06/14/2013 06:46 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

What Dad Really Needs On Father's Day

It's that time of year again... when thoughts and feelings turn toward dads: the father who has cared for you since birth, the husband who is the father of your children, the stepfather who has stepped in, the father-in-law you gained and the brothers and brothers-in-laws who surround you. Most likely you care deeply about these fathers, and want to please them, but you fear you may fall short. Are you worried about how the day will play out? Trying to put your head around how to orchestrate sequential meals and memorable moments for the men you love? Will you satisfy them with a present, a kind word, a hug, a caring gesture... anything? What is the secret to ensuring that the fathers in your life can be made "happy"?

Every year you go through the motions. And yet, at the end of the day, despite your attempts to make it special, even if you had only modest expectations, you're not quite satisfied. That's because you know in your heart that the fathers in your life, aren't either.

What basic truths are you missing? You listen to the list of gift requests your father or husband gives you, and you heed what he says about how he wants to spend his day. The problem is that what he says he wants, and what he really wants and needs, may be very different. Don't feel guilty about not understanding that; he might not understand it himself... especially if he's a Manopause man.

No doubt you have given him the typical Father's Day gifts over the years -- the ties, the sweaters, the golf balls, even the tool sets. But what about the gift he's truly craving... the "gift of understanding"?

You need to realize that being a father is an important aspect of manhood. It's essential to a man's self-esteem and sense of worth. A man who successfully provides for his family, financially, emotionally and spiritually, is respected by society. That respect makes him feel strong, powerful and invulnerable. But respect isn't a given; it has to be earned every day. And that's hard, since there is so much men can't control, especially at midlife.

This is the time when Manopause men, all men between the ages of 40 and 65, are going through physical and psychological changes, changes they may not recognize or understand themselves... at least consciously. Thanks to their testosterone levels dropping, their hair begins to recede, their bellies pouch, their muscles shrink, their moods fluctuate and, most importantly, their inner confidence flags. Buying into our culture's unrelenting pressure to "be a man," they fight these changes tooth and nail. Considering everything our men continue to do for us while they are going through this battle, they deserve more than just one day to be honored and understood. But our culture discourages men from acknowledging or accepting their changes, let alone sharing them. They are expected to remain silent and just "man up." ... Not!

Ideally, men should be comfortable speaking up and telling you what they are truly feeling. But since they generally fear showing vulnerability or communicating about their emotions, this can be as difficult as climbing Mount Everest on one foot. Which means it's up to you to decipher what they need to ease their path toward "father happiness." Otherwise, a well-intended Father's Day celebration could turn into an awkward and uncomfortable situation, rife with misunderstandings and disappointment.

You can prevent this by understanding the special challenges your Manopause father may have, and by being prepared to help him with them.

Four Father's Day Facts

  • He Needs To Feel Worthy. A Manopause father may have children maturing, gaining independence or leaving home, which makes him feel less useful, less important, less needed and less purposeful in life. Or at work he could be feeling less valuable and more threatened as younger men nip at his heels. This forces him to worry about his ability to provide for his family.
  • He Needs To Be Respected. A Manopause father may have children who have gained attention for their own achievements on the way to adulthood, which can breed insecurity in him, or perhaps leave him feeling threatened. Or, if the son is a new father, he may be stealing the focus from the patriarch, who is accustomed to being the leader of the family.
  • He Needs To Feel Comfortable Feeling Vulnerable. Because of our culture's strict male codes, a Manopause father often pushes down his fears of change in hopes of concealing his perceived weaknesses. In reaction to his denial, anxiety grows within him and surfaces as irritability, hypersensitivity, mood swings, even depression.
  • He Needs To Accept Change. The young father sees his children as his future. The Mano Dad may perceive his life as being half over, with a much more limited future. So instead of feeling pride, he feels a lack of control. This can drain the joy from Father's Day.

Four Father's Day Fixes

  • Help Him Feel Worthy. Encourage children to communicate how much Mano Dad's advice, guidance and life experience are vital, welcomed and cherished. Suggest a plan for them to regularly talk with their father and continue to gain from his life experience.
  • Help Him Feel Respected. Promote storytelling in which you and your children offer comments about how everyone's beliefs and achievements have been influenced by Mano Dad's philosophies and the way he did things. Consider putting it in a card. It will have much greater meaning than any other gift you would give.
  • Give Him Permission To Feel Emotional And Vulnerable. As his partner, encourage him to let go of the strict male codes that are emotionally inhibiting him. Help him tell his children how much they mean to him. Or, invite him to communicate how he is truly feeling on this day, good or bad. You can start the conversation by giving him a list of the things he has done as a father that you most admire. Being open yourself can help him to be open, too.
  • Keep Him Feeling n Control As He Tries To Accept Change. Be sensitive to his feelings of mortality, including his need to maintain control over his life as he ages. On Father's Day, give him the deciding vote as to the day's plans. Obviously there's much in life he can't control, so help him focus on things that he can. For example, instead of focusing on his inability to move the stock market or his natural testosterone level up, encourage him to focus on things he enjoys and can control such as the hobbies he chooses, or the activities he enjoys with friends.

It can be challenging to buck the cultural pressures you and the men in your life have been socialized with since birth. But the more you reinforce these new ways of thinking and support the deeper needs of the fathers in your life, the higher the chances these men will be secure and happy as they age. It's the best gift of all... for him, and for you!

Put these suggestions into action, and you will be celebrating a new kind of man on Father's Day: a man who can feel satisfied, even happy with himself, 365 days a year.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Top 10 Signs Of A Midlife Crisis