Father’s Day is approaching and I suspect there is good cause for ambivalence in celebrating this holiday. We have too many reports of men, including biological fathers who are abusers of their spouses, children, or other women. To make matters worse, many institutions dominated by men have covered for and defended the abusers. Sadly, we see this even in churches from Catholic to Southern Baptist. More than outright abuse, part of the problem is the use of power to uphold abusive and subordinating regimes, treating women as a lesser form of human, not unlike what we’ve tried to do with many of the people of color in this country.
I have to admit to being deeply disturbed as a man and as a father with what I see. It cuts across the grain of my deepest convictions and aspirations as both man and father. I find myself deeply angry with the men who perpetrate these wrongs, and perhaps even more angry with those who have tried to cover them and blame the victims instead of protect them. This was not how I was taught to be a man.
Fundamentally, I was taught respect. Respect for my elders and every elderly person on my street. I was taught respect for women, beginning with my mother. I was taught to respect women of my own age as I would want my own sister to be respected. I was taught that children were special in God’s sight.
I was taught partnership and not patriarchy. It is not about power, but about seeking to outdo each other as servants. I was stunned as I read St. Paul’s injunction that I was to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Christ died for the church. Sometimes the hardest dying is to listen to another and give up what you want because what they want or think is needful is more important.
I was taught responsibility. Not sole responsibility but shared responsibility–for finances, home, children. I was taught that real men neither are irresponsible or controlling, but co-responsible. And there is no off-loading the blame when things don’t work out.
I was taught fidelity. There was no one else in the lives of either of my parents. Fidelity has meant for me that I don’t go with another woman even in my thoughts. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice other women. It is simply that there is no other woman for me. It is actually a joy as we celebrated our 43rd anniversary recently to revel in what we have been for each other, and each other alone. I’ve sometimes joked that any man can love a lot of women. It takes a real man to love one woman thoroughly and deeply and passionately for a lifetime. I want to be that man.
I was taught that parenting was a job for both a father and mother, if both are present. I recognize there are many single-parent families which exist for many reasons, where the parent does an excellent job raising a child and nothing I say here should detract from that. Children learn from the models of each gender both about themselves and those of the other gender and how we treat each other in ways that enable us to flourish. The reward is cherished memories. I cherish memories of early morning feedings, story times, school projects, campouts and hikes, and long drives together with my son getting his driving hours on his temp permit.
There are real husbands and fathers out there doing this work. Part of what angers me about the men who have forsaken this noble calling and have abused and demeaned women, who have abused or just walked away from children, as well as those who cover over these egregious transgressions, is that you have drawn away the attention from the real men who are doing the work of being real fathers. You cast disgrace on all of us even as you disgrace yourselves. What is worse is that some of you have clothed this in the robes of sacred work. You not only disgrace other men but also dishonor the God you claim to serve.
Instead of protecting each other as men and blaming women for our behavior, it’s time for us to call one another out for this ignoble and unmanly behavior. We say “boys will be boys” and that is exactly what so much of this is, boys in men’s bodies. It’s past time for this to stop. It’s past time to let this behavior go with silence, or an uneasy laugh. If you are an abuser, or one who must put women down to raise yourself up or if you cover for those who do these things, be enough of a man to admit it and get help. Find men who will be ruthlessly honest with you who will call you into the respectful and responsible manhood you’ve not yet learned.
It is a good and honorable thing to be a father. For those men who are not yet fathers, are you working to develop the character of a good father? For those of us who witness the demeaning of women and other abuses in institutions we are part of, will we stand against this and with those who are abused? We must not put the onus on the victims to do this but stand with them. This is the work of real fathers. Perhaps this is the work to which we can dedicate ourselves as men this Father’s Day.