By Ricky Traner, City of Milwaukee Health Department

I am a public health social worker with the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s (MHD) Direct Assistance for Dads (DAD) Project. Through my work with the DAD Project, I noticed the effects of infant mortality are expected to affect our mothers and fathers differently. I believe this is largely due to prescribed gender roles that allow mothers to only externally express their grief, whereas fathers are expected to internalize and minimize their grief.

I interviewed Matanya Boyd, health project assistant with the MHD’s fetal infant mortality review (FIMR).  She conducts interviews with Milwaukee mothers who have experienced a recent infant death. In her work, she also interacts with the grieving fathers. In our interview, she highlighted the point of repressed grief among fathers, stating, “I think there is a stigma behind a man that grieves… that he is showing weakness. All these and other stressors lead to the overall problem of them not being able to grieve in a proper manner, if at all.”

As we work to redefine our social expectations of genders, we can develop better ways to support our grieving fathers. It is important for grief support programs to provide services that allow for what the author and former social worker Tom Golden refers to as masculine healing. Masculine healing services allow fathers to maintain their established male identity while addressing their grief. This type of grieving, as Golden explains, may not come from verbal expressions of feeling or overt displays of emotion. Yet it offers avenues for fathers to unpack their grief in nonverbal or tactile ways. This grief support can help fathers work through the loss recovery process and eventually achieve the goal of normalizing men’s grief.

Reference: Golden, T. (2010). Swallowed by a snake: The gift of the masculine side of healing. Gaithersburg, MD: G. H. Publishing.