The Perils of Trying to be the Perfect Father
All Ian ever wanted was a family that he created, happy and appreciative of each other. He had
a dream of a happy ever after that would not fight, feel bad or want for much else. In other
words he longed for a family life where his wife and children would be content and fulfilled by
one another. If he could achieve that vision he would have compensated for the messy
childhood he had, where his biological father wasn’t in his life and his adoptive father stayed in
the background – having a substitute father in his mother’s ex-husband.
But when he was on the cusp of creating this happy family, as his first child was developing in
Lauren’s (his wife) womb, he felt threatened, upended and terrified that he was going to
swallowed up in the process. Memories of his childhood was of taking care of his mother, and
even though he wanted to take care of his own child, there was a voice in his head that
resented having to be the care taker again – as if the last chance he had to be the one taken
care of was gone forever.
Being a dad for the first time brings with it a huge mix of emotions. Surprise, shock, fear,
excitement, inadequacy, dread and numbness. Fatherhood is an awesome responsibility and
more so for those prospective dads who didn’t have a dad growing up, or who had negligible
parenting from a father. Maybe their dads were never around or were in and out of their lives,
but it felt to their boy that he wasn’t important and that fathering was a burden.
prospective father you may be thrilled at having a baby, there is also the fear that your
twosome is going to be a threesome, and that life will never be the same again. It’s a huge
adjustment and most prospective dad’s don’t talk about their very real fears about the changes
in the relationship from being partners to being co-parents.
Here are some of the fears that a prospective dad may have:
- Will my partner be so in love with the baby that I won’t matter anymore?
- Will the baby come between me and my partner?
- Will my partner trust me to attend to the baby or will she shove me out of the way and
make me feel useless?
- Will my partner lose interest in sex and use the birth and breast feeding as an excuse?
- Will the baby enjoy me taking care of it or scream for mom?
- Will there be any place in the home where it’s a space just for me?
- Am I signing up for a life of permanent slavery that will make me feel guilty about ever
doing something for myself?
- Will I hate and envy my kids because they get everything I didn’t?
- I’m ashamed of myself for all these selfish feelings
- Will I be just like my mother and father and mess up my child’s life?
- Will I ever be a good enough father and have my partner and child acknowledge it?
- Will my child grow up desperate to get away from me, making me sad and empty as a
was nice and appreciative, Ian found himself failing as a husband, father, son, and son-in-law.
Terrorized by the fear that he would be squeezed out of the relationship with his wife; and that
he had to give up all his time to parenting, Ian fluctuated from looking forward to having the
family he always wanted, to experiencing them as a boa constrictor choking him to death.
Happy, scared and enraged as a parent of infants and toddlers made Ian envy the love
and care they got, that he didn’t. His envious rage made him impatient as he tried to be
the perfect father and discovered that he couldn’t control his children by demanding
their obedience. He hated himself for not being the calm, understanding and comforting
parent. He was at war with himself – one part taking care of his own need for sleep,
time with his wife, and peace and quiet while the other part wanting to be acknowledged
and valued by his wife for being the perfect father and co-parent. Getting the parenting
he never had in the therapeutic relationship helped Ian become the parent he needed to
be rather than outdo his own parents in an effort to feel good about himself.
Excerpt: this piece shows how Ian becomes aware of his needs for attention and his envy of his
daughter through the dialogue in a therapy session.
“Well, I guess I want Lauren to tend to me when I come home from work. I wish Rhianna
wouldn’t take up the precious time I have with Lauren before we are both too exhausted to
“So you’re envious of Rhianna. That’s understandable, given that you missed out on it in your
childhood. What’s it like for you to feel competitive for Lauren’s attention?”
“I hate it. I know Rhianna has to come first, and I understand that she needs feeding, bathing
and having her stories before bed at the same time as I want to be with Lauren.”
“So you have a huge conflict. One part of you wants to share in the parenting of your young
daughter, but another part is getting triggered, wanting the same type of care. One part of you
is angry with Lauren for being a good mom to Rhianna while not offering Little Ian the same
care and attention he craves.”
“Yes, that’s about the sum of it,” he mumbled, clearly irritated.
“So Big Ian has to try to manage envy, rage and despair at being unfairly discriminated against,
but has to participate in giving his rival what belongs to him!” I paused, anxious to note the
impact on him. Then I added, “Yet another part of you is ashamed that you have these strong
emotions, which seem to increase in intensity, despite your attempts to tame them.” Page 160-161
Are you resonating with the pain in Ian’s life? You can read more about the connection
between Ian’s physical and emotional pain and how he came to recognize what it meant.
Ian: From Feeling Unwanted to Wanting to Feel
Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph. D. (Author)
Trapped by the Burden to be Perfect