FATHERBIRTH: A Close Encounter of the Fourth Kind
Fatherbirth is intended for an audience of parents-but specifically fathers-interested in understanding more about the "mystery and power of life itself captured in pre- and perinatal events. Consistent with current research on the topic, the authors propose that these events have a "profoundly significant role in stimulating the initial bonding process between parents and child and in catalyzing the personal growth of the parent." In the context of increasing numbers of child-abuse and other forms of violence, the authors see bonding as a way to increase "species identification-the capacity for humans to create and maintain connections with each other."
This beautifully laid-out book extends a true welcome to fathers and parents. Every page contains art-work relevant to the spiritual/parental issues discussed. Pictures, photos, poetry as well as quotes and different font-styles to highlight themes and ideas can be found on every page. The "main-body" of the text is kept in short readable paragraphs, every one of which is a self-contained unit. These characteristics make this book immensely readable and accessible. The book's claim is that pregnancy and birth speak to the soul; the authors have managed to reflect this in the very way they designed the book.
While loosely structured into four main chapters-The Building Blocks of the Mature Father, The Prenatal Period, The Birth: Perinatal Illumination Event, The Postpartum Period: Integration-the true focus of this book is on the Perinatal Illumination Event (PI) which receives its in-depth discussion in chapter 3. In this event, something "potentially transformational" happens to the father. If he is receptive to the power of this event, he will have access to a whole new understanding of himself, his partner and his child. The authors emphasize the importance of getting ready for this event and write that a father will continue to receive energy from this experience throughout his life, both individually and in relation to his family. It is almost as if perinatal illumination provides a kind of immunization that aids the father during later crises in the life of his family.
The authors' suggestions for how to prepare for this event are described in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 is an application of the King, Warrior, Magician and Lover archetypes (as proposed by Moore and Gillette, 1990). The authors' claim is that fathers need to learn how to balance the energies implied by these four archetypes in order to adequately face the task of fathering. Exercises, themes for reflection, and pictures for meditation are supplied, to guide the becoming father on this journey.
Chapter 2 focuses on the "birth of the father" that is inherent in the birth of a child. The authors emphasize that conception marks the point at which a becoming father begins his own pregnancy journey. This journey is profoundly life-changing in and of itself and entails, for many becoming fathers, a kind of identity crisis through which they must go in order to become fathers. The authors stress that throughout this time, a becoming father will likely look for guidance from his own father as well as want to bring his new insights about himself into his relationship with his pregnant partner. Moreover, they stress that a becoming father already needs to connect with his unborn child. This chapter too is filled with exercises to help the becoming father familiarize himself with these themes.
Chapter 4 takes a look at what fathers can do once their child is born. The authors' fundamental insight is that conflicting feelings post-birth are not part of just the mother's experience but can and do extend to fathers as well. They describe feelings of loneliness, unreality, loss of freedom, overwhelming responsibility, and fear of financial issues as normal responses to a father's adjustment period. They encourage him to express these responses to his partner, friends and other family members. The authors suggest that a father needs a balance of time with himself, with his partner, and with his baby, in order to feel he is successfully navigating this very difficult period of time.
This is the best book I have read on this topic in a while. Its message is poignant because it shows how fathering is embedded in the overall formation of bonds and attachments in the family and the world. Its creative layout, its sensitivity to fathering issues, and its courageous focus on perinatal fathering-a time that traditionally has been described as a time between mother and baby-make this book an invaluable resource for fathers. The authors seem to sense that for a becoming father, pregnancy and birth pose a spiritual crisis of a totally different kind from that of a becoming mother. It is a crisis that emerges from a fundamental emptiness, which is primarily resolved at the time of birth, when an "encounter of the fourth kind" takes place.
A single question that remains unanswered throughout the book is that of pregnancy and birth support for fathers. The book's language on fathers as coaches remains ambiguous. At times it seems implied that coaching is out of the question because pregnancy and birth are overwhelming for the father too. At other times, specifically in chapter 3, it seems that the idea that fathers can be readied to be birth coaches has more currency. The authors' intent, clearly, is to encourage fathers to embark on a journey towards themselves and to weave stronger ties with their partners. As they do this, however, and begin to realize not only their own pregnancy journey but their own pregnancy, the question of birth-support for fathers seems to resonate between the lines. This book is certainly setting the stage for answering this question positively.
Moore, Robert & Gillette, D. (1990). King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.