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.