Until recently, scant research has been devoted to fathers' relationships with their children, although mothers' roles have received a great deal of attention. Encouraged by organizations such as the American Psychological Assn., more researchers--especially men--are exploring the relationships between men and their children, starting from before birth to old age. No matter which partner has the medical problem, infertility tends to severely affect men who had close relationships with their fathers, a new study shows.
Women often are viewed as suffering more, but many men are just as upset but have fewer outlets to express sorrow, says Alina Zoldbrod, author of an upcoming book on infertility and board member of Resolve, a national support group for infertile couples.
"These men have a lot of feelings of loss, and they are as vulnerable as any woman," says Zoldbrod. But men often don't vent their emotions because "having those feelings makes you a wimp."
Zoldbrod says her research shows that men who had distant relationships with their fathers appeared to be less upset by infertility, at least initially. Eventually, however, these men also suffer.
Infertility support groups, like Resolve, have not been as effective in helping men, Zoldbrod says, because they often attend meetings to support their wives. In this setting, she says, men tend to deny or hide their feelings.
Zoldbrod encourages development of men-only support groups.
Dads Often Need Help From Moms
Men have the capacity, and often the desire, to establish involved, loving relationships with their infants from birth. But too often, a well-meaning figure by the name of Mom disrupts good fathering relationships before baby has uttered his or her first word.
Because fathers have little social support and few role models for being involved parents, they depend on encouragement and support from their wives, says Martin Greenberg, a San Diego psychiatrist who has studied relationships between fathers and infants.
Greenberg, author of the 1986 book "The Birth of a Father," says mothers need to make space available for the father.
"Fathers tend to stay back and not relate to the child until they are invited," says Greenberg, who has taught fathering skills. "Many fathers are creative and will jump in and develop their own relationship. But a significant number of fathers need support and the invitation to be involved."
The mother may want to give the father the space, he says, "but they may want to take it over when they feel he is not doing a good enough job.
"He gets the message that he can't do it, and he'll withdraw."
When the father withdraws, Greenberg says, the mother eventually begins to think the father is just not trying, while the father thinks he can't parent effectively.
The solution, Greenberg says, is for the mother to leave the house for a while or encourage the father to leave the house with the baby.
New fathers often perform better and build up confidence if they have private time with their infants, he says:
"Fathers are very shy. They know they are not as good at this as women. They have an inferiority complex that women can do it better."
No Room at Home for Office Persona
The ability to shift gears smoothly from the professional world to home life may be one of the most difficult tasks for time-pressured men who try to become more involved fathers.
A common error men make is in not shedding their office persona and management techniques at the front door, says Thomas DeLong, a Brigham Young University researcher who, with his wife, Camille, studied the ways executives and managers balance their work and home lives.
The DeLongs' study of 300 male executives found that many fared poorly in managing their home lives. The skills used to succeed in the office, these men found, failed miserably at home.
Fathers often tried to be dictatorial at home, DeLong says:
"Managers and executives are the hub of the wheel at work. But families can learn to get along without that person."
Fathers, he says, often tried to force their own time-management styles on children instead of bending to fit their children's needs:
"When fathers are with their children, 70% of the time fathers are doing what father wants to do, and 30% of the time they do what children need to do."
In conversations, DeLong says, fathers succumb to quizzing their kids instead of communicating.
Fathers are further hampered by the lack of time they have in making a smooth transition between work and home life, DeLong says.
And although men have a much better idea of success or failure at work, many lack confidence in their ability to deal with children.
Later On, Divorce Still Means Distance
Many divorced men say they are dissatisfied with their relationships with their children but feel powerless to correct the situation, according to a new study.
The study is significant, says psychologist Charles Hoffman of Cal State San Bernardino, because most post-divorce studies on parenting involve mothers. Studies of fathers' reactions to divorce and custody issues, he says, are often limited to whether the father is paying child support.
In Hoffman's study of 142 divorced fathers, 69% viewed involvement with their children as very important. Many said former wives were critical to continued involvement with their children.
"Many fathers report their ex-wives are not supportive," he says.
Another factor is whether the man's current wife or lover promotes or tries to thwart his continuing relationship with his children, Hoffman says.
Studies show that children live with their mothers after divorce in about 90% of cases. According to Hoffman, most men see their children two weekends a month--and less as time goes by.
One of the most far-reaching negative impacts of divorce, only now being recognized, is the effect it has on a father's relationship with his adult children, says sociologist Peter Uhlenberg of the University of North Carolina.
His study shows that divorced fathers ages 50 to 79 had far less contact with adult children who lived on their own than men in intact marriages. About 90% of the married men reported they had contact with their adult children at least once a week. Only 50% of the divorced men said they had contact with their adult children that often.
Moreover, one-third of the divorced men said they had lost contact with one or more of their adult children for at least the previous 12 months.
The results are surprising, Uhlenberg says, because adult children usually are sources of support for their parents in times of need, often returning home to help in a crisis.
When asked whom they would ask for help in an emergency, half of the married men said they would call on their children, but only one-fifth of the divorced men said they would do so. The findings were the same whether or not divorced men had remarried.
A growing number of aging baby boomers will find themselves coping with the long-term effects of divorce, Uhlenberg predicts:
"We still have not felt the full impact in later life of the current high divorce rates."