Don’t teach your children that masculinity is toxic
Men, husbands and fathers aren’t a poison to American culture; they’re an essential part of its success.
In a 2014 study entitled “The Causal Effects of Father Absence,” Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider found “strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing [problematic behavior].” They concluded, “father absence can affect child well-being across the life course.”
President Barack Obama didn’t pull any punches in 2008 when he called out fathers who “have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.” He also noted, “The foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
If we expect today’s young men to be the fathers we need, we can’t simultaneously tell them that masculinity itself is a precursor to evil.
I absolutely understand the frustration felt by young men coming of age right now. I vividly remember that time in my own life. I wanted to hunt, fish, fight and howl at the moon. It was when I developed my strong competitive drive. Whether it was athletics, academics or just throwing rocks at cans on a fence, I wanted to be the best.
I also recall suddenly finding women completely enthralling, wonderful and different. In college, I would horribly serenade the woman who became my wife simply because I wanted her amazing blue eyes to notice me. Transitioning from a boy to a man was every bit as awkward, annoying and unexpected as my warbling tone.
Testosterone is like jet fuel. It’s literally an anabolic steroid. The hormone plays a role in everything from a man’s sex drive and muscle accumulation to competitiveness and aggression. It IS NOT a set of chemical handcuffs that forces poor decisions. The difference between biology and behavior often comes down to positive examples, instruction and discipline.
We don’t need to raise less-manly men; we need to raise better ones.
I am fortunate that my father is an excellent example. He helped me work through my raw emotions and instincts in a productive way that produced a many of my positive character traits. I’m trying to set a similar example for my sons. Each of them will ultimately be responsible for the kind of man he’ll become, but right now it’s my responsibility to be a consistent guide. That’s a deeply humbling experience. As they imitate me, I’m confronted with my own character or lack thereof.
Lately, that’s been tougher than I’d like to admit.
My sons see me hard at work, but I need to show them that I’m not some kind of emotionless Spartan. Even as I reject the cultural portrayal of feeble fathers, I mustn’t create another false image in the opposite direction. If I hope to provide a real example of masculinity rather than some manicured fiction, my boys need to observe my struggles and failures as much as my success. That requires my pride giving way to my love for my sons.
Nothing about being a man is inherently toxic or harmful, but masculinity devolves into a shop of horrors when we fail to adequately guide and encourage young men. When we see men who treat women poorly, who aren’t self-controlled or who simply can’t be bothered to show up for their children, there’s a good chance they learned those behaviors from poor examples in their past or no male example at all.
The responsibility to model masculinity falls heavily on young fathers like me. Men of character aren’t born; they’re raised. Little eyes are watching, and we must live as imperfect examples of the kind of men we want them to be. That won’t make good headlines or punch lines, but it’s critical to the future of our families.