This week in the UK we celebrate Men’s Health Week and Father’s Day, so we asked Peter Traynor (a Breathworks Teacher-in-Training) to share his experiences of fatherhood and mindfulness. 

I recently did an online search looking for tips on 'self-care for Dads' for a weekly support group that I help to run for Fathers living in Leeds. The recommendations were all fairly sensible: eat better, move more, sleep well etc. There were also suggestions that would come under the heading of ‘mindfulness’, chief among these of course was meditation, but there were also less obvious suggestions like ‘listen more’, as well as encouragements to do things more slowly. These are all good places to start, but I found that the listicles were a little facile. They all offered advice without giving much depth or wider context, they only offered value as a signpost. What could really help support Dads in need?

There is also the question of whether mindfulness for Dads exists? Is there a difference between mindfulness for dads and mindfulness for men? And what about mindfulness for parents? Is there any value in making distinctions between men and women, dads and non-dads? 

Certainly statistically, men are more likely to die from suicide, alcoholism, depression and heart disease. According to figures, men are also more likely to hurt another person in anger (many anger management courses now teach mindfulness as a tool for managing frustration and violence). 

Dads can also be said to face a range of challenges specific to them. Whether it’s dealing with social perceptions of fatherhood, the changing role of men in the family and the workplace or how to set boundaries for children. The list goes on. 

So there does seem to be some value in thinking about self-care and mindfulness with a focus on men and Dads. But what would it look like? 

Thinking about my own experiences can be useful. 

I’m not a bad Dad by any means, but there’s always room for improvement. I am definitely the person most likely to respond to the daily challenges of a hectic family with anger or irritability, and my experience of working with other Dads tells me that this is a challenge for other men too. I take my hat off to the Buddha-like dads who can sail through the most hectic of times with a smile. 

A particular challenge for me is remaining calm amidst the chaos. I find it particularly hard when there are too many people talking to me at once, especially when I am doing something complicated like setting off on a long car journey whilst thinking about driving and numerous other things like whether the car has enough oil, how we will get to our destination, worrying whether the house is locked, and whether the lights are all set to come on. For a long time, my response to this kind of situation was to bang my fist on the dashboard, or table, or whatever was at hand. This is rarely a helpful way to respond. It upsets everyone and it has ruined more than one start to a family holiday.  

I have meditated for many years, and I can say that my levels of irritability have reduced since my late twenties partly because of this. Yet some years later, when I was blessed with a family, my irritation levels quickly went up again. Add to this the stresses of a career and it is fair to say that ‘grumpy Daddy’ was a regular visitor to our otherwise happy home. 

Becoming a mindfulness trainer with Breathworks marked a major shift for me in this respect. I did the Mindfulness for Health course before this, and it helped me to understand the value of a daily mindfulness practice. It placed the practice in a wider context, it wasn’t just advice to meditate but a considered and systematic approach to mindfulness. I started to grasp what mindfulness meant, at least from a Breathworks perspective, which was that pain and stress often starts in the body, and that we can deal with this by developing a more embodied way of being. It taught me about turning towards both the painful and the pleasant with kindness and that you could start simply by tuning into the breath. From this perspective we can look with fresh eyes on the world, and see ourselves as part of a greater whole, all of us breathing together, whatever else might divide us. 

Learning about the three emotional zones provided another perspective. It wasn’t me, it was my ancient physiology hijacking me! One that has protected us for hundreds of thousands of years, and what’s more one that could be brought under some control. 

The notion of the ‘Green Zone’ soon became a daily talking point in our house. Times where I would have once slammed the table, now ended in Daddy entering the ‘Green Zone’, where I was able to find a moment of somewhat calm amidst the chaos. It doesn’t always work, but it has worked often enough for my family to notice the changes in me. They are also more patient with me and less upset when I fail.

The Breathworks Teacher Training also helped me go further through reflection, diaries and conversations with my mentor, teachers and fellow students. It helped me to embed a daily practice and gave me a community who I could talk to about both the successes and failures I encountered.  

To return to my initial question – should mindfulness for men and Dads exist? My answer is yes. Mindfulness is a practice that can benefit all human beings. It can benefit men, women and all the wonderful shades in between. It has the capacity to help men with specific issues common in their lives, especially fatherhood. 

My own experience is that mindfulness has made me a better Dad, I’m less irritable and angry, and most importantly I’m more able to appreciate the gift of having a family. I am able to find pleasure (most of the time) in the wonderful treasure of three people all demanding my attention at the same time. 

Everyone loves a good list, and if a list is a way into mindfulness, for people and specifically for dads, then that is a good thing. It’s important to remember though that it’s just a start, and the real benefits that mindfulness brings requires a little bit of hard work and commitment. 

My experience of working with Dads is that hard work and commitment is what we are good at, you could even say we are hard-wired for it. We just need a little push in the right direction, and sometimes a bit of encouragement. 

So next time you’re in the chaos and it all feels too much, remember to breathe, connect and move towards the stress with kindness. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail. Happy Father’s Day.   

By Peter Traynor