Celebrating Father’s Day: What a first-time father reveals about secure attachment relationships

by Michael Groat, PhD on June 12, 2013 · 5 comments

in attachment

"Celebrating Father's Day"At The Menninger Clinic we think a lot about relationships – how they are nurtured, how they are compromised and how they can grow with steadfast care and attention. As this Father’s Day approaches, thinking about the relationship I am forming with my baby girl – now fast approaching her first birthday – fills me with awe.

I had heard that becoming a father can be a major thrust for a man’s development; little did I realize how true that would be. For me, it began the moment I heard my daughter’s first cry and held her little hand. Some joke that my daughter has had me wrapped around her finger since birth – and they’re right!

Babies do not come with their own instruction manual. It was my job to learn my daughter’s ways and to learn how to relate to her – as a bigger human. This required me to be in the moment and be emotionally present. It meant making the effort to try and understand the nature of her cries and to respond to them empathically. Suddenly, I was the novice again. We call this the “not knowing” stance of mentalizing, or, more simply, trying to understand what makes our kids tick.

I have been enthralled but vulnerable, unsure yet committed. I have found it takes a whole lot of devotion to get up night after night, exhausted, to be present when my little girl is hungry or needs her diaper changed. I have grown into a more patient and compassionate man. I better understand the importance of the environment that I nurture for children – and adults.

But being a dad is also about enjoyment and celebration. It has been about being there to witness my daughter’s first tooth sprout or to hear her first laugh or to help her pet her first puppy. The whole world is new and full of wonder for her – and it becomes new to me, too! We celebrate the simple beauty of a tree leaf, the blue sky or the wind. I fondly remember my daughter trying to taste the wind when she first felt it on her face. Children so beautifully capture openness to experience and curiosity.

Being a dad involves a whole new chapter of lessons and adventures on being human, and I see a lot of parallels in my relationships at Menninger. Like being a father, I strive to learn my patients’ ways, and along the way I laugh, I cry and I worry, but most important, I truly care. Devotion matters. It is what sustains my connection to my daughter, as well as my patients and colleagues. It helps us hang in there through the exhausting and trying times.

To me, Father’s Day honors the role men play in nurturing and caring for others, and the ways they can serve as secure attachment figures for children and others. I am thankful my daughter provides me the thrill of learning to attach all over again.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally Zahner June 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Michael,

Congratulations on fatherhood. You will inspire others around you to rise to the tasks needed and reflect on the joys that priviledge brings. I am happy for you and for the little girl who learns to mentalize from you!
Best wishes for your continued success in parenthood.

Nancy Trowbridge June 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Dr. Groat, what a sweet review of what it means to be Dad and therapist. You’ve brilliantly captured the link between the two. I imagine you’re a better clinician for being a husband and a father.

Hannah June 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Wonderful piece, Dr. Groat! Thank you so much for sharing about this new role in your life and how you are relearning mentalization on a new level. Hope you have a great first Father’s Day!

Terrilynn June 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Being fully present with our children in their growth experiences. Providing and developing security. What a valuable gift to embrace and celebrate!

I share your appreciation for the Menninger-spirit-of-caring that permeates our work here and how it influenced my professional and personal relationships.

I appreciate that Menninger has grown me clinically through working with knowledgeable, caring team mates in intensive work helping our patients who are stuggling with the residual effects of faulty and wobbly “secure” attachments during percieved crisis points. I appreciate how Menninger has grown me professionally as a knowledgeable, valuable teammate through participating in many educational opportunities offered here. And I truly appreciate how this work, in this healing spirit-of-caring environment, nurturing relationships, has grown me personally as a parent, too.

What a priviledge (and responsiblity) we have been gifted! Thank you Michael for taking a few momments to share your reflections on these parellels and connections. Happy Father’s Day!

Stephen Leonard June 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Michael,

Congratulations on your experiences and insights. From a friend and a father to another, you’ve said well what many men may not be able to articulate so lovingly.

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