Fathering during Dual Crises
Anthony Isacco, PhD, Chatham University, Pittsburgh, PA
Daniel Singley, PhD, Center for Men’s Excellence, San Diego, CA
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano
Between a global pandemic and mass protests about police brutality and racism, the past four months have been unprecedented.
The question that we asked ourselves with Father’s Day on June 21 is – how have men been fathering during these dual crises?
There are 72 million fathers in the United States according to the latest US Census Data and as a result, there just might be 72 million ways to answer our opening question. We offer three points based on our experience as fathers and counseling psychologists with the goal of helping fathers and families.
We acknowledge the need to…
Not Avoid the Unavoidable
Children are very perceptive, and it has not required much perception to understand that some things have been strange to children. School, sports, activities, parental employment situations have all drastically changed due to public health interventions aimed at addressing COVID-19. Media coverage of the pandemic and the protests have been constant. Some teachers have used the crises as teachable moments and asked children to write and talk about these events in school assignments and classroom discussions.
Most children are aware of both COVID-19 and protests about racism.
Fathers cannot avoid discussing these difficult topics with their children. The Mayo Clinic has offered good advice to parents on how to talk about COVID-19 with children. The American Psychological Association has a Parent Resource Center to help parents uplift their children in healthy communications about race.
Support Both Child and Father Health
It is important to be attuned to your child’s health during these crises. We take a holistic view of health and believe that fathers can play a vital role in all areas of their child’s health – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, and educational. Some simple ways to support your child’s health include being available and engaged; giving hugs and words of affirmation; empathizing with feelings of loss, frustration, and confusion; praying, meditating, exercising together; encouraging resilience, grit, and positive coping; attending mental health counseling. For example, I [Anthony] have taken my 8-year-old daughter to various parking lots around Pittsburgh so she can roller blade and I can run along with her.
There is some research that indicates men are more susceptible to COVID-19 than women. Moreover, the health of Black and Brown fathers is compromised due to racism and systemic inequalities in access to healthcare. Fathers should not feel like they are sacrificing their own health for their child’s health. We contend that father and child health are linked for better or for worse.
Fathers, children, and families all benefit when men live healthier lifestyles.
Healthcare professionals are aware of men's health issues and I [Dr. Singley] maintain a psychological practice devoted to providing new fathers with the support and resources that they need to excel through the transition to fatherhood. Fathers are encouraged to seek help for their own health during these dual crises. Simply put, healthy fathers are important for healthy families.
Protect and Provide in Some New Ways
Most people will tell you that a father’s role is to “protect and provide” for their family, though mothers can also fulfill this role. In the face of threats associated with COVID-19 and racism, fathers may feel challenged to protect their families against unprecedented, ever-present, and very real dangers. Some fathers feel shut down and deflated because they are not able to provide the hoped-for life for their families. For example, a huge percent of the U.S. is experiencing job loss and dire financial straits – which is a significant barrier to an out-of-work or underemployed father to provide financially and materially for his family. This challenge is even greater for Dads of Color who have been disproportionately hit financially and medically during these dual crises. A wealth of research shows that fathers’ involvement with their children has a positive impact on the child, his partner, and the father himself. Yet, when a father is struggling with self-doubt, anxiety, substance use, etc., he is less likely to be positively engaged with his family.
At a time when fathers may feel down and unable to provide, many years of research and experience show that fathers who do what it takes to keep themselves psychologically healthy are able to provide what their families really need from them: the healthiest version of themselves.
Most fathers are not used to thinking of themselves as being the object of provision to their family. We contend that beyond providing financially, a healthy, engaged father provides and protects for their family by showing up to be involved with them - especially during times of crises.
Navigating these dual crises has taken a toll on all of us. It can be hard to think of fathers as needing support instead of just providing it. The reality is that fathers struggle sometimes, and the current crises has increased those struggles. As a way to raise awareness about these struggles, the day after Father’s Day in the U.S. – June 22nd this year – is designated as International Father’s Mental Health Day. IFMHD highlights the unique mental health challenges and the related resources relevant to fathers.
We encourage fathers and their loved ones to take any opportunity to ask a father, “How are you doing, dad?” Then wait for the answer and ask, “OK, how are you really doing, dad?”