The Father’s We Seek

Saint Joseph the Carpenter, Georges de La Tour (1640)

Saint Joseph the Carpenter, Georges de La Tour (1640)

On Mother’s Day I wrote about women being more than mothers, and on Father’s Day I’m going to take a different angle because I think men struggle with a different issue and that is in society they are at best fathers only after they are whatever other role they have. To understand why this is I’m going to approach the male concept of shame, which is different than shame for women. For women shame comes from the inability to fit into the expectations of perfection defined first by looks and second by motherhood. Shame for women comes from how others view you and how you view yourself. Shame for men comes from being perceived as being weak or a failure. For men the societal expectations are: emotional control, primacy of work, pursuit of status and finally violence (the ability to take or protect that which is yours). Yet in relationships men are expected to put these things aside and be vulnerable, to share in the nurturing of children, to show restraint (it is very easy for a man to injure a child just due to the strength differential and the preponderance of rough play that is sought from fathers by boys and girls alike), and to enter into a world that is still defined by women’s expectations in the home. Just as women have struggled with the predominantly male expectations of the world of work, men have struggled with the very different set of expectations within the home.

Just as there was a time when a woman’s worth was tied to her ability to bear children, a man’s worth is still tied to his ability to provide security in terms of protection, shelter, food and comfort. Men are still primarily viewed as producers in society, and some of this is reflected in the way that employers view men taking time off for their family’s needs. Men do not give birth, but frequently they are expected to be back on the job within days of their wife or significant other giving birth. Men are looked upon as not having their work priorities straight if they take time off to be with a sick loved one, and this also  can extend to women as well-but the societal expectations are not as strong (although the expectations of perfection that women in the workplace put on themselves may be).

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are important and should be celebrated, but I get the impression that of the two holidays Father’s Day is viewed as the lesser of the two. Perhaps this is because for men fatherhood is a secondary identity, second to their ‘real’ identity in the world of work. In the past couple generations while the role of men as fathers has changed the expectations in the working world have not decreased, nor has their compensation increased and like women they find themselves trying to live well between the worlds of word and home. As the workplace is learning to value women for who they are and the gifts they bring (and I understand that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done here), so in the world of the home as men become an increasing part of the world at home it will mean that the expectations in this world will need to begin to shift as well to be able to account for the gifts that men and women can bring.

I know I am leaving the issue of single parenthood unaddressed, which I definitely sympathize with being a single dad, but on Father’s Day I hope I was able to help us think about how we might help our young men be the fathers we hope they will be.

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