Becoming the Kind Father: Book Review

**January 3/13 -- 18 minute TEDx Talk 'Journey to a Man's Heart' by Calvin Sandborn here

<written in late 2008, 1st posted in early 2009; revised & re-posted now!>

Full Book Title: Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn (New Society Publishers, 2007).

Are you already a kind father? Kind mother? Kind non-parent, or kind person of any description?


I’d suggest that you consider reading this book anyway, because it is truly a book for everyone.

This is a book that explains – from the in-side out – why so many men are chronically angry, impatient & unable to articulate (& thus understand) their own emotions. Lots of men are frequently grumpy, impatient & exceedingly judgmental of others – but have no idea why they are this way. Most probably “caught” it from their fathers. I recall once talking to a mother of 12 who said children “soak up their parents’ values like a sponge.” We parents “infect” our children with lots of less-than-useful attitudes & behaviour patterns. We can really only learn to jettison our parents’ harsh attitudes and judgments (of ourselves and of others) if we can begin to recognize where our own have come from. Emotional intelligence is power!

I find the title of this book almost unfortunate in some ways, because one might tend to gloss over it, thinking one is not the intended audience. Either one is already a “kind father,” one has a “kind father,” or one is not a man, and thus has no need to read it at all (unkind fathers aren’t a very likely audience either, really, although one wishes it might be so).

Maybe it would have been better to call the book “Understanding Those Godawful Mean, Alcoholic Fathers –Thousands of Years of Patriarchy & What It Means to ALL of Us”... or something along those lines. Yes, I know, not really a viable idea…

At any rate, this is a wonderful, brave and sensitive book, & I suspect many men are probably too scared – or too read it.

Please read it anyway!!!

If you’re a kind father, kind mother, or neither, but are a human being on Planet Earth in the year 2010, I’d say, this book will be worth your time. It’s a fairly quick read, and written so well & with such honesty & compassion that it goes down very well indeed.

It explains how humanity’s very long experiment with patriarchy has been damaging men for thousands of years – & how the author broke free of it (hint: it took a crisis). It discusses how men need to learn to feel their emotions, recognize and articulate these emotions (i.e., not simply deny that they exist & squash them down year after year after year), and talk more – and why their fathers were, in so many cases, mean, impatient, angry men – maybe alcoholics to boot (certainly something with which a great many of us are entirely too familiar). It also explains why most males don’t really trust one another, from a pretty early age.

The book explains, from the in-side – i.e., from a man’s own perspective – why so many men are chronically angry & even become more or less hardwired for anger. The staggering health & emotional costs to our society of all this anger are also made clear.

As well, very practical tips for how we can change these unfortunate patterns are provided. The importance of learning to let go of ancient resentments & learning how to forgive is highlighted. Forgiveness is not a simple thing, as those who have been deeply abused are well aware, but Sandborn gives it full justice (& an entire chapter, called “Forgiveness & Freedom”). He references the work of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project & its impressive achievements in Northern Ireland.

The author also talks about his own childhood with an angry father, & how he eventually changed his own life and became a “kind father,” not just to his children, but to himself. (1) He explains fully how anyone can do this.

The book is brimming with psychological wisdom & insights. Anyone who reads it is certain to learn some very practical lessons.

The reason men will find it particularly compelling is that the story is from a man’s point of view. Sandborn references other very useful books (e.g., one by Terrence Real called I Don’t Want to Talk About It), and includes a (short) suggested reading list at the end.

I would venture to say that there are many women who could also benefit from Sandborn’s idea of becoming a kind parent (of either sex!) to oneself. Lots of us had some not-very-excellent parenting – sometimes from fathers; in some cases, from mothers…

But don’t take my word for it! Go here & check out the information there. You can even listen to the author read on the New Society Publishers site.

Why am I writing this review? I think this is a very well-written book, filled with wisdom & insight, that could help lots and lots of people. Challenging times are upon us, readers – I think we will all need to have our wits about us, in as many ways & as much as humanly possible, in the days to come…


p.s. Another great book for helping us all understand the nature of many father-son relationships (and a little about the fallout from our 5000-year experiment with patriarchy) is The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert, Penguin Books, 2002. Stunning book… p.p.s. Perhaps you are a man who says, “Oh heck, I don’t need this book. I understand all that stuff already.” To which I reply, “Sir, I don’t buy it. You may understand some of this on the intellectual level – but I am willing to bet you don’t get it in your guts. Until you get it in your guts, you really don’t get it at all.”

p.p.p.s. If after reading this book it occurs to you that you might benefit from some help with your relationship with your wife/husband/partner, I also recommend the book Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships, by Martin Rovers. Rovers hasn’t just written a book, he gives occasional workshops (on behalf of Serenity Renewal for Families, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) that he calls “Healing Love in Couple’s Relationships” (when I went, it was called “The Dance of Wounds in Couple’s Relationships”). I found both his book & his workshop very helpful indeed.

p.s. # 4: Yet another useful book is BrainSex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel. This quick read explains fundamental brain differences & the resulting behaviour differences between women & men.

p.s. # 5, years later: I've recently done a post called 'Patriarchy (again)' since the ugly head of patriarchal behaviour seems to be rearing itself constantly (patriarchy = the neverending story, hmmmm?). There is a quite brilliant prayer about patriarchy by Matthew Fox in the posting. You don't want to miss it!!

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our life.” – Alice Miller, 20th-century therapist & writer

Runners up” for Quote of the Day:

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.” – Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941

“We live in a world that has practiced violence for generations – violence to other creatures, violence to the planet, violence to ourselves. Yet in my garden, where I have nurtured a healthy soil-plant community, I see a model of a highly successful, non-violent system where I participate in gentle biological diplomacy rather than war. The garden has more to teach us than just how to grow food.” ~ Eliot Coleman, ‘Four-Season Harvest’

“Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone: it has to be made like bread, remade all the time, made new.” Ursula K. LeGuin

“A dead end is just a good place to turn around.” – Naomi Judd

(1) As Sandborn well understands, compassion & forgiveness need to begin with ourselves. When we can forgive & be compassionate toward ourselves (something that takes much effort and practice!), we then become much more compassionate & forgiving with others.