Letter: In Response to Gov. Bevin's "Calling All Men..."
Although you and I sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to our political views, there is one subject on which we can find some agreement: the importance of men in a position of fatherhood to step up and perform this role with love and compassion, as you expressed in your recent op-ed, “Calling All Men.”
My own role as a father has been absolutely essential to my identity since the birth of my daughter nine and a half years ago. It was six years ago, however, that the full force of the responsibility hit me, when the mother of my child skipped town, leaving me as sole caretaker. Today, although she is once again a regular part of my daughter’s life, I maintain sole custody and am her primary caretaker.
Raising a child solo has been the most difficult experience of my life, but I am incredibly fortunate to have been well-prepared for parenthood by the example set by my own parents, including a father who raised my seven siblings and me with love and openness, who taught me to respect all people, and who was never afraid to acknowledge when he made a mistake. I would not be the man I am today if not for his influence and ongoing love and support.
In my home, too, was encouraged the importance of a man’s role in his family and in society at large. My parents, like you, bemoaned depictions of men as “the perpetual adolescent, the naive dolt, or the guy who is unwilling to bear a father’s responsibility” prevalent in sitcoms and pop culture. The church I attended as a youth taught of the sacred nature of fatherhood, and that it is a role to be performed firmly but justly and informed by love.
So far so good, but it is the absolutist position on display in your op-ed, governor, which I feel needs addressing. We are living in a very volatile time regarding gender politics, and a big question our society is asking is: What does it mean to be a man in the 21st century? You call for a return to traditional gender roles, but we live in a time where we know not everybody fits nicely into these roles. You state the following:
“Our culture is awash in confusion caused by shifting messages that, at every turn, seems to undermine the nuclear family and be critical of its merits.”
Is it wrong to insist that the traditional nuclear family – husband, wife, and children – is not the only effective family structure? My own experience as a single parent has shown me that it is possible to raise a bright, friendly, and happy child in a different way. What of same-sex couples who wish to raise a family? The American Psychiatric Association has determined that the sexual orientation of the parentage has no discernable impact on the welfare of the child. What is most important in a child’s upbringing is the presence of caring, responsible adults who provide for their needs, both material and emotional. Credit for the positive development of my daughter goes just as much to my parents, siblings, and friends, her teachers, and, yes, her mother, even though we are no longer a unit.
You believe that these days masculinity itself is under attack, but this is not the case. You state that “fathers themselves face unwarranted criticisms and pejoratives like ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘patriarchy.’” I have watched my female friends deal constantly with unwanted attention from men – men who hound and pester them then break down in a slurry of expletives when they refuse to respond positively to their unsolicited come-ons. Worse, I have far too many friends who, after being sexually assaulted, had this experience ignored or written off by people refusing to take it seriously.
Nobody is opposed to a healthy masculinity, but “toxic masculinity” is the brand where men feel they have a right as men to domineer the feminine, and who feel their rights have been severely violated when rejected. “Patriarchy” is the system which supports this, where leadership roles in all aspects of our society are overwhelmingly held by men – including the mechanisms regarding laws, justice, and equality. You and I, as men, cannot know what it is like to be a woman, and so having a dearth of women in influential positions means an essential voice is going largely unheard.
I want to live in a world where my daughter is afforded the respect given to any other member of the human race. I want to live in a world where it’s not even a question that this should be so. I want to live in a world where, when she grows up, men won’t look at her as an object to be possessed or exploited. I don’t ever want to hear any new rape stories from any of my friends, and I want my daughter to grow up into a world where if the worst does happen, she will be heard and cared for and justice served.
You are absolutely right, governor – men need to step up. Men in parenting roles need to embrace it and provide their children with a positive example of manhood in the 21st century, where all people are respected and gender differences are not as important as human unity. At the same time, men everywhere need to understand that “manhood” is not a fixed concept, that it is a way of being as individual as all of us. And above all, we all need to listen and stand up when injustice is reported. We need to hear and support each other.
We are, after all, all in this together.
Allan Day, a father