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Building Emotional Muscle – The Future Of Fatherhood

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Tom Harkin trains men to develop their emotional muscle. The personal development expert and workshop facilitator is the founder of Tomorrow Man, a social enterprise aimed at starting a conversation among men to reinvent masculinity by challenging traditional stereotypes. Here, he talks about the evolution he hopes to see in fatherhood for the next generation.

My dream for dads of tomorrow is that they get to enjoy their whole life. The thing that kills me most about the narrow version of masculinity that we’ve had in the past and that still sits with a lot of blokes today, is they’re kind of dead inside. You’ve got all these grumpy old men who don’t dance, they don’t shed a tear, they don’t celebrate, and they don’t smile a whole lot. So much is robbed of a bloke when he has a narrow version of masculinity.

I grew up in a working class town, Frankston, and blokes there don’t dance. I moved to the city and I learned how to rock a dance floor and let loose on a Saturday night. When I went back for my ten year school reunion, I was the only bloke on the dance floor. It was sad. I’m out there rocking it with all the girls having a great time and I look around and there’s literally a ring of blokes standing around only able to tap their toes and hold their beer and have pretty basic conversation with the guy next to them.

There’s more life to be lived
for the man of tomorrow and the father of tomorrow.

We know the world is changing faster and faster and it’s presenting new challenges. And we’ve got this opportunity now as men to step up and lead the way in creating what the new man looks like.

He can connect with his kid, love his kid, hug and kiss his kid, have really meaningful, deep conversations with his children about their ups and downs are. He doesn’t need to be the silent, stoic bloke in the corner that just grunts and provides the money.

I’m looking forward to seeing guys embracing what might be called ‘feminine’ traits, but in a masculine form. Being able to let the tears roll down their cheek and not wipe them away. To push through talking with shaky voice, with your heat thumping, about the things that you’re struggling with and need help on.

It’s so much more exciting and it doesn’t need to look emasculating. It can look very masculine.

There is a myth that when a man talks about emotionally weighted issues that he looks like a woman. It’s not true. For Tomorrow Man we work around the country with men of all ages, the hardest blokes in Australia, and when a man talks honestly about his emotions it looks like a man talking honestly with emotion. It doesn’t look like a woman. And it’s charismatic, it’s really powerful and blokes unanimously respect it.

For a long time, women have had this battle cry; “We want it all, we don’t want to just be at home!” I think guys have now got that opportunity to also say; “We want it all”. You can blitz it at work and go hard when you’re doing that. But it shouldn’t have to rob you to having a meaningful emotional connection with your son or your daughter or your wife or your husband or whoever you want.

Whether that means crying tears because your daughter’s getting married or your kid has just done something remarkable, or you’re just sitting in your lounge room just looking at your child going, “I love you so much and it’s making me emotional”. That’s fine. It’s awesome. Because I’m alive and in love.

Or to be able to rock the dancefloor and have more fun. To let loose and not feel like that might be stupid. It’s one of those things that pisses me off so much, that the rules that we set up for young blokes often rob them of so many experiences. You end up with grumpy old men who didn’t need to be that way. They could be getting so much more out of life.

When you go to more liberal countries that do have a more expansive version of masculinity, you see grown men dancing down the street, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, hugging each other, laughing. Life’s too short to be stiff and lonely and not be able to express yourself or express affection for those you love, for them to know that you care about that.

And it’s such a crying shame that one of the only times that some men get to shed a tear is when they’re expressing high emotions, when team wins the Grand Final, when they’re victorious. Because when you lock out the low emotions, like vulnerability and just admitting that you’re struggling, if you clog that up, you also rob yourself of so many more of the highs. I think a lot of people don’t understand that. When you lose the lows, you also lose the highs.

So, in some ways, I think we’ve got to man up. Let’s not live within this bullshit, limiting stereotype that we didn’t write. Let’s not miss out. Let’s not hold tight and fearfully to an old model of masculinity and throw our toys out of the cot because we’re pissed off that things are changing. Things are changing and there’s no going back.

We’ve got an opportunity here to decide, what does the man of tomorrow look like? And what does the dad of tomorrow look like? Let’s discover it. Let’s be pioneers. Let’s step up and own this rather than being dragged into it. Let’s grab some of that great stuff back.

When my son River is grown up, I hope he’s able to reflect on a Dad who’s been there for him, physically and emotionally. A Dad who experiences a really full life.

I hope that he feels genuine love and respect for me. I hope he looks at me and he thinks, I love you dad because you have that connection with me.

I hope that he looks at me and says; “Thank you for having the courage to let me be my own man, but also thank you for giving me an example that gave me a foundation to start me on my way to discovering the man that I wanted to be”.

I hope that he looks at me and thinks, I want to hang out with you, but also want your advice. I want your guidance. I want your ear. And I want you to listen to me.

I hope he looks at me and thinks, I’m so proud of what my dad has done. And I want to emulate and extend on the mark he’s made.

And I hope he enjoys me, rather than fears me or pines for my approval, or pines for my connection. There’s so many men who I’ve met across the country, young and old, that just feel so starved of their old man’s love, connection and affirmation.

And I really want River to say, “Yeah I know my Dad loves me and thinks the world of me. I know he’ll tell me honestly when he thinks I’m out of line or doing something that’s not great for myself or the people around me. But I have a genuine connection with him. I know that he approves of me and loves me. And I admire his efforts to write a new way”.

That’s what I hope for the dad of tomorrow, including me.

This is an extract from The Father Hood: Inspiration For the New Dad Generation. Buy it here