Every year in June we celebrate Father's Day. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance recognize that the word "dad" means so many different things to so many different families. Some people have dads who have passed away or are not in their lives, some people are lucky enough to have two fathers; either by having gay dads or a stepfather. Families come in all shapes and sizes and we want to say "thank you" to all of the dads out there. Father's Day may be different for everyone however, it is virtually universal that it is a time where commercials and advertisements for ties and grilling accessories flood our screens. While those are great ways to celebrate a dad who works in an office or loves to grill, this year we want to challenge you to dig a little deeper for dad.
You may call your dad frequently. Maybe you ask him questions about family recipes or chat about his favorite sports team. When is the last time you asked dad; "Are you okay?" Not in terms of whether or not he has gotten his cholesterol in check, but whether he has made his mental health a priority. It was a longstanding societal ideal that dad was supposed to be the stern, breadwinner of the family who showed no weakness. Thankfully, the role of dad is evolving. Some dads have traded in corner offices for PTA meetings and scheduling therapy sessions for their children. Back in December, we had the pleasure of talking to Stay at Home Dad Rick Jenkins who mentioned that having such a hands-on role as his children grew up was something he "would do all over again in a second."
While the role of dads, and moms, are being shifted to fit families wants and needs rather than societies, toxic masculinity still exists. According to dictionary.com toxic masculinity is; "a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health." This concept is the reason that many men do not address mental health concerns that they may be having. Society has told them that they have to be "tough" and "take things like a man." If the role of a father in terms of being the breadwinner can change we think it's time to show dad that it is okay to prioritize his mental health.
We reached back out to Rick Jenkins to ask him his opinions on fatherhood and mental health. When thinking about his own father's mental health he explained; "My mom's whole life centered around her mental health. My father never talked about his mental health at all when I was a kid. When I was a teenager they went to marriage counseling and he started to open up. As I got older he was more involved in the mental health side, but I do think that was because my generation, who was more accepting, was becoming adults." He does remember his father being that stern, breadwinning figure in the family when he was a child. His father's mental health was not a topic that he would have felt comfortable addressing with him at that point.
Jenkins further explained that because of this he never really gave mental health much of a thought in his earlier life. One of his biggest regrets is not taking his mother's mental health more seriously when he was younger. He remembers thinking "why doesn't she just look at the positive things in life, I always thought she was being so negative," that was until Jenkins suffered from depression following heart surgery. "She was already very deep into dementia when I felt what she had been feeling during my childhood. I would give anything to go back and tell her I am sorry and that I understand now that she can't just start being happier. It doesn't work like that, which now I know."
He is not the only father who has suffered depression, or any other mental health challenge and had to keep on being a father to his children. His biggest piece of advice for fathers who are struggling with their mental health is to be transparent with your family. "A parent loves their kids before they love themselves. If you don’t want to tell your kids about it because you are embarrassed, do it for them. It could be genetic and they could be living with the same thing. It would be heartbreaking to think that because you didn't open up about your own mental health your child felt like they couldn't be open about theirs. Be an open book so they can learn about it and know that you are someone who they can turn to if they were to need it."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is often loved ones who recognize symptoms in the fathers, brothers, grandfathers, and husbands in their lives. They encourage family members to urge the men in their lives to seek help if they are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health challenge. Below are the list of possible symptoms of depression in men.
The National Institute of Mental Health offers some advice on how to take an active role in getting a man in your life mental health help, even if he denies the need:
"It’s important to remember that a person with depression cannot simply "snap out of it." It is also important to know that he may not recognize his symptoms and may not want to get professional treatment.
If you think someone has depression, you can support him by helping him find a doctor or mental health professional and then helping him make an appointment. Even men who have trouble recognizing that they are depressed may agree to seek help for physical symptoms, such as feeling tired or run down. They may be willing to talk with their regular health professional about a new difficulty they are having at work or losing interest in doing things they usually enjoy. Talking with a primary care provider may be a good first step toward learning about and treating possible depression.
Offering him support, understanding, patience, and encouragement
Listening carefully and talking with him
Never ignore comments about suicide, and alerting his therapist or doctor
Helping him increase his level of physical and social activity by inviting him out for hikes, games, and other events. If he says, “no,” keep trying, but don't push him to take on too much too soon.
Encouraging him to report any concerns about medications to his health care provider
Ensuring that he gets to his doctor's appointments
Reminding him that with time and treatment, the depression will lift"
This Father's Day give your dad a call and ask if he's okay. When he says "yes" and then goes on to a different topic be persistent and try and really see if he is okay and prioritizing his mental health. Use Father's Day as a reminder to check in on dad, but show him that you are always here for him all year round.
Have you seen us on Tik Tok? Click here to follow us and see our family-friendly content that shows that prioritizing mental health can be fun for the whole family! This week we are showing a unique gift that dad will appreciate way more than a tie, show him what you love most about him! For more information on why we joined Tik Tok and how you can best keep your kids safe on the app click here to read our blog on it.