Life Imitating Art
It should be acknowledged that, minus the accompanying hyperbole, the above scenario is in fact true. And you only need to go as far as the internet to confirm: In fathers' online discussion forums, you'll find dads-to-be express emotions ranging from apprehension to outright panic to elation—and responses of support and/or advice from other men. And, on a more sobering note, there are often posts from pregnant women, apologetic for intruding but desperate for advice on how to deal with partners that have suddenly turned against the idea of having a baby—or who are leaving the relationship altogether.
Given the importance of communication between expecting parents, it's no wonder that, as the title of this article suggests, women want to know how their partners "really feel." A small part of the answer lies in the evidence I've presented so far: future dads will generally experience quite a bit of anxiety and self-doubt at what they perceive as the challenges ahead of them.
Freedom of Expression
The problem with typical guys, however, is that they don't tell their partners about these feelings. Because new parenthood can seem so formidable and all-consuming, the corresponding sense of inadequacy may be more than some men want to let themselves feel, let alone talk about. As Dr. Bruce Linton, a California psychologist and founder of the Fathers' Forum Online website says, "It's easy for an expectant dad to talk excitedly about the positives of becoming a father. It's much tougher to give voice to the equally important—and inevitable—feelings of fear and apprehension." Dr. Linton's advice to men is to "give yourself permission to express both your feelings of vulnerability and excitement. If we always play the part of men who are strong, we lose touch with a part of ourselves."
Dr. Linton's suggestion is simple enough but far from easy. It involves breaking old habits of processing feelings, and men who have difficulty expressing their emotions—or who have difficult emotions to express—will need to trace these feelings to their source. In an article titled "Five Myths of Fathering," Dr. Linton points to two main contributors to what men think and feel about fatherhood:
If you're like most new or expectant dads, you're probably carrying around some silent assumptions about what it means to be a father. Those ideas are rooted in your experiences with your own father and in what you believe society expects of a male parent.
We've already discussed some of the media representations that contribute to the stereotype of the bewildered, anxious dad, and we've mentioned the overcompensating strength-in-silence that according to Dr. Linton can keep men from talking about all their feelings. Expecting women who are aware of these messages their partners receive—messages which both reflect and perpetuate the fears men face—will better understand how the conflict between excitement and apprehension could lead these fathers-to-be to feel a bit unsure of how to summarize their feelings toward fatherhood.