FATHOMING THE FEELINGS RELEASED BY FATHERHOOD Brad Sachs of Columbia studies them as a father and as a psychologist


If the child is father of the man, as a famous poet once wrote, it seems to somehow follow that the man can rediscover the child within himself by fathering his own child.

That's Brad Sachs' theory, anyway, and like millions of other fathers he just might be putting the theory to the test today as he celebrates Father's Day with his children.

And even though Dr. Sachs -- the father of Joshua, 4, and Matthew, 1 -- knows just how consuming fatherhood can be, it isn't something that he'll leave behind as many men do when they head out the door for work Monday morning.

Dr. Sachs, 34, a Columbia psychologist, is director of a program called the Father Center, which offers therapy, workshops and public lectures. He has an interest in fathering that first developed academically, then grew with his own clinical work. Finally, it became intensely personal when his own sons were born.

What he has found in his studies and in counseling and in interviews with hundreds of fathers and fathers-to-be, Dr. Sachs says, are deep feelings that lie untapped and conflicting emotions that often remain undealt with.

"It's very difficult for men to share the experience of being a father, even with their own sons. The sons might want to ask, 'What was it like for you, Dad, what was in your heart?' but it's hard to share these things.

"Men get anxious and panic about what's being stirred," he says of the feelings that often come with fatherhood. "It's an uphill battle in this culture for men to become less peripheral in family life. Women still run the show, buy the presents, make the doctors' appointments, do all the little things that make a family a family."

Uphill though the battle may be, it has been joined at least nominally by no less a body than the U.S. Congress. Last week Representative Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, convened a hearing to examine the role that fathers play in parenting and look at how their work environment can be more helpful in supporting that role.

The news was hardly encouraging. According to James Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute, a New York research organization, working fathers are an "invisible dilemma" for corporate America, which does not even recognize the concept of working fathers as a group with special needs in the workplace.

That's just the kind of deficit that Brad Sachs found back in the mid-'80s when he moved from a career as a middle school English teacher to study psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and was looking for a subject for his doctoral dissertation.

"My interest in fathering started to emerge gradually," he recalls, "as I looked around and saw that almost nothing had been done researchwise. The field was wide open. Everything was mother-focused, or mother-blaming."

His dissertation explored changing feelings in expectant fathers and how a man's relationship with his own father changes when he becomes a father. He had no problem convincing his professors that this was a valid area of research. "People recognized that this was an area that needed to be explored," he says.

But though his work was well-received in academic circles, Dr. Sachs found the popular market nowhere near as receptive. "I hit a wall with the popular press," he says. "Publications I first contacted, magazines like Redbook, Woman's Day and McCalls, were very clear that there wouldn't be much interest. They were just very skittish. There was such a solid denial, a rigidity, a steeliness against this topic, it was really stunning."

Not that he was reporting findings that shook the foundations of American manhood.

He predicted his own results before his research proved that men experiencing fatherhood for the first time manifested changes in the way they thought about themselves. It turned out, he says, "to show up not as saliently as I had expected. But I soon realized why: I needed to look at the whole thing more longitudinally, over a longer span. I realized that it really is a several-year transition, not just something that happens from conception to birth."

Though the data about relationships of new fathers with their own fathers was not conclusive, he found in some men "dramatic" changes in their feelings about their own fathers. "They had this desire, this yearning for their fathers to be there, to be a piece of what was going on," he says of many of his subjects. "And that is unsettling. He [the new father] doesn't expect this, he feels embarrassed, sheepish.

"It's a primal feeling, but many men fight it off. They throw themselves into their work; there's an avoidance."

Exploring the field forced Dr. Sachs to examine his relationship with his own father, and what he found fit right into the pattern his research was unfolding.

"I looked back to my relationship with my father and saw that we had missed a lot with each other and he had missed a lot with his own father," he says. "We were yearning to fill those gaps."

He adds quickly, "It wasn't that he didn't care or love, but the gap was in the way he showed it. He was very devoted, but men of that generation were devoted in a way that led them to provide more authoritarianly or financially, rather than emotionally."

These were thoughts that were becoming more and more personally meaningful to Dr. Sachs and his wife, Karen Meckler, a psychiatrist, as they decided to start a family of their own. They ran into roadblocks, however, and it would take consultation with fertility specialists and more than two years of disappointment before Dr. Meckler became pregnant.

"It was a long and painful haul with a lot of ache and disappointment," Dr. Sachs says of those difficult months, and he recalls with a little smile his feelings when his wife finally

became pregnant.

"I haven't been back there for a while. These days, with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, I'm always on the run. I felt elated and overwhelmed. There was an enormous sense of a burden being lifted. But there was also an enormous fear -- what would it be like?"

The fear fueled creative urges. Dr. Sachs is a trained musician, with more than a dozen years of classical piano and composition lessons, and years more of playing soft rock and folk music with bar bands. His songwriting instincts were stirred by the feelings of expectant fatherhood. Musical gestation turned out to be even longer than human gestation, however, and the songs he began writing when his wife was pregnant with Joshua came out just last year on a cassette entitled "Opening Day."

The cassette -- which cost Dr. Sachs about $10,000 to produce and was recorded at Roar Productions in Columbia -- is being sold through baby stores, childbirth classes and catalogs. The first run of 5,000 tapes is "about sold out," Dr. Sachs says, adding, "I didn't think it would do this well." Songs deal with different aspects and emotions of fatherhood -- the fear, the joy, the excitement, the love.

In song he also gets into what he has seen as a recurring theme in many of the fathers he has worked with in his practice.

"Men get fearful when they start to feel their own turbulent emotionality" that comes with being a father, he explains. "When they see that fatherhood doesn't lead you to feel competent and masterful, but instead stirs up neediness and problems. Fatherhood makes you feel like a child, it takes you back to all your ancient, vulnerable places."

But, he continues, this shouldn't be looked upon as necessarily negative. "You have an opportunity to walk through [your past] with the perspective and wisdom of an adult and repair what was hurt, heal what was wounded, fill in what was missing. As men go through that, the experience becomes transformative and growth-enhancing. But if they continue fighting it, it's a tough way to live. I see men become workaholic or alcoholic and it gets harder and harder for them as each year goes by."

Broadening roles for women are forcing a redefinition of fatherhood, to some extent, and Dr. Sachs sees this in at least one tangible way: Magazines that once rejected his articles are now showing much more interest. The magazines specifically directed to parents are the ones most receptive to his work, he says, and he writes a regular question-and-answer column on fathering for American Baby magazine every month.

In his psychology practice, the Father Center accounts for only about 10 percent of his business, he says, although he is getting an increasing number of requests to speak about the subject, especially out of town. He also has a book of poems about expectant fatherhood scheduled for publication in the fall; a cassette of guided imagery and hypnosis exercises to help men participate in childbirth, also due this fall; and another cassette of songs about fatherhood planned for release next spring.

A father's lullabye

By Brad Sachs

. . . And you'll find that you'll be sleeping

To your father's lullabye

And in the darkness you will taste

The tears that I have cried

You'll find that you are sleeping

To your father's lullabye

And your dreams will merge with mine

Will I fault you as I fault

All my steps that wander astray?

Will I hold you as I can't seem to hold

The lost child in me that falters by the way?

I will know that you are sleeping

To your father's lullabye

And to this solemn melody

You'll swim my secret tides

I'll know that you are sleeping

To your father's lullabye

And your dreams will echo mine . . .

From "Your Father's Lullabye,"

copyright 1990 by Brad Sachs.

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