The Emptiness of Fatherhood

By Osy Agbo

Yesterday, drums were rolled out in many parts of the world in celebration of our dear sweet mothers. Though dampened by the exigencies of the moment, our love for these special creatures still prevailed.

How can we not show appreciation for the one that gives her unconditional love and makes limitless sacrifices? Mother’s day has become such a very important yearly ritual with a popularity that can only be rivalled by the unpopularity of Father’s day.

In fact, Father’s day is a caricature that no one’s cares about. Maybe we could argue that men are simply not disposed to the mundane or that such is in tandem with the society’s apparent lack of interest in the appreciation of fatherhood.

Over the years, I have kept a small group of guy friends, all married and with kids of roughly same age as mine. Ours is close knit and needless to say we enjoy each other’s company tremendously. Every now and then we will find a reason to break away from family and the daily hustle to congregate and fellowship in the comfort of a cold brew. Though it happens infrequently, we seize on every available opportunity and has come to christened such time as our ”protected men-time”.

There is hardly anything spectacular about an hour or so spent together relieving old times but it’s comforting enough to throw in some semblance of balance to a busy professional life. Occasionally we also discuss life, fatherhood and everything else in between as well as share frustrations in the challenges that come with highly demanding careers.

My buddy Joe is highly vested in making sure these periodic meets happen. He not only takes it upon himself to calls up everyone but researches on the best  ”joint” to hang. Joe is gregarious, chatty and loquacious but not this last time. This time, he was visibly absent minded and appeared sober and reflective. Everyone kept asking what the matter was. After much hesitation and with a little shaky voice, he read out of his phone:

”Let’s say you went to this party in company of a friend. You guys met up with a bunch of other friends and some new people. As time went on, it became clear that everyone is focused only on your friend and totally ignored you. In fact, no one even bothered to acknowledge your presence and you felt invisible. You felt worthless, humiliated and even hurt. You began to despise those people for the treatment of you”.

Then he paused for a few second, looked up and then continued….
”This may sound overly dramatic guys but that describes in a nutshell how I feel being a dad right now. For these kids, it’s all about mum and I feel totally ignored and almost forgotten”.

There was an eerie silence in the room for a good one minute or thereabout. Joe did not elaborate on what transpired prior to coming  but it was clear that whatever was the home situation left him feeling alone and unappreciated.

Every one of us was very quiet and seemed buried in some deep introspection. On a personal note, I reflected on the few moments spent breeding the uncomfortable (albeit childish) feeling that my own status as a dad will forever lurk in wifey’s shadows.  It was like that epiphany moment when a certain universal truth suddenly came to light. I tried to break the silence attempting to explain why mothers are deserving of all the attention and affection. In the end, we all agreed that though mum will always be special but that society tend to downplay the role of dads in the family and in many cases are treated like the third wheel. It gets even worse in the twilight years when all the attention is focused on mothers with very little care of how dad is faring.

There was an interesting study done many years ago on this subject matter. In a poll of 2,000 dads, about two thirds of fathers feel left out of family life. A whopping 58 per cent think mums get the better deal as they have forged a strong relationship and routine with the kids whilst dads work long hours to provide for the family. The consequence is that dads no longer felt that they have an active and vital role in the upbringing of their own children.

In that same poll, 62 per cent of dads stated that their kids always run to their mother for advice for almost about everything. From school work to clothes to wear and food. When feeling unwell, about 74 per cent of children only want their mum for cuddles and reassurance. The result is half of dads feel unwanted and useless when spending time  with the children on their days off.The conclusion was that the super mums of today may have take-up every parental responsibility leading to dads feeling left out and unsure of what role is theirs.

It’s no secret that mums are more biologically attuned to the kids. This affinity often triggers a cycle of attention and alone time( for mums and kids) that leaves dad feeling totally left out. Moreso when the daily hustle is such that forces dad to be away from home for too long. Though times have changed and we are noticing a steady decline in the number of stay-at-home mums, men predominantly are still the primary provider in most homes. This translates to long hours of being away from home.

Unfortunately when it comes to kids, time spent together is time to bond. There’s no other way to hack around it and it’s not mum’s fault.

Most successful co-parenting model is the type that allows for some kind of specialization whenever possible instead of one person offering all the experience. If one parent gets the kids ready for school, let the other parent handle the homework, for example. Sarah Shoppe-Sullivan, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University is a chief proponent of this idea. Allowing dad or mum to be that other parent works wonders and keeps everyone happy, she said.

Being a dad is inarguably one of the most fullfilling gift a man can ever ask for, yet a good number of men grapple with confusion ,self doubt and even a feeling of emptiness.

Part of the problem is the very nature of men that make us less expressive of our feelings. That said, our society has to start according more recognition to the pivotal role men play in the family unit and their yearning to be actively involved raising their children.

Osmund Agbo MD, FCCP writes from Houston


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