If expectant or new moms are seen in our culture as glowing and blissful as they enter parenthood, dads tend to be the opposite. The assumption -- however old school -- that the foray into fatherhood freaks guys out remains popular. From the minute that little positive sign appears on a pregnancy test, their thoughts must be racing a mile a minute, right?
Well ... maybe. Not every dad is freaking out, but more than half of American men report feeling completely unprepared for being a father, according to Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW, author of Dying to Be Men and founder of the website SadDaddy.com. There's good news, though: "There’s really nothing extraordinary that’s required to bolster their confidence as fathers," says Courtenay.
In fact, the experts had some pretty simple fixes when The Stir polled fathers on their biggest anxieties about being a dad:
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1. The fear of not being able to keep your child safe from harm: "I had this irrational fear of the babies falling from high places -- which is bizarre because we lived in a first-floor apartment, and it's not like we were taking them to the Empire State building! But obviously, I was just concerned about keeping them safe." -- Brian, 38
"Every parent has this fear, but here's the reality: your kids will get hurt," notes Doyin Richards, author of the forthcoming book Daddy Doin' Work: Empowering Mothers to Evolve Fatherhood. "They will have their bones and hearts broken by others, and there really isn't anything we can do. If anything, the inevitable pain they'll experience serves an opportunity to show our children what we're made of as dads. Are we nurturing, loving, and supportive? Are we there to provide hugs and kisses when needed? That is what will help our kids bounce back from almost any setback they experience in life."
Dads struggling with this particular worry would do well to lean on their partner. "One of the best things dads can do is to 'fess up to mom that he's worried too," Courtenay advises. "The two of you can bear this burden much better together than either one of you can alone."
2. The fear of not being able to adequately provide for their child: "When we had our first child, I was terrified by the sheer magnitude that I was now responsible for another life." -- Jared, 33
For this one, we can blame centuries of history during which men were typically seen as the sole provider. "It's what most men's dads did," explains Courtenay. "And fathers today still feel the pressure and social expectations to do that. But Dad as breadwinner is just a quaint notion of the past. Today, most homes with kids are two-income households."
What could serve as even more of a relief to dads facing this anxiety is that a family's income isn't what will truly shape a child's development. "What's important is not Dad's money, but Dad's time spent with his kids," says Courtenay. "What’s important for kids, what makes a difference for them and their development are the simple things, like reading a book, throwing a ball, talking with them on a car ride, cooking together, or helping with homework."
3. The fear of being prepared to raising a daughter: "My initial fear was being an inadequate parent to a daughter. Growing up in a male-dominated family, I felt ill-equipped to deal with the differences in raising a daughter." -- Rob, 37
"A lot of dads worry that because they're a guy, they can't give their daughters what they need," explains Courtenay. "What these dads need to know is that just being present in their daughters' lives is what these girls needs most."
It also helps for fathers to re-frame their thoughts about raising a daughter and think of it not only as a responsibility but a privilege. "It's about realizing the profound impact a dad has on his little girls," Richards explains. "We are the first men they will ever love, and every experience with men will be predicated by our relationships with them. If we support them emotionally, build them up, and teach them to be strong and confident, that will translate to their romantic relationships. When a dad isn't in the picture, studies have shown it can be more difficult for a young woman's self-confidence and esteem romantically and otherwise."
4. The fear of being needed: "The biggest fear then is the same one now, the one I'll always have. I worry that when my daughter gets older, as she grows, and as she becomes an adult that she'll remember me as a great father, that she'll always love me as her daddy. That she will always want me to do stuff with me as her father, that she will always want to have me around and she'll always love me." -- Jonathan, 36
As parents anticipate and celebrate the beginning of a new life, it's natural to have fears about what could happen to your relationship with your child years down the road.
The fix: "Spend your energy on being the best father you can be in the present moment," suggests psychotherapist Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T., author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Bijou recommends dads try to replace a thought like, 'What if I'm not always needed?' with 'I'll handle the future in the future.' It can also help to let your child know that you'll always be there for them.
5. The fear of being "good enough": "I'm a father of six adopted wonderful kids. My biggest fear was, 'Will I be good at this? Will I be able to care for one so little?'" -- Chris, 51
This worry in itself is a good sign! "The simple fact that men think about being 'good enough' shows that they take fatherhood seriously," Richards explains. "Dads will make mistakes, but if we come from a place of love, honor, and respect, everything will have a way of working itself out in the end."
What fears did your partner have about becoming a dad? How did he conquer them?
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