A Thought Adventure

Friday, February 19, 2016

38. Fatherhood

During the decades we have debated sexual equality few things have amazed me more than that no one has challenged woman's near-monopoly on parenting. If anything is a sign of the sluggish state of our collective consciousness, it's that we don't question the altogether arbitrary idea turned truism that women are better suited than men to care for children. However true it is that only women can bear and nurse babies, where's the proof that after weaning them women are more apt than men to nurture the children and that kids are better off this way?

We could say that for the human species reproduction doesn't stop with birth, since the product, the infant, is so far from ready to function on its own. Bringing children into the world, then, is just the beginning of human parenting; mere prelude to the many years of arduous and unremitting work it takes to prepare them for adulthood in an ever-changing and steadily more complex world. Mom and Dad must not only transmit values and morals (preferably by example) but also encourage the kids to think for themselvesAs distinct from their animal counterparts, human parents have a two-fold task: first helping their young to fit into their cultural environment and then to gradually modify it.

As I see it, when handing men a constricted paternal role (typically one of wage-earner and disciplinarian without much room for emotional closeness to their children), society dealt a severe blow to their sense of wholeness. Because not to allow men to freely develop their emotive intelligence is to block them from using the entire range of their humanness; i.e., to cheat them of a vital part of their manhood.

But in so doing we also cheat ourselves. Because, in my opinion, a chief reason why we remain on an adolescent level of emotional development is that we spend our formative years with too little experience of true fatherliness--or the nourishing presence of a steady fatherly concern. This, I argue, is chiefly why we're incapable, as a collective, of establishing fair and equal social systems and, as individuals, of living the full and well-rounded life that is the birthright of every human being.

The parental roles
It's therefore high time we open a discussion about what we mean by 'fatherly' and 'motherly' and what the parental roles ought to be. Not in terms of making a strict division between dad’s role and mom‘s role, but rather to clarify why two separate roles are needed and what effects we want them to have. How do we best define these terms so that they cover the masculine and feminine principles of the psyche that they are based on? 

Might for instance a motherly task be encouraging children to BE--stay true to their inner selves, affirm and embrace life as it is (as Fromm suggests in his book The Art of Loving)? And might encouraging them to BECOME--use mental concepts, master new things and change other things--be a fatherly taskTo work, I think the parental influences must complement each other, one pointing inwards, the other outwards, because what makes it so hard for us--women as well as men --to grow up is not getting enough input from both parental sources.  

Whichever way we define the parental roles, the end in view must be that children learn enough from both to become able to use--and value as highly--both sides of their psyche. It doesn’t matter whether father plays a 'motherly' and mother a 'fatherly' role since each parent is capable of fulfilling either function. By the way, some of the best ‘mothers’ (e.g., in the sense of being patient, attentive, non-judgmental) that I've met in my life are actually men.

Parental equalityThe underestimated father role is a major ingredient in the male inferiority complex, and therefore an important catalyst of men’s animosity toward women. To me, men's derogatory attitude toward the maternal role (the only thing women can do) is nothing but an example of 'sour grapes.' Since becoming mothers (and wielding their
special power) is out of reach for them, men choose to depreciate the entire female sex.

I seriously doubt we’ll ever see the end of sexism until we stop denying and instead emphatically affirm two crucial--and embarrassingly obvious--truths. One, that the male is born with as much of a paternal instinct as the female is with a maternal. Two, that fatherliness is as indispensable as motherliness for the proper growth of human beings. 

If we affirm these truths and if men make the paternal presence in their kids' life (from birth onwards) as active, palpable and unfailing as the maternal presence, then gone with the wind will be every reason for men to resent the power of motherhood. Because now fatherhood will have the same power, and Dad will be as influential as Mom in molding the hearts and minds of his kids..  

And in the wake of this wind gone will also be a main incentive for misogyny

Let me now sum up this blog, which has been an outline of my ideas about the origin of the sexist society and why we still live in one. See next post.

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