level – largely by
getting down on the floor and playing. Blocks, books,
lego, cars, castles and trainsets – it was fun and I was
beginning to enjoy my fathering role. It took time to
slow down, to learn to communicate at his two year old
level and be sensitive to his needs and feelings.
Surprisingly this involved also being more aware of my
The ‘terrible two’s’ is the name given to the toddler
who has learnt to say NO bigtime. The challenge is to
handle it via negotiation, humour and boundary setting
without it turning into a literally terrible power
struggle for both parties.
It wasn’t always easy. I remember the mother at the
occasional daycare centre who snatched up her two year
old daughter who had begun chatting to me – a mere
I felt almost heartbroken on leaving my son crying out
“daddy” with his arms outstretched towards me as I first
left him at kindergarden. I lost the plot (and almost my
son) on the beach one day when I took my eye off him
and he began wading out into the sea following mom.
But that period of being the prime carer made a huge
difference for me and I believe my children. I was an
only child and I grew up with parents who were wrestling
with their own problems and didn’t have a lot of time
for me. Being a (almost) full time dad for a while
showed me the pleasure and rewards of being closely
involved with a child and stood me in good stead when it
came to having the next child and also facing the
challenges of adolescence. I had to learn to deal with
my own stress, anger and frustration as well as that of
my child (and sometimes my partner too). I learnt that
the dynamics of a family of three were vastly different
than the cosy couple relationship. Most of all I learnt
that being a dad is truly one of life’s great gifts if we
are able to take up the challenge of better getting to
know both our children and ourselves.
Carl Webster July 2007.
The condition of being honored and esteemed, held in (high) regard
Respect is a fundamental base line in cultivating and maintaining good
relationships. Showing respect means acknowledging (without necessarily
agreeing with) the feelings of others. Without respect there is usually an
attitude of ‘don’t care’, ‘stuff you’, ‘whatever’ – or in other words showing
contempt for the person and their feelings.
Things that get in the way of respect are:
• Resentment (anger built up over a long time)
• Self righteousness (“I’m right and they’re wrong)
• Superiority (‘they don’t know what they’re talking about’)
• Avoidance (pretending not to notice their feelings)
• Unwillingness to apologise (‘why should I have to’) even when you are at
• Unfulfilled needs (‘you don’t give me what I want so why should I?”)
• Lack of closeness in the relationship (‘so what?’
When we feel respected we feel acknowledged and cared for. Interestingly
some people mistake acknowledgement for agreement. Or in other words, they
feel disrespected when their partner doesn’t do what they want. Traditional
gender roles for example suggest that women ‘should’ defer to men and many
men and women have grown up with that expectation. The reality is that respect
does not necessarily mean agreement. If we believe in free speech we respect
the right of another to disagree with us as long as they respect our right.
Those who confuse agreement with respect are usually not recognising that in
some way they feel threatened by disagreement. They may feel that it is about
win and lose. If they let the other ‘win’ then they will ‘lose’. However it is more
than likely that two mature adults may disagree about a range of issues, but that
doesn’t have to mean that they can’t respect each other and agree to differ.
So, if we want to feel cared for, its important that we show our partner that we
care for them. If we want respect we must be prepared to show it and care for
their feelings in the same way that we want them to care for ours.