Blog 9: Being A Dad

Written by Jim Sheehy

Before I begin, I want to thank Ann Boyle from Killybegs for composing the artwork inspired by the words in this blog. 

Being a Dad today is both fresh and inviting because of men realising what their own Dads missed out on but also frustrating as the parenting role has so traditionally been associated with Mum.  Let me explain.

Men are changing in merging their historical role as protector, decision-maker and provider in the family with more nurturing, affective or feeling aspects of parenting.  There is just as much happening in the world of Dads as indeed there is the Mum zone. 

So back to basic training for many men whose experience of their own Dads resembled a desert devoid of emotional and relational skill.  And where do modern Dads go for this basic training.  Rather than attend programmes based on developing skills such as loving empathically and communicating across the spectrum of vulnerability and strength, men are usually dependent on noticing other Dads whose relationship with children attract something in them.  These Dads seem grounded, able to talk easily to their kids, seem to be comfortable in their role.  They model for us as struggling Dads what’s possible if we get our stuff together. 

What makes the basis of what children look for in a good Dad.  They need to feel safe so they drift toward the man they want to ‘get them’, live and move inside their skin, their head, their feeling world.  When children at whatever age are shaken badly by adverse experience, they naturally weave a path to the chosen few they have chosen as their ‘trust and wisdom figures’.  Is Dad going to be in that group? The place is hard-won and the standard extremely high.  The child is looking for huge consistency in Dad being available as a minimum requirement, having oodles of empathy, knowing when to hold and contain (often saying nothing but attuning with their terrified eyes, stroking their cold, clammy hand, hugging softly their quivering heart).  The child tests Dad, intuitively asking the question: ‘Dad, if you are going to be the one I choose to trust, have you done your inner stuff, sorted out the baggage in your life?’.  Dad either passes that test or not. 

I have had many Dads in therapy who arrive because their family members have noticed their irritability, their quieter mood, their drifting into an isolated place.  It’s amazing when I enquire regarding the age of their children.  One Dad mentioned not getting on with his 8 year old son.  Something had triggered inside him negatively when his child reached 8.  When we explored his life journey, it emerged that very disturbing stuff had taken place regarding his own Dad when he was that age.  What had happened was that my client, a very good guy and Dad, had suddenly a mirror-image of his wounded self walking around him in the shape of his wee lad.  He saw and felt the vulnerability of his child but needed to unfreeze his own terrified, abandoned heart and mind before he could resume being the Dad his lad needed.  When he did his inner work, he spoke tenderly of how he knew, absolutely knew in every fibre of his being when his son needed him.  There was now a bond forming that would be lifelong and rich. 

Sadly, I often have men in similar cases who have anaesthetised the pain through addiction, violence or isolation.  Their children have come and gone with little contact.  Dad is a random thought in their lives. 

So ask yourself some questions today: am I comfortable in my own skin, in my feeling and thinking world?; when my kids are an emotional mess, am I one of the precious few they lean on to get through the storm?; if I struggle, am I prepared to go the extra mile for my child, to get my inner stuff sorted?

Men are innately brave, showing it best when they allow themselves to be seen as vulnerable.  What an amazing gift to a child when they see their Dad admitting ‘I’m fucked up inside, I don’t know what’s wrong but I know someone who can help me.’ I’ll finish with a scenario when one such Dad had done just that - got the help he needed.  He was in the kitchen late at night when his his 16 year old daughter, with whom he had had a very tempestuous relationship in the previous 2 years, appeared at the side of the door.  She just stood, limp and gazing in silence, across at her Dad.  He looked back.  There were moments, just a few, when they communicated only with their eyes and he noticed the tear-stained cheek.  The girl herself was lost, an inner mess, but now Dad was back, really home.  Back and available.  In himself, he was comfortable holding her pain as he he hugged her tight. 

I’ll finish this by saying that no Dad has all the qualities a child is attracted to.  Children find the mentoring and modelling they need in uncles, grandads, coaches, teachers, therapists etc.  Many men, including myself, have no children.  Yet they have fantastic qualities.  My own Dad was very often busy at work and not available.  At 13,   I found a football coach, a single man, who just clicked with me.  He was the first of several male mentors who ‘got me’ and these men I will always be indebted to.  If you are the friend of a ‘struggling Dad’ and reading or listening to this, can you be the bridge to help him find the support he needs. 

Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.






Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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