Father Part 2

In my first Father post I discussed the myths surrounding fathers. I also mentioned the great need that we have for fathers; that children cannot be raised properly without fathers. Proof of that is simple – find a man who never knew his father. He will explain.

Much more can be said about fathers though, beyond the myths about them, and beyond their invalidation and alienation in society.

Fathers are crucial to raising boys into men. They offer boys things that women cannot offer and usually do not understand.

For a man, your father is your first idea, your initial and always-core idea of what a man is. The word ur springs to mind – a German word meaning ‘original’ or ‘extremely old’, as in Urwald (ancient forest). Your father is your ur-man. He is your reference point as what a man is. In the hands of a poor father, this power is corrupted or simply wasted, but in the hands of loving, nuturing father this power is liquid gold.

A father has hardwired what a boy needs, but the problem often arises that the father himself was not properly raised. What if he himself is not a fully realised man? How good are his chances then of raising his own boy well?

As much as many people would have you believe that gender roles are the problem, they are naive. A boy cannot grow to be a man in a vacuum. Of course every man has his own path in life, but a good father will teach what is important in life, and the things a boy needs; how to love, how to work, how be be rational and control your emotions – in short what a man needs to live well.

Acknowledging fathers are important if you understand that living well is not automatic, even with age. It is a craft that is learnt and not possible to short cut by drugs or short term pleasures.

A father teaches a boy – with help from older men too – that being a man is something learnt and earned, it not automatically conferred at age 18.

Fathers can have much more resonance with their sons, because they have lived through similar experiences. Male wisdom is gold for a young man understanding how to navigate through the world; it is essential.

More than we really understand, fathers also need us. Society has denied the ability of fathers to love and nurture, it has also denied the vulnerability that fathers feel. Many fathers feel vulnerable – feel that they have failed at many things in life – and deeply need to be accepted, if not loved, by their children. They need to feel understood and that at least their life was worth something. This is the unspoken tragedy of modern fathers today.

Published in: on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lego Father

Like it or lump it, I think your father is part of you.

This is a hard fact to face for many men who had alcoholic, abusive, violent or absent fathers. Sometimes men who never know their father discover years later how much their character, habits and gestures have been inherited from their father. But your father is always there inside you, and I think you won’t find peace with yourself until you have made peace with him. Because your father is part of you, if you fight him – even if you are shadow-boxing a ghost – you are really fighting with yourself.

I really wonder if the violent, thuggish men we have in our society are partly trying to prove to their fathers that they really are a man after all. Perhaps their father never accepted them, perhaps he sat behind a newspaper.

I know men who never knew their own father. I cannot even begin to understand the grief, that deep abyss that just keeps swallowing you up. Even understanding the reason why he was absent doesn’t help the feeling of isolation, that somehow, they have missed out connecting with generations of male wisdom. This is a grief that is truly male, because your father in theory should have the most love, sympathy and understanding of you, out of all men. Never knowing your father might be like wandering round a mansion, carrying a telephone you wish to connect but never finding a socket for it. You are missing out on plugging into years of experience and wisdom. “Who ya gonna call?” “I don’t know!” (Although maybe Ghostbusters might help out…)

It is time to acknowledge that men desperately need their fathers.

This simple fact, that children (but especially sons) need their father is so often ignored, denied and overlooked. Even men have claimed that the only contribution men make is some genetic material at conception. What bullshit. It is very hard for a mother to raise a healthy, balanced man on her own, simply because a mother cannot provide what a father provides. This is the key idea, because the recent myths about mothers and fathers incorporate the assumption that mothers do all the nurturing.

This myth underpins the outrage about refusing IVF to women who have no male partner. It is deeply offensive and ignorant to suggest that children can be raised as well without a father as with one. This myth, which really suggests the father only contributes money to a family, and offers nothing more, is a slap in the face of men.

The myth that fathers only bring money to a family is also bolstered by the anti-father bias in pop culture. Fathers are depicted as irrelevant, oblivious, doddering, irrational, dispensable, weak and out of touch. In contrast, “Mother is always right”. Next time you watch a pop-culture sitcom, keep in mind this bias. Imagine if the father’s character was swapped with the mother’s, or the jokes about fathers were flipped to be about mothers. There would be an outcry that the show was sexist. Yet fathers are depicted as only being interested in cars, football, beer, TV and show-room models.

It is important to critically assess these influences, because however subtle or peripheral they might be, these stereotypes sink in. Liberty to make jokes about anyone is important, but the real issue is balance. Contrast fairy-tales with modern day culture. Fairy tales often taught of the destructive, poisonous potential that mothers have. Yet these warnings are largely absent these days, and the columnists are a flurry of confusion when another crack-addicted mother murders her children. ‘How could this happen – we always thought mothers were perfect’.

Fathers have a lot to offer and do not deserve the popular stereotypes forced into their faces. We should be vigilant – write a complaint letter, talk about it with your father, throw your newspaper at the TV and switch it off, just don’t let it go unchallenged.

Men need their fathers. They need to work alongside them, learn from them, and above all connect. This connection is different from that which women have with each other.

We forge our bond with our father by working with him. Men often don’t need to talk, the connection and bond can simply be formed by doing things together. This activity and working together is an essence of being a man and therefore connecting with men. You might have weeded the garden, played music together, dug potatos, fished or changed the oil on the car. But there is somehow an osmosis about working with your father.

Father is the living example of a man for his children. He is what they refer back to, even if not consciously. He teaches his son what being a man is, not by words, which are often poor teachers, but by living and doing. I think it is fundamental that sons and fathers talk and think about these things, in light of the misinformation and misandry present.

We also forget that fathers need their sons, they ultimately must have their son’s approval and respect, even if they would never admit to it.

Published in: on Friday, 4 January 2008 at 1:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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