Fatherhood isn’t a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Many men struggle over fears of inadequacy, wrestle with flashes of anger and tug against feelings of being overlooked. Isaac Rowe understands all these moments, and he’s here to help men tailor a better perspective. As husband to wife Amber and father to daughters Amali and Anavi, Rowe draws on his own experience to educate, strengthen and support men through The Man in Me, a foundation he created in 2012. Offering presentations, workshops, classes and events, The Man in Me celebrates manhood by providing a safe space for expression. Rowe recently sat down with us to explore the current state of dads.
AFM: How did you become interested in issues surrounding fatherhood?
Rowe: One day I was talking to a friend, and she said her son was missing his father. And I was thinking, “How come he didn’t want to be there? There’s something behind that.” It’s important that children have their parents involved, co-parenting. Growing up, my journey had ups and downs. My father wasn’t present most of the time, and my mother was a drug addict for the majority of my life. I became the “man of the house” at a younger age than most. So, whether your father passed away or was in military service or anything of that nature, I know what it feels like to not have that family unit. That’s why I created a nonprofit organization and started doing workshops. I just wanted to help. And I started to discover things about myself. I was able to inspire and move people. I found that gift. It’s been seven years.
AFM: What are some of the challenges fathers face?
Rowe: Where do I start? I could say employment. I could say it’s when they’re not involved with their kids. But the biggest thing is the battle within. “Can I handle this weight of responsibility, this duty that I have signed up for? I’m responsible for these human beings. They look up to me.” We noticed doing research that, for all income brackets, all demographics, whether you came from a two-parent home or not, there can be this fear of not succeeding. That’s the biggest barrier to overcome: “Can I do it?”
AFM: Do men have a hard time talking about it?
Rowe: It’s hard for men to be vulnerable and express themselves fully without being judged or feeling like their masculinity is being challenged. You’re supposed to be strong, not show weakness. But I think we find strength in vulnerability. We talk about mothers being nurturing, but fathers are nurturers, too. We are providers. We are protectors. We are loving, we are giving. But as we have safe spaces for men to be able to express themselves fully and freely with no judgment, we’re able to find out who we really are. And we get to know that we’re not the only one.
AFM: When you go to schools and talk to young men, do you find they can envision fatherhood?
Rowe: At that age, they haven’t come to the realization that life is real. They want to be football stars. They have dreams, which is good. But we talk about TV and video games and pop culture and music. Sometimes they feel like they need to bully people. They feel like life is unfair. From boyhood to manhood, you’re always transitioning in your masculinity, and I say that masculinity and manhood is not a destination. It’s a journey. They’re going to college, getting their education, making things happen. You get your first apartment. You get your first bills. It’s a series of moments, milestones, rites of passage. I used to be excited about bills that would come in my name. Now, I wish they’d keep the mail. [laughs] Taxes, HOA. Oh, I didn’t put the trash can up in time? But when you get to fatherhood, it’s a whole different level. It’s a wonderful experience to see yourself in someone else.
AFM: What lessons did you learn from your father?
Rowe: I learned that work ethic is very important, even though my father wasn’t there all the time. My mother just didn’t want him around. He’s a very, very hard worker, and he overcame a lot of things. He was dealing with colon cancer at age 27. He had to go to Houston for treatment, and the doctor asked him, “Do you have any reason for living?” He answered, “My kids.” So, that fight, overcoming challenge, speaks volumes to me.
AFM: What feedback do you get from the men and boys you talk to?
Rowe: I recently did an anger management youth class. And at the end, one of them said he realized that he didn’t have to pretend anymore. He said, “I can be me. It’s OK to be me.” I think society tells us we have to be certain things and so we learn to mimic that. As for the men, I met a father who had not seen his son in quite some time. I’m talking months. The kicker is, his son lived literally down the street. There was no barrier to prevent him from seeing his child. And I challenged him one day, “Let’s go see your son now.” He didn’t know how to respond. He was stopping himself. So we went, and he talked to his son. Later he said, “That was everything for me.” He felt like he couldn’t be the best father, because of his past. He didn’t feel worthy. I told him, “You’re valuable. He needs you.”
AFM: What’s the biggest barrier most men have in learning to manage their anger?
Rowe: They don’t feel like they have permission to be angry. It’s perfectly natural to feel angry in certain situations. But how can I express that in a healthy way? A lot of us don’t have tools or a system in place. If there’s no outlet, it will come out in different places. I often say, “I failed anger management, but I passed in forgiveness.” Forgive yourself for the past, and have empathy for the person that you might not get an apology from. They’re living rent-free in your mind. Evict them. To let them go is to let you go.
The Man in Me Cookout
1 to 5 p.m.
To register: themaninme.org
Interview by Sherida Mock, Editor, Austin Family Magazine.