Being fathers, becoming fathers: what kind of experience is it? What does it mean, how is it lived, what can the goals be?
Men "become" fathers even more than women become mothers. Mothers have the generative project within themselves, while men become fathers through time and, on the way, are constantly called to reconfirm the role.
An important dimension that—in my view—must always be remembered is that while fatherhood "happens," it depends also and above all on an intention, a choice, which cannot be entirely planned and predicted, especially with respect to its developments and the possible results. Therefore, it is an experience that requires commitment and needs constant confirmation: it implies choosing again and again to be a father, in relation with the changes that take place over the years in the fathers themselves and especially in the children, who grow up and ask for fathers who are present and different, attentive and listening to the changes and different requirements in their lives. This, then, means fathers who help their children to grow up, not by directing their growth, but by providing an adequate mental, emotional and relational space, so that they succeed in becoming adult and autonomous.
Truly wise paternity is generative fatherhood that is attentive not so much to its own expectations and in quest of self-confirmation, but rather a paternity oriented toward others: the fathers are those who exist "before" the children in order to enable the latter to advance and become persons.
The father to son bond is an ethical and social tie that, while looking towards the past, opens and introduces into tradition, into the world of values and culture, helping the child to enter into the social sphere, which provides and proposes necessary meanings for understanding and not succumbing, physically and psychologically, in the world, in the community. The bond of child to father is, conversely, turned toward the future, sensitive to the dimension of the expectation of what does not yet exist, of the future and potential, something of which one only perceive certain aspects, but that attracts and challenges.
Now, a part of the father’s role is to convey the possibility of this look to the future: often the fathers are worried, they are afraid to let this gaze wander, discover and move away; they are unsure about the heritage to be transmitted, blocked by the doubt of being wrong, of not being up to the task, with the risk that the child seeing the possibility of his/her desire, hope, and, somehow, of his/her human growth impeded.
I think that being a father means knowing how to say and show to a child that life has meaning, leaving his child the task of finding this sense: here, then, is perhaps where the heritage fits in, the gift that the father can bequeath to his child in his/her human adventure.
associate professor in Developmental Psychology and Education, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan.