What My Father Taught Me
First, I would like to thank the people who so lovingly supported me in the ways that work best for me during my recent medical adventure. The treatments are over, and we’ll see if they worked. I’m sure you will hear from me if they didn’t😊.
What I want to share this month is what came to me during our recent 3-day men’s retreat. I asked those present to reflect on their masculinity. Where they learned what being a man meant. What they learned. What the effect on their and other people’s lives has been because of what they learned.
We are not born masculine or feminine. These are assigned roles. They are learned roles. Thus, they are artificial. Like a costume we are given that separates who we are from who we are supposed to be. A mask. A costume. Except with this costume, many times we grow into it and become the costume and lose the awareness that we are even wearing one.
During the retreat, we each went our separate ways and dug into what we had been taught about masculinity. Then, we came back together and shared what we had recalled. I want to share with you what I shared with that group.
I’d ask you to read this reflecting on what you have learned about masculinity in your life. Women, as well as men, have “learned” what masculinity “is”. What I learned about masculinity (as well as femininity) will determine, to a great degree, how I live my life and those lessons affect everyone I encounter, including the women in my life. There were many influential people that participated in the shaping of my masculinity. Today, I am sharing the most important one. My father. He never once sat down and told me anything, but this is what I took, or made up, or surmised from our time together. I have a brother and a sister. My guess is that they took away different messages from their time with my father. That’s how it works. We have the same experience and take away different “messages” from what we see, what we experience.
Here is what I learned:
My father taught me to be stoic.One day my brother and I were playing with matches in our bed and then we went outside to play.A few minutes later my father came home and found smoke rolling out of our bedroom window.He rushed upstairs, grabbed the burning mattress and hurled it out of the upstairs window.He came down the stairs, looked at us, and just shook his head as if he was in the presence of two of the stupidest people he ever met and walked away.I learned then and there THAT’s what a real man does, that’s how he acts.Wow was I impressed.
Not only do not show your feelings, but, if you are really a man, have none.(I did see his eyes redden once, when he got the telephone call that his father had died. So, I got the message that it was OK to allow your eyes to redden, but don’t allow a tear to form or fall).
Be non-responsive/non-reactive.Don’t allow yourself to be provoked, even when you are on the receiving end of physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse.
Don’t experience pleasure.
When you need to make sense of things and can’t, look for, adopt and promulgate the church’s (or other symbolic authority figure’s) platitudinous answers; then don’t question them.
Work hard.Work often. Turn every interest or hobby into a business opportunity or line of work.
We are not like those people.
A father’s only purpose is to provide for his family.
Do not seek happiness.Whether you are happy or not doesn’t matter.Don’t waste time on that stuff.
Do not seek nor give affection.
Comfort yourself; weak people seek comfort outside of themselves or their God.
Do and endure whatever it takes to please a woman.
If you work like a man, you get treated like a man, even if you’re a little boy.
Playing is a waste of good time.
Hide your truth, pain, and disappointments.
Do not tell your children that you are proud of them, or that they bring you pleasure.
Don’t touch your children.
Never be selfish.
Ironic humor, from time to time is ok.
If anyone cares what you think they will ask you, until then just keep your mouth shut.
Doing is caring.
Show no weakness, no attractions, no passions.
Women need to be taken care of.
Be immune to any kind of pain.
Control and repress any human characteristic that represents anything less than sainthood.
Always keep learning.
If you want to get ahead, think ahead.
If you ever want to have anything, don’t work for someone else.
Need and want nothing.
Any needs that you might have come last, if at all.
The overall effect of these lesson is that whatever it means to be a full human being, I have had to relearn, or perhaps more accurately, learn for the first time.
How to touch my children
How to tell them of my love
How to tell them of my pride in being their father
How to speak of my love
How to have male friendships
How to be fully present
How to be a husband
How to have respect for my wife
What emotions are
How to express them
What to do with them
How to let them inform me
How to listen to my body
How to have a relationship with my adult children
How to speak up for what I need
How to cry out loud
How to get angry
The appropriate role of work
I’d like to write of my masculine self and say all the “right” things, but they would just be platitudes. Truth is, I was left in a swamp, and regaining my male humanness is an inch by inch struggle to see through my masculine mask’s filter to the human being that I am. Being with other men who might share the same interest in discovering their own humanness independent of the imposed masculinity has been helpful, and I have found, necessary and essential.
What we end up believing a “real” man looks like makes a difference. Sometimes a life and death difference. Sometimes we witness what seems to be exaggerated versions of what masculinity is. Archie Bunker from the TV hit show of several decades ago, “All in the Family”; Ralph Kramden, of “The Honeymooners”; even further back in time come to mind.
It could easily be argued that our current political climate is set and modeled by a man who mirrors Archie and Ralph’s views and resultant behaviors based on his idea of what a “real” man looks like. Millions cheer. Millions agree. The manifestation and modeling of that version scares me for my grandchildren. Yours too. And all those who are targeted. Unlike “The Honeymooners” and “All in the Family”, this isn’t fiction. It isn’t a sit com and it isn’t over in 28 minutes.
Despite everything I’m witnessing as an American these days, I find hope in a statement from Tony Hoagland’s article “The Cure for Racism is Cancer”. He says, “I believe, more than ever, that at the bottom of each human being is a reset button”. I’ve been hitting mine frequently. Would you be willing to do that with me?