My wife showed an amusing video to me today. It started with a large man doing a rather girly cheerleader routine. At the end the camera pans back and we see that the man is helping his daughter learn to lead cheers. It was produced by an organization created to support “responsible fatherhood,” which is certainly an interesting way to put it.
I for one am glad that people are taking an interest in encouraging men to be fathers to their children, but I would be even gladder if they stopped undermining fatherhood by every other one of their efforts. Right now they are destroying the foundation and first floor of the house, and are trying to encourage the second floor to stay aloft. It simply will not happen that way.
Fatherhood is an extension of manhood. You have to be a good man before you can be a good father, although that relationship is not necessarily chronological in a strict since. It may be that struggling to become a good father will help one become a good man, but you cannot simultaneously be a good father and a bad man.
So what does it mean to be a good man or a bad man? I suspect that when first reading that, many people read “bad man” as “criminal,” but that isn’t what I mean. I don’t mean bad in the sense of “breaks the law,” I mean bad in the sense of “doesn’t meet the standard.” The real question is this: what does it mean to be a man?
And that is precisely the question that our society not only avoids, but actively discourages. We don’t want to seem like we’re being unfair to anyone, so we don’t want to say that there might be anything called “manhood” which would in any way exclude anyone, including women. Mostly, we reduce manhood to what is unavoidable and obvious: biology. And then of course we downplay even that. We don’t even want to admit that biological differences are that important.
It shouldn’t surprise us that our culture is so obsessed with sex. The biological relationship between people is the only one we’re prepared to talk about at all. We can’t talk about relationships between men and women as anything but relationships between male and female, because we’re uncomfortable suggesting that there might be such things as manhood and womanhood. We don’t want there to be qualities that distinguish us, because that might be unfair. Of course we can’t deny that we have distinct sexual organs, though, so suddenly that’s all we have left to talk about.
Now curiously, generations of male humans, raised to believe that the only definition of manhood allowed to them was biological, became fathers in a purely biological sense. But of course they became biological fathers often, as that’s a natural consequence of relating to human females primarily through sex, and they had no other means of relating.
Unfortunately, children are a hindrance to sex, so purely biological fathers resent them (at best) or hate them (at worst), and in any case have little cause to stay with them. This is especially true when they can fulfill their purely biological desires more effectively by leaving those children and their mother, and pursuing a relationship with some other unencumbered human female.
So in short, defining manhood purely in terms of biology produces exactly the culture we have today, which has become so obviously problematic that we’ve resorted to making goofy videos in a vain attempt to convince those we’ve reduced to being male to be something more like the men we won’t let them be.
That was a confusing sentence. Let me put it another way.
Dear Society, you cannot salvage fatherhood because you have destroyed manhood.
I’m out of time, but let me say one small thing before I go. I don’t mean manhood in terms of heavy drinking and shouting at sports, or any of those things that are stereotypically associated with “men being men.” I mean something more like what was glimpsed in chivalry: being unapologetically strong and bold, but using that strength and boldness self-sacrificially to serve, protect, uphold, and uplift.