Virtual Voices

Can a good father be a real man?

Culture

Time Magazine recently asked: "Does being more of a father make you less of a man?" Responses from the man on the street were mixed, with some dads noting that women are attracted to a man who spends time with his children, and others saying that they feel emasculated by taking on more of the childcare responsibilities. Of particular interest to me was this quote, from University of Texas psychologist Andrew Rochen:

"Masculinity has traditionally been associated with work and work-related success, with competition, power, prestige, dominance over women, restrictive emotionality. . . But a good parent needs to be expressive, patient, emotional, not money oriented. Basically, masculinity is bad for you."

I found myself nodding at the first two sentences, and growling at the third. Many of us have seen how men in modern America measure themselves -- by their wealth, their authority in the company, the success of their children in sports. Those of us who have seen good fathering, likewise, know that Rochen is right about the necessity of patience and expressiveness.

But is masculinity inherently the opposite of these things? Guys, do we have to abandon our manhood in order to be the fathers our children need?

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With all due respect to the good professor, that's hogwash. Consider Teddy Roosevelt, the epitome of a man's man. Accomplished hunter, soldier, and leader of men, if Roosevelt doesn't qualify for the label "masculine," then I'm not sure who does. But consider his hundreds of letters to his children, imparting encouragement, admonition, advice, and above all, affection. His diaries reflect a similar concern with shepherding each of his children into adulthood. He spent time with them, he taught them on his knee, he made sure each son and daughter understood a father's love.

But he also once hunted down a mountain lion and stabbed it in the heart with his knife. When I read about men like Roosevelt, I don't find myself wondering if I have to be less of a man to be more of a father; instead I find myself thinking that I need to work on being more of a man and more of a father.

The problem with ideas like masculinity and manhood is not that they are bundles of bad behavior. The problem is that they've been hijacked by half-men. The droves of males we see advancing themselves in their careers by neglecting their children should not rightly be called real men. They are boys playing at the game of man. It is a man-boy who thinks money is his measure. It is a man-boy who works long hours so he can win the approval of his CEO. It is the man-boy who thinks he is something because he can get women to do his bidding.

A real man, on the other hand, protects and provides for his family, and partners with his wife to train up his children in the way they should go. He isn't necessarily gabby, but his children know in their souls that he loves them. He is patient and kind. He lays down his life for his family every day.

Fifty years ago, we all knew these things. Today, however, we are beset by a host of intellectuals who haven't the sense to recognize that fewer and fewer males know how to become real men. The problem is not that masculinity is rotten. It is that so few men live up to it.

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