Fatherhood, Again

December 9, 2003 | 5 comments
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Since Adam has been linking to articles from First Things, I suppose I ought to post here also an entry from my blog which refers to what is, in my opinion, one of the best things the magazine has ever run (the fact that it was written by a close friend of mine of course has nothing to do with my assessment of the essay’s quality).

The essay, “Fatherhood, 2002,” is a wise, reflective, incisive look at the needs and hopes of most of those who are becoming parents (and particularly fathers) at this moment in our history. While Damon and his wife Beth are just rookies at the parenting game (they have one boy), I’ve yet to read any single essay that expressed my own aspirations, and self-understanding, in regards to being a “modern” father as well as this one did.

I’m reminded of all this because, as I recently announced, we’ve just had a baby, and so the last few days have been rather exhausting, to say the least. (Melissa and I have managed to have our three children far enough apart–there is an average of about 3 years, 7 months between them–that we have felt lately as though we were relearning everything that we should have figured out at least once, if not twice, before.) Not that it all seems “new,” necessarily: just, well, unexpected. As if we were going around saying–when fitting the baby into the car seat, or changing her diaper, or trying to get her to burp, or rocking her in our arms, trying to get her to go to go back to sleep after a 2am feeding–Oh, wait, this again?

For what it’s worth, yes, I get up with Melissa for those 2am feedings, maybe rubbing her feet while she nurses Alison, though admittedly I often fall right back to sleep. I take my turn at rocking our little baby, cleaning her up, keeping the other girls from pouncing on her and treating her like a doll, and so forth. Does that make ours an egalitarian, “modern” marriage? Beats me. I know it’s not how my father did it (I grew up in a family of nine kids, and for most of it my mother was very much on her own); but at the same time, it’s how just about all of my brothers approach child-rearing duties with their wives. We’re all a bunch of early rising, diaper-washing, bottle-warming husbands, though I hardly mean to imply that we perfectly shoulder our share of the responsibilities. Still, the trend is consistent enough to suggest that fatherhood, for many of us of my generation at least, means something much more egalitarian than it used to.

Damon’s vision of fatherhood is not only a relatively egalitarian one; it also includes a nod towards the need for more and better family-friendly policies in our society, a position I fully agree with. However, given that most ROFTers, as Adam named them, are quite conservative, his essay came in for a fair amount of criticism. While several of the correspondents made interesting points, more than a few charged Damon, essentially, with being a (forgive the crude language, but it’s accurate) unmanly, pussy-whipped, New Agey drip, singularly ignorant of the “real world” of masculine parenting. Not only can I testify that such isn’t the case, but Damon ably demonstrated such in his deliciously sharp response to his critics, here. Nothing like a little intergenerational argument to liven up your day. Enjoy!

5 Responses to Fatherhood, Again

  1. Michelle on December 10, 2003 at 12:20 pm

    These are great links, and this is a great discussion. I’m thankful for the “new world” we live in that necessitates a husband’s help with basic child care (in fact, I wonder how long I would have lasted 50 years ago — “if you think I’m doing this alone, you’re crazy”). My husband lovingly gets out of bed in the morning so I don’t have to. It seems that women are demanding this involvement – and I wonder if this is a result of modern marriage, focused more on love and less on daily living. Or maybe it’s just environmental? Does this new way really work on a farm? When my husband is sleeping in bed and doesn’t have to be at work until 10, you bet I expect him to help. But does he take out the trash or clean up the dinner dishes? Nope – because he’s not home until long after dinner. The mornings are the only time he gets with our daughter – and the mornings are when she needs the most care (diaper, immediate feeding, etc.)

    I wonder what this changing fatherhood will mean. Children rarely fear their fathers anymore. Are we moving from an Old Testament view of the fearsome, distant Father, to the New Testament view of a loving, involved Father? (Please, I know these “views” are misguided, but they work well here. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. The differences in charateristics are likely a result of the characters and situations involved.) We need both books (and others) to completely know God. What’s the complementary changing role of motherhood? And how does this changing fatherhood help us understand our Father better?

  2. Adam Greenwood on December 10, 2003 at 12:58 pm

    The article points out that traditional roles may not be possible longer, because they leave the mother stranded and alone. But I disagree that the only solution is _necessarily_ to send the mother to work. I persist in finding the prospect not ideal.

    I also object to egalitarian sharing because it usually extends not just to sharing of responsibilities but of sharing of ways of being. Mothers must become more fatherly and fathers more motherly. In my view, sex differences are eternal, deeply rooted in the divine plan, and therefore we should welcome them and welcome cultural instantiations of them. I do my bit with our children (medical situations make it a necessity even if I were not so inclined), but I do it as a man. My children do fear me a little and I suppose they will into adulthood.

    I know that some of my friends have found it liberating to be able to be more feminine and motherly, etc. I have not. I have found it enervating. My nature is my liberation.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on December 10, 2003 at 1:09 pm

    “Mothers must become more fatherly and fathers more motherly.”

    I agree that this is not necessarily the only (or even the best) way to understand the divine command that husband and wife are to become “one flesh,” but such relative intercompatability of roles and responsibilities is, I think, an entirely legitimate (if “modern”) manifestation of the same ancient imperative. That is, stay-home dads and working moms–or, more basically, moms who had out discipline and work assignments, and dads who read bedtime stories and sing their children to sleep–are surely deviating from a long-standing social norm, with potential social consequences. But I’m not sure I trust “nature” enough to believe such deviations cannot, in their own way, nonetheless accommodate the most essential requirement of a good family and marriage (namely, unity), and therefore continue to fulfill God’s commands.

  4. Adam Greenwood on December 10, 2003 at 1:59 pm

    I admit that I’m treading in murky waters here. It is by all means possible–even likely–that part of the purpose of having two sexes and then marrying them off is precisely so that each can learn the attributes of the other. I would only comment that the injunction to be “one flesh” but not “one soul” suggests to me that those attributes are always in some way to be mediated by the spouse. More fundamentally, my own experience is what teaches me the goodness of seeking roles and recognizing my sex.

  5. clark on December 10, 2003 at 2:15 pm

    I admit the “learning the attributes of the other sex” bit has always seemed far too Jungian to me. I think it is more that we learn to be one with someone who is different. Certainly our spouses have strengths we may not because of biological differences. But I personally think that individual personalities account for a lot more than sex. I’ve found in my marriage that most of the sexual differences that all my married friends spoke of aren’t nearly as big a deal as they m

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