In Defense of Fathers
by Andy Joppa
So, being a good man is not an exam or a qualification, it changes, and it incorporates being a good friend, a good father, a good employee, a good boss, a good neighbor and a good citizen.
- A. Gill
My academic and consulting forte was “culture.” We spent over a year trying to convert the Swiss based management culture of Credit Suisse into one that was more “Americanized.” We had some real success. In another, we went into Satellite Business Systems, a new high tech company of the early 80’s, built from three differing cultures, IBM, Aetna and Xerox, and tried to create a common culture from these three, that varied dramatically in their approach to management. We only partially succeeded in that endeavor.
My point is…I’m extremely sensitive to culture and its implications for the success or failure of companies…or nations. With that in mind, I offer the following that my “culturally sensitive antenna” has picked up over the past few years.
For many years, the lament of the women’s movement revolved around the consideration that spending time in the home, surrounded by screaming kids, was demeaning. She had to leave the house to fulfill herself and seek her true destiny. Merely being a mother was not enough to satisfy her sense of self. In fact, according to the lament, none of it really was. I could create an entire essay discussing the negatives that this view has created in our culture. It may very well have been the moment where it all started to go bad. While a dubious case can be made that women’s life involvements were enhanced, there is no case that can be made that these directions enhanced the well-being of society nor the children so effected.
However, I now find in many movies and other culturally manipulative areas it being suggested that the man must seek out the home and family…to the exclusion of all other things… for his only true value. His work has been basically defined as purposeless in the lives of his family. Even the old “excuse” that he had to earn money for the well-being of the family is no longer accepted as valid.
The wives, in these carefully scripted cultural media manipulations, often offer “wise” counsel that includes, “We’ll be OK”…”The children need you at home to tuck them in,” or “Wipe their noses,” or, “To go to their sixth-grade choir recital.” It resurrects some of the same attacks on Ghandi because he wasn’t a good father while “wasting” his time creating Indian independence.
Paying the bills, so goes the pleading, would somehow be taken care of by some miracle…or the government I would suppose. In addition, we should ignore that he’s working on a cure for a cancer or that he’s building a company that will employ thousands or that he’s invested dozens of years in getting there, in addition to achieving the academic credentials that might have made that possible. More simply, and realistically…because it’s his job no matter how onerous it is for him to even show up every day. It is what he owed his family. Now, just being there for nearly every moment in their lives is all that matters…or so the new cultural gurus would have it.
Lost in all of this nonsense are the realities of some families. The ungrateful children. The whiny wife who can’t stand having hubby around. The kiddies who resent the discipline from the father and…in many cases, no matter what the wife said…the reduced financial resources creating marital difficulties. The best of fathers can become depressed and feel lost without anything significant to do except wipe noses and listen to laments. Isn’t that what women have being saying for many years?
But, no matter what…the father is being urged to surrender everything that has been their source of pride and accomplishment to be a back-up parent. If they’re a doctor…no matter. If they’re critical for an organization’s success…no matter. If they’re making as many soccer games and boy scout badge ceremonies as they can…they have to be there for every redundant moment of their children’s lives. If not, it is suggested, their children’s lives and futures will be irreparably damaged.
What is all this nonsense about? First, and foremost, it represents a profound cultural shift. It is a significant part of diminishing the male role, not expanding it, and a further attempt to emasculate the male father figures and make them into little more than a background figure in their family’s life. In this process he becomes essentially useless and his life as profound actor in their family’s life…and the society in total, is sacrificed for very little of real value…if any.
Don’t read me wrong on any of this. The father has a legal and moral responsibility to do whatever he can to ensure the well-being of their family. They can be source of profound joy. However, this must include the pride, learning, and benefits that can take place from a father’s outside activities. If he can be there…he should. This cannot be extended to ignoring or diminishing his commitments that have been made elsewhere. They matter. They are real things. They are real obligations to other real people.
To personalize this…I love my wife and son and would do anything for them. This has included working as hard as I could to help ensure the quality of their lives. Part of that included taking my son to some of the classes that I was teaching. This also included showing my son, through my actions, the value of fulfilling your commitments and doing everything you can to do your job as well as you can do it. He learned that well, not because of my bedside manner, but as a result of what he observed in my vocational life.
As I could, I managed his little league team and was a Cub Scout pack leader. However, if I couldn’t be there, I couldn’t be there. My wife was mature enough to understand the healthiest role I could serve; pay the bills, do what was POSSIBLE for our family, and be a role model in my vocational life for my son’s future life. Our parental roles were not enhanced by merely doing what the other was doing.
This cultural assault on the primary roles of the father must end. It is part of larger attempt to even make it nearly impossible to define what a man and woman are (as shown by the recent answer from a supreme court judge.) The pressures in this direction are not being made to enhance the family…but to destroy it. To enhance your family is a beautiful thing. It must be recognized, however, that that is accomplished in many diverse ways. Merely surrendering your whole life to it is not one of the ways.
My family is the major part of my life…but it is far from being all of it. That obvious statement of reality is becoming more and more difficult to make in a society committed to destroying all biologic and cultural realities.
My father used to say, ‘I want you to be a good man; I want you to learn how to work. And I want you to be a serious person.’ I grew up with that in my mind.