Transcending The Fear Of Fatherhood
Like many if not most Western men, I spent my twenties doing my best to have fun while the sun shone: drinking, smoking, and carrying on in the standard fashion. Each night together with friends we would forge memories, sadly often to be forgotten in our hazy minds. Our pleasure-seeking behavior paid off in exactly the way it promised, but never in the way we needed. Satisfaction and fulfillment, that feeling that everything is right in the world, that we were doing what we should, that all Ts were crossed, all shoes tied, and all doors safely locked never quite arrived as we hoped.
Of course, we wouldn’t much talk about that. Stoned and drunk conversations about philosophy seldom dove into the truly pointed questions about our own lives and where we were going, as it would have defeated the point of the avoidant, pleasure-seeking behavior in the first place. We were focused on getting to the bottom of the bottle. Nevertheless, there was an unspoken truth we shared: that something was indeed missing from our lives.
The only times I can remember the topic having been brought up was the morning after in a hung-over and bleary-eyed state drinking stale coffee and wondering what to do next.
I was in a long-term relationship from my teenage years onward, which transformed into a young marriage—well, young by today’s standards at 23, but in line with historical norms. I broke from those historical norms and put off having children to the magical, far-away age of thirty, which 23-year-old me felt was forever away, as though it would be a totally different person who would have to deal with all the work and madness. I was simply a being of pure leisure, working to pay the bills and save up a little, the specter of fatherhood successfully delayed so long that in some sense it seemed like I spent two decades as a teenager. Career success arrived naturally by virtue of a strong work ethic and solid understanding, but the associated responsibility and authority wasn’t truly sought so much as thrust upon me.
I had seen what happened with the other men I knew who had children—most of them older than myself, who had similarly arrived at some deadline age and had converted themselves—in what seemed like an instant—from “one of the guys” to a capital-d Dad, replete with tremendous associated responsibility and no free time (or money). When we did see them, whether at work or the rare night when they escaped from domestic duties, they seemed haunted, a shadow of their former selves. Guts grew, faces grew sallow, bags under eyes sank lower and lower. Age took hold and made men that were young a moment ago look like their own fathers, worn and tired.
I didn’t want that.
Their complaints, their constant negativity about the situation, that look of longing when they heard stories about others’ weekend plans and trips. I didn’t want to be that guy. I rather liked being the one telling those stories. It seemed like there was no upshot to their pained existence. They looked like they were forced into the situation, that they had had no choice in the matter, and like they’d seriously consider running away if there wasn’t any vestigial social stigma attached to that action.
I made up my mind to never be like that.
Inevitably, thirty arrived, and the deal I had made with my wife so many years ago reared its ugly head, and the fear of fatherhood truly took hold in me. She meant what she’d said! There would be no more delay! No more pills, no more excuses. Sex for pleasure was converted into sex with a purpose, more frequent but less romantic, aimed at achieving a goal measured in months instead of minutes. More importantly to me, though, was the fact that what had seemed like someone else’s problem was very rapidly going to become my problem.
I had a choice: fall into the same trap as those other men and take on negativity until there was nobody left to listen, or take ownership of my choices and path in life instead. The latter seemed more sane.
Now, with a few years of fatherhood under my belt, I contend that the negativity I find from so many dads is (a) a sign of personal weakness, and also (b) compounded and inspired by social forces. I also contend that (c) the lack of fulfillment I described at the beginning is best made whole by having a child. Let’s explore that chain of thought in a moment, but before delving into that, allow me to relate my own personal transformation.
There is no moment quite like the one in which your firstborn looks up at you for the first time, bright eyes gleaming with the most perfect whites you have ever seen. It’s probably not going to be the first moment you see them—covered in goop under harsh fluorescent lights—but rather a few hours later when you’ll experience this. The connection takes hold, and your certainty of fatherhood, enhanced by the immediate recognition of your own facial features in their tiny, mashed up little cheeks, causes a massive change in your mind. There’s plenty of evidence linking the sound of a baby crying to changes in male hormones; coupled with the fact that you can absolutely recognize the sound of your own child’s cry compared to others, we can see that there’s a psychological/biological link at play. I believe that we’ll eventually discover a host of changes in the male mind that accompany this moment and the months of sleep deprivation that follow.
At the very least, it was clear from the outset that I would die for my son in a heartbeat; no second thought would be required, no amount of pain would be too great. This has only become more clear with time; as the years pass, I would not only die, but suffer as long as is needed.
From that moment, and over the years that followed, I changed. I was already on the right politically and identified as a neoreactionary, but in retrospect I can say that I wasn’t really worthy of the label. This isn’t to say that no man without children qualifies, so much as it is a personal statement about my own convictions, but it is one that I think many others would likely agree with. The reason I say this is that before I had a child, I was not truly a man, despite thinking otherwise at the time.
One of the most common terms children use for an adult is “grown-up”. However, truly being an adult man is far more involved than simply growing to the correct size, otherwise plenty of 17-year-olds would qualify. Truly being a man means understanding, in the most visceral terms, just how much self-sacrifice you are willing to commit in order to advance the interests and needs of your family. For a real man, almost every waking moment is dedicated to some pursuit that benefits his family, whether directly working for cash, maintaining the home, performing domestic work, or helping his wife to raise the child. The necessities of the situation force a father to become far more productive and efficient with every aspect of his life than he was beforehand; the corresponding increase in personal agency and willpower is amazing to behold. I often think of what I could have accomplished if I had had this drive and energy during my childless 20s; no doubt I would have ascended much higher in career and personal pursuits, rather than wasting so much time seeking base pleasures.
We’ve all seen that new father who somehow still manages to seem like he has a lot of free time despite what should be a sizeable burden; in reality, we often find that his girlfriend (rarely wife, I find) or his parents and in-laws are taking on an unfair portion of the load, leaving the slacker with time to spare on those meaningless pursuits. This man, and others of his ilk, qualify as members of group (a) as identified above: personally weak men who are not rising to the challenge, not seeing the opportunity for personal transformation. Life is still all about themselves, with others, including their child, somewhere in orbit around them, presumed to be doing fine until there’s information to the contrary.
We’ll call these men “beta dads”—not that there’s necessarily a correlation between the traditional male alpha/beta dynamic here, but rather for a simple term to describe the dichotomy. Beta dads are dads who prioritize themselves and their comfort above their family and make the excuses necessary to continue living in such a fashion. They blame others for their situation, taking no ownership of their course in life and complain continuously. Insomuch as he focuses on his children, the beta dad has an ulterior motive, namely putting them in activities so as to be rid of them for a few hours, putting them in a good school for the virtue signalling benefit, and so forth.
In contrast, an “alpha dad” is what I aspire to be—a man who allows his children to be a source of pride and strength, who is happy to have rearranged his life in order to bring more love into it, not to mention the continuation of his genetic line. The alpha dad focuses on what he can do to improve the life of his children, ideally through building character and personal integrity, so that they are equipped to become like him when they grow up. While he may put them in the exact same activities and schools as the beta dad, his motivation is different; he seeks their success and long-term happiness more than he worries about his own situation.
Now, I did say that this dichotomy is compounded and inspired by social forces.
For one, it is my belief that the media actively destroys the character of the father through caricature. When he’s not completely absent (signalling that single motherhood is in some sense the norm or ideal), he is slow, abusive, or a layabout slacker. The mother in the show could have done better than him is the message; she has shackled herself to someone beneath her stature. The man is too wrapped up in work, too absent, not present in the sense that his dependents need: a supplicant, nothing more.
There are almost no positive role models, and there are absolutely no shows that inspire a young man to want to be a parent, to want a family, to want the continuation of his line. Instead, we show those young men everything they “could be doing” if they don’t have kids; partying all the time, living in huge city apartments, working easy jobs—all serving the purpose of convincing us that we don’t want to take on responsibility, that we don’t need to be contributing in any meaningful sense.
The net effect implants the very fear of fatherhood that I myself experienced: that all free time, all fun, all pleasure in my life would be replaced by a terrible, screaming monster; that all my freedom would vanish, replaced by an impossible burden. It’s entirely possible the media narrative is just an emergent effect of supply and demand; we want to watch the shows we like to see, in a twisted feedback cycle that preys upon our basal desires. However, I think the effect is plainly visible for anyone that cares to look, and that voluntarily overcoming it in the absence of examples to the contrary does take some amount of personal fortitude.
Another social force that compounds the personal weakness of men afraid of fatherhood is the lack of support. A few short generations ago, a new parent had a church community and their extended family around them to provide support, guidance, materials, and contributions of time and effort that eased the burden considerably. One of the most important aspects of this support is its visibility to younger men who are not yet fathers; their ability to see alpha dads who are beaming with pride as their young run around and play, coupled with an opportunity to watch and interact with the kids. A young man can take from this that he will not be alone when he joins their ranks; that he will get to be like the dads standing over there, filled with joy.
The slow death of the church community and the diaspora of extended families as people more frequently move to seek work outside of their home cities, coupled with the effects of increasing diversity destroying the social capital that would otherwise allow this sort of thing to organically reform in new communities, make achieving this environment more difficult.
In fact, the result is often that examples of strong fatherhood are no longer present. Instead of bringing our families together at least once a week to confirm our shared values, we cloister ourselves away from the world, continuing our avoidant teenage behavior in an new way. I myself am guilty of this; with no venue to take my child to, with no shared values among my diverse and unknown neighbors, I too perpetuate the problem by not providing the needed example to younger men who likely share, at least subconsciously, the same fear of fatherhood.
We need to solve this problem collectively. It’s yet another node on the feedback cycle of demographic destruction, perhaps the key node, as it directly affects the birth rate, which in turn affects the makeup of the community, which fractures further until no repair seems possible. I myself need to help solve this by showing other men, particularly those younger than myself, what it means to hold the “alpha dad” role I aspire to.
Lastly, let me touch on the subject of personal fulfillment. While I cannot say that I am totally fulfilled in every conceivable way, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am far more complete a person now than I was before my son was born. He has given me a wealth of experiences in a few short years, from the heights of pride as he learns and discovers, to the pits of despair as I cradled him in a hospital bed after a medical emergency. I have purpose now that I did not have before: to provide for him and his future siblings and to help him do better than I did in every way possible. There’s so much more to life now than merely the bottom of a bottle.
(But honestly, don’t think for a second that you’ll be giving up drinking when you have a kid. No, you’re gonna need a cold one after a hard day, probably more than you ever used to.)