By Scott Keith –
(Warning: this blog represents a return to my cantankerous Jagged Word roots.)
I have been beating the drum of the loss of masculinity for years now. Writing Being Dad – Father as a Picture of God’s Grace and publishing The Jagged Word Field Guide to Being a Man have both been attempts to push back against the groundswell that has been rolling over men for years. I could again harp on the media and its tiresome portals of men as daft, inept, bumbling fools who know little and do even less. The fact is, it’s still bad. Commercial after commercial fails to show positive portraits of men and dads for our boys and young men to emulate. But I’m not going to put you through that again. I think that you get the point. I hope. I pray.
Today, in my own curmudgeonly way, I want to acknowledge some good that is taking place. There has been a bit of movement developing––maybe I’m a part of it through Being Dad and the Field Guide––attempting to reclaim some dignity for men and fathers. Many “dad movements” have popped up. (Though I think it is worthy of noting that fewer “men’s movements” have emerged.) There is even one that makes its way to our local talk radio 50,000-watt powerhouse. It is called the “DadCast.” I think that these movements are trying to do the right thing, and I commend them for it.
So, now it is time to be the curmudgeon I am often accused of being. These movements that I’ve encountered and considered for various reasons (often hoping we could partner up in some way) seem to share one common feature that bugs the hell out of me. They appear to think that being a dad is best encapsulated by being another, often very active, mom. Most of them seem to set aside the basic differences between moms and dads, other than continuing to project the idea that dad is more confused than mom in most situations.
On these shows and in these blogs, dads, almost always of very young children, discuss how dad handles cooking dinner, taking kids to and picking them up from school, doing hair, changing diapers, cleaning the house, and other “domestic” tasks. They take on the traditional role of mom and are thus not idiots anymore. They are active in the lives of their children, which I think is a good thing and a good start. But they are still missing the point.
What we’ve lost is the dignity of a man being a man as a man, not as another woman or mom who just happens to have a penis. The issue is that our society treats boys as defective girls, men as defective women, and dads as defective mothers. When a man only becomes a good dad by being a mom, my point is proven.
Perhaps it is because we have become terrified to express gender roles in any way, shape, or form as “traditional.” And I am not advocating for a return to “Leave it to Beaver” or “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.” I am saying that what men are despised for is being who God has created them to be: strong, powerful, masculine, capable (in the sense that they can hold down a job, make decisions, fix things in their home, change the oil, generally take care of their shit), men who do not treat every situation the same way a woman or a mom would.
As I say in Being Dad, these characteristics often express themselves in unique ways. In a genuinely masculine man and father, these characteristics, denigrated by society, and in on odd way even by these “dad movements,” pour forth naturally from real men, at least from the few of them that are left. They literally change a room simply by walking into it. “His unassuming, strong, confident, capable, and forgiving character seems to pour forth from his pores like sweat on a hot day. He is strong, but his strength is not used to abuse; it is used to protect and save. He is confident, yet his confidence is not used to demoralize. A masculine man’s confidence is shared so that your confidence in him becomes a reassuring portion of your confidence. He is capable, but his capability is not used to demonstrate other’s uselessness. He is not a moralist; rather, he forgives, confidently, capably, and seemingly unassumingly. A masculine man can forgive as much with a gesture as with his words.”
I fear that we have come so far down the path to feminizing the culture that we fail to recognize when even seemingly positive steps forward have taken on all the assumptions of male feminization. Men cannot be presented as being useful in distinctly male ways, so they are presented positively only when they have taken on historically feminine roles, characteristics, and tasks.
Children need both moms and dads. The strengths, type of love, and care that women and moms bring to relationships are needed desperately in the home and in society. The good news is that society has completely accepted that. If there were a time in the past when the role of mother was denigrated, the good news is that time is over. But the strengths, type of love, and quiet, unassuming care that men bring to relationships are desperately needed in the home and society. The bad news is that we often fail to see that.
So, to these fledgling attempts by men to make inroads against the attack on who they are, I say don’t try to win by capitulating. We need to take back the role of husband and father by making contributions that are uniquely male and consummately masculine. Embrace risk; be the obscure voice of empathy that you naturally are; forgive rather than always dictate; be the head of your home by being its mouthpiece of grace and forgiveness on account of Christ.
And sure, change the diapers, go to PTA meetings (if you can stomach them), and drive the family taxi to soccer practice. But do not define those tasks as what it means to be a man and a father in your home. Being a man, a real man, a masculine man, means so much more than that to our world. Being a dad, a real dad, a masculine dad, a gracious dad, and the obscure voice of empathy in your home means so much more to your family. Be a man. Be a dad. And please, don’t allow others to define that as being a reformed-and-fixed, once-defective woman and mom.
Realizing that there is little “practical advice” in this article, I encourage you to pick up several copies of Being Dad – Father as a Picture of God’s Grace and The Jagged Word Field Guide to Being a Man. Don’t forget to give them away liberally to men that need to hear the message.