My mother tells a story about how her dad once greeted a male college friend of hers with a Winchester upon bringing her home at too late an hour. It was 10:30. The way she tells it, grandpa just absolutely went ballistic, waving his 12-gauge around and launching into an inquisition that left her date peeling out in the gravel drive before my mom could even shut the car door. This is not an uncommon tale to hear in Kentucky. More than that, this is a popular vision of fatherhood for many men. It’s “old-school”. It represents an essential aspect of our primordial masculinity as protectors. And, it is pragmatically expedient for the removal of immediate, perceived threats. For a long time, I would have undoubtedly counted myself among those who lauded the vision of this “pistol-packin’ daddy” as one that was proper and basic to the task of being a father. Even something to relish and take pride in- as a friend of mine quipped the other day: “I can’t wait till I get to intimidate some boyfriends”. My firstborn being a girl, I can totally relate.
But, then I had a son.
And, in coming to know him and project into the future, I started to re-think my assumptions and attitudes about the potential boys that would inevitably show up at my door to vie for the affections of my daughter. After all, if I was prepared to unquestioningly encounter each suitor as an outsider and threat then what kind of treatment did I expect my son Rocky to receive when he is met by other fathers? It has led me to some unforeseen conclusions:
[row][col w=”6″]Treating our boys in this way doesn’t even come close to telling the whole story about who they actually are and what they actually feel. Sure, the dad on the other end of the line sees the finished product- likely a pomade-bathed, cologne-soaked go-getter whose cool points are out the window. In short, a horny devil. I get that. However, what they don’t see is the nervous, self-doubting, hand-wringing boy who spent the afternoon incessantly blathering about how much he likes this girl and painstakingly picking out just the right new shirt at the mall.[/col][col w=”6″]Don’t tell me that his heart’s not in it. Don’t tell me that he’s not at stake. Don’t tell me that “he’s only got one thing on his mind”. And so I had to ask myself, if my son could be noble and tender-hearted in his pursuits of a young lady but then was continually greeted with suspicion, condescension, and intimidation, what kind of consciousness would that craft in him? How would he come to understand himself and what it meant to be a man if being a man automatically meant that you were a thing to be feared?[/col][/row]
[row][col w=”6″]At some point, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we as fathers tell our young men, by our bristling, that they are salacious, single-minded creatures just by right of their being male then what hope do they have of ennobling their better selves?[/col][col w=”6″]We hand them a narrative in which they are relegated to villainy and then decry them for acting as scoundrels.[/col][/row]
[row][col w=”6″]And, what of our daughters? What does it communicate to them when we gnash and gnarl in the company of their admirers? I think there is a chance that we do them a disservice by unwittingly implying that they are feeble, weak-willed, and easily deceived.[/col] [col w=”6″]We are prone to cast their boyfriends as wolves and cast ourselves as the shepherds. In either case, our daughters are left to play the role of sheep.[/col][/row]
[row][col w=”6″]Finally, I have found in myself not just an anticipation that young men will be treacherous and lupine, but an insidious celebration of the “fact” that they are. Because at the end of the day, that predatory, power-drenched image of masculinity, with all of its conquests, is at some level the framework for even my own preferred vision of myself.[/col] [col w=”6″]If I’m honest about it, I’d rather see myself as the wolf than the shepherd.[/col][/row]
erein lies the hypocrisy of it all: We swear an undying oath to vanguard the chastity of our princess from the wolves at the door, and then turn around and refuse to wage the internal war against the primal, pack mentality that we unconsciously condone and recapitulate for our man-cubs.
If we truly desire to protect our daughters…
If we are in earnest to spare our sons…
[lead]Then we must begin by being vigilant to keep them safe from what is potentially monstrous and malignant in the very kind of men that we are. We must fight to be good.[/lead]