In practical terms there are four core components that we believe are essential in making the see-saw model work. First is the fulcrum of the see-saw. We will call that commitment. The second is the lubricant of the apparatus and we will call that connection. The third component is balance which keeps everything in working order. Finally, since we are talking about people and not machines, we will add a fourth component that we will call belief—a recognition of something intangible within and among individuals.
The crucial component of commitment is one every parent and prospective parent must confront. It is our promise to our children to ensure that they will never face the deepest of all human anxieties—parental abandonment. Short of death, that is a child’s worst fear and a parent’s worst crime. It is the collective human dread that has no equal. It is the astronaut whose tether to the mother ship is cut, sending him hurtling out into endless space, loneliness, and nonexistence.
For many people who want to be parents, this sense of obligation is not automatic. They may not have come from stable family situations or may have lost a parent to divorce or death. When people are abandoned early in life, they are never free from the fear that it will happen again. They can spend a lifetime trying to master that fear in various ways. One way is to have one foot out the door, ready to leave before someone else leaves them. The decision to remain faithful to our commitments to loved ones, including children, can be excruciating, as Bob discovered when our oldest son was a baby.
When Commitment is Painful
When Aaron was about one year old, Bob had an epiphany in the bowels of a parking garage at his place of business. He understood with blinding clarity the pain that he would face in becoming the kind of father he wanted to be. A lesser man would have bailed.
One day in Ann Arbor, at the end of a work day, I left my office at about five o’clock and walked to my parked car in an underground structure that was directly across the street. As I went down the ramp to the damp, dimly lit parking area, I began thinking about Aaron, his needs and demands, and my inability to cope. I thought of Ellen and her uncertainty about mothering. I wanted to be a father who could take care of his son—to guide his son. I wanted to be a different kind of person. And I could not! Ellen could not! Nonetheless, I was responsible for him in every way! He was mine! And I lamented to myself, not in words, but in images, “My son, my little boy, what am I going to do?”
I began to cry in disappointment at myself, quietly at first, astonished. This is something I had not done for almost thirty years. I started to shiver, then sob uncontrollably as the images of my baby, my wife, my responsibility, my inability, and what I wanted, flashed through my mind at the speed of thought. There I was standing alone by my car, trembling and sobbing, as insights and images emerged and disappeared and emerged again—intense, clear, unmistakable, and undeniable. This cannot go on! I need help! I need help!
The decision to become a parent was a painful one for Bob as I believe it is for many men. It required real soul-searching. Tune in on Thursday to see how Bob handled that decision.
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Last reviewed: 7 Jul 2013