Midlife Fatherhood: The Ultimate Rite of Passage for Men

Photo by Derek Thompson / Unsplash.com

On November 21, 1969, I held my newborn son, Jemal, in my arms and I made a vow that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me. I promised him I would do everything I could to create a world where fathers were fully healthy and involved with their families throughout their lives. Following the birth of our daughter, Angela, three years later, I founded MenAlive to help fathers and families to live fully healthy lives.

            My midlife father had a much more challenging journey. I was only five years old when he left and it wasn’t until much later, when I was a father myself, that I found the journals he had written during the time he was going through his own midlife hell at age of forty-two:

            July 3: “Oh, Christ, if I can only give my son a decent education—a college decree with a love for books, a love for people, good, solid knowledge. No guidance was given to me. I slogged and slobbered and blundered through two-thirds of my life.”

            August 8: “Sunday morning, my humanness has fled, my sense of comedy has gone down the drain. I’m tired, hopelessly tired, surrounded by an immense brick wall, a blood-spattered brick world, splattered with my blood, where I senselessly banged to find an opening. How can I give my wife and son what they need?”

            September 12: “A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, have run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.”

December 4: “All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying. My hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

Five days after his last entry, my father took an overdose of sleeping pills. Though he didn’t die our lives were never the same. I grew up wondering what happened to my father, when it would happen to me, and what I could do to keep it from happening to other families. My father was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital north of Los Angeles where we lived. He was locked up for years and got worse and worse, until he finally escaped. I described his story and his ultimate healing journey in my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound.

I was twenty-six when my son was born and was blessed by his birth, but also terrified I would end up like my father. I denied my own father-wound and thought I could outrun the fears that kept me awake at night and plagued my dreams. That changed when I joined a men’s group when I was thirty-six.

Our group has continued to meet regularly now for forty-five years. I believe the group saved my life, literally. There were times that their love and support kept me going when I felt lost in despair. What I learned has enabled me to become a better husband and father. My wife, Carlin, says she believes that the main reason we have had a successful forty-four year marriage is because I’ve been in a men’s group for forty-five years.

Another midlife father, Dan Doty, believes in the healing power of men’s groups. Dan is a global men’s work leader, executive coach, and somatic meditation teacher. As founder of EVRYMAN, Fatherhood Unlocked, and Rite of Passage, he leads the contemporary cultural conversation around masculinity, fatherhood, and spirituality. He is also a long-time friend and colleague. “Fatherhood today asks men to grow and evolve in an unprecedented manner,” says Dan. “Along with the traditional responsibilities of protector and provider, today’s dads need to be connected, present, nurturing, and full partners in life.”

When my children were young I hungered to become a great father, but I lacked the skills. I grew up without a dad and it took me many years before I recognized the hole that was created when he left. Roland Warren, President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, says

“Kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad. And if a father is unwilling or unable to fill that role, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.”

Dan Doty wants to heal the father wound that is so pervasive in our society.

“Loneliness and isolation is the name of the game for most dads,”

says Dan.

“We may have friends, but not the ones we’d call at midnight when we’re in a panic. We rarely have the type of community and support that truly allows us to perform at high levels.”

And I would add, to become the fathers we all need and want to be.

I’m 100% in agreement with Dan when he says,

“Of all the possible types of support, a regularly occurring men’s group carries the most impact of anything we know of.”

That’s why I was excited to hear about his new program called “Father’s Fire.” Dan says,

“Father’s Fire is a professionally guided weekly men’s group for dads who are willing to step into the fire of life and lead themselves, their families, and their communities into a better future.”

Dan says the program is open to fathers of any age, but most of the dads are in midlife and committed to high level success in all aspects of their lives. You can learn more about the Fathers’s Fire program here.

Dan has another exciting program I wish had been available when I first learned I was going to become a dad. It’s appropriately called Fatherhood Ready. Says Dan,

“We consider fatherhood a sacred responsibility, and the greatest opportunity for growth and maturity in a man’s life. It is an unending gauntlet that asks us to continually step up, sharpen, mature, open, soften, and lead. It brings immense pain and strife, and profound joy and love.”

In describing the program, Dan says,

“This program brings together the power and depth of an expertly guided men’s group and the wisdom of the best birth and parenting education around. This is a rite of passage, plus effective training on the most important topics of the early stage of fatherhood.”

I loved what I was hearing and asked Dan who would most benefit from the program. He told me Fatherhood Ready is for:

  • Expecting dads at any point along conception to pregnancy.
  • Men trying to conceive.
  • Fathers of newborns and babies in the postpartum period.
  • Men wrestling with a decision to become a father.

I have known Dan before he became a father and watched him grow stronger and more committed to fatherhood as each of his children, two sons and daughter, have come into the world and been welcomed by Dan and his wife. Dan is forty-two, the same age my father was when my dad was overwhelmed by fear, confusion, and his perceived inadequacy as a father.  

The contrast between Dan and my dad brings tears to my eyes wishing my father had been able to join Fatherhood Ready and Father’s Fire and part of a men’s support group. I know my father, wherever he is in the spirit world, would join me in also shedding tears of joy knowing these programs are available now to men and their families.

You can learn more about Dan and his work at DanDoty.com.

You can get information about Father’s Fire at DanDoty.com/Fathers-Fire.

If you are a father-to-be, a new father, or someone who care about fatherhood, check out Fatherhood Ready at dandoty.com/fatherhood-ready.

As for me, I’m now the father of five grown children, grandfather of seventeen, and a great grandfather of two. I write a regular article about the joys and challenges of being a man at MenAlive.com. I invite you to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter at menalive.com/email-newsletter/

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