Monday, July 18, 2016

Parenthood: Week 161 - Parenting Like A Man

When does fatherhood make you feel like a man? When you teach you son how to catch a ball? When you effectively change a blown out diaper in a restaurant bathroom? When you effectively cook dinner, watch your toddler, and do laundry all at the same time?

The affirmation of masculinity is an important of part of the male identity. The male identity in our culture is heavily influenced by ideas about gender roles and a sense of insecurity, which has led to a very narrow view of masculinity (I wrote about this further in this series of posts).

In the same way that masculinity is mostly defined by “not being feminine,” fatherhood traditionally can be more easily be defined as not doing what the mom is doing. Traditional ideas of fatherhood in our culture has dad’s not cooking for the kids, not changing diapers, not giving baths, and not singing lullabies. If you go with Disney's Bambi as a model, there’s really not that much for dads to do. There’s “bringing home the bacon” (not literally, as grocery shopping is traditionally a woman’s job), disciplining children and going on a select few outings: camping, fishing, hunting and trips to the hardware store.

There’s been a movement in our culture of men breaking out of the traditional father role. All of my dad friends are more involved in their children’s lives than their fathers and many of the dads I know in my father’s generation (including my dad) are more involved in their children’s lives than their fathers.  Of course there are plenty of dad’s out there who are continue to hang onto the traditional father role, even if their wives are working a full time job.

This change has come about for a couple reasons. The modern feminist movement has empowered woman to demand that men take a more active role in parenting. The Gay Rights movement has helped straight men break out of traditional gender roles. However I believe that the biggest reason that men are taking on a more active role and redefining what it means to be a dad, is because the traditional idea of fatherhood emasculated men and modern men wants something better.

How manly do you feel when you have a limited role in your child’s life and have a distant relationship with your child? Where’s the affirmation of your success as a father and a man in that? Investing time and energy into your child, working hard to take care of them, and embracing all the facets of their personality, gives you a lasting feeling of success and pride.  This feeling is an affirmation of masculinity in a way that Jack Arnold the father from The Wonder Years, was never able to enjoy.

One of my friends who works for a law firm was talking about taking clients out to expensive steak dinners with top shelf whiskey. I commented, “that’s kind of a cool feeling, it makes you feel like a man, wearing a suit and having a great dinner like that.” He replied, “that doesn’t make me feel like a man, going home and spending time with my wife and son, that makes me feel like a man.”

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