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Challenges and Rewards of Fatherhood

Posted By Barry J. Jacobs & Meghana Giridhar, Wednesday, June 15, 2016


This piece is a reprint of a post from on June 14th, 2016. Printed here with permission. Click here for the original publication.

Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist, family therapist and the co-author (with his wife, Julia Mayer, Psy.D.) of the book, AARP Meditations for Caregivers—Practical, Emotional, and Spiritual Support for You and Your Family (Da Capo Press, July 2016). His first book, The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers—Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent (Guilford, 2006), was named the best book on family caregiving by the popular Ask Amy syndicated newspaper column. Here are his perspectives on fatherhood as we near Father’s Day that will be celebrated on June 19th, 2016.


How significant is Father’s Day for you?

Father’s Day always brings me mixed feelings. Of course I love the cards and well wishes and a little extra attention that I receive from my daughter and son, now in their early-20s. But the death of Morton W. Jacobs, my father, due to brain cancer when I was 15 left a huge void in my life at a time when, as an unruly adolescent, I could have used strong male guidance. Father’s Day, unfortunately, is a reminder to me of his absence today and during those important formative years for me.


How was your relationship with your father as a child?

My father was a strong, sturdy guy--a former college boxer and football player and World War II Air Force sergeant--who had married late in life and didn’t have me, his first born, until he was 37. I can remember thinking as a child that he was so much older than my friends’ fathers and so much more old-fashioned in his dress and attitudes. He could be patient and loving. He spent endless hours teaching my younger brother and me how to play baseball and then rooting loudly for us during our Little League games. But my father also commanded complete obedience. If I horsed around or teased my brother too much when he was in a bad mood, his anger was swift and harsh. He could fly off the handle without much provocation. I loved and admired him but was also intimidated by him.


Did it change as time passed? How so?

When I was 14, I was just beginning to express my own thoughts more readily. I could talk to peers and talk back to teachers but my biggest test would be to stand up against my father’s stern will. At about the same time, however, my father suddenly showed the first symptoms of his brain cancer: He lost the power to converse intelligibly as malignant cells invaded the speech center of the left hemisphere of his brain. There could be no debating him after that. Our relationship had radically changed in an instant. Rather than parrying with him, I was now caring for him as my mother’s deputized assistant caregiver. I’d come home from school and sit in our den watching TV with him. But there was little conversation about the TV shows or his cancer or any burgeoning ideas I might have been having. We were with one another but didn’t talk much from that point forward until his death 10 months later.


How has that influenced your relationship with you children?

With my daughter and son, I’ve attempted to be a different kind of parent than my father was. I’ve kept my own anger in check and have tried to be respectful of and responsive to my children’s viewpoints. But there are many ways that I’m still my father’s son. He was workaholic lawyer. I’m a workaholic psychologist and writer. He was often distracted and irritable when immersed in projects. As my family will attest, the same goes for me. In a similar way that I am critical of my father, my children are critical of me. That’s the right of every young generation reacting to the old.


What is the toughest thing to accept as a son to your father?

That he and I didn’t have the time together for our relationship to grow into one between mutually respectful adults. That he never got to see me become a man. That I never got to see him mellow with age. All got cut short by cancer. But my father is still with me. For the past 40 years, I’ve measured myself against my memories of him as a gentle, furious, complex person. I believe he would be proud of me—but probably not without his own critical asides. During this Father’s Day, as with every other, he and our relationship will be on my mind.


Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D. is the Director of the Behavioral Sciences for the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency and the lead faculty member for its super-utilizer program, the Crozer Connections the Health Team, and the Camden-Cooper-Crozer Hot-Spotting and Super-Utilizer Fellowship Program. He is also the author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers (Guilford, 2006).

Meghana Giridhar serves as Content Manager and is part of eCareDiary's founding team. In her role, she oversees and edits content across all of eCareDiary's media platforms. - See more at:

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