30 DAYS TO BE A BETTER MAN: (14) WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR FATHER

ROTTERDAM – Before we get to the real fun stuff (Day 18 is IDENTIFY YOUR N.U.T.s, – I can’t wait!), today has a more serious teint to it.

We have read before that the Art of Manliness believes we have lost touch with our fellow Men (see FIND A MENTOR), which included our fathers. Manhood is a tricky business to be in, and we need all the guidance we can get, really. So I’ll have to warn you: this is going to get a tad bit sentimental:

The Old Man. Pops. Dad. Daddy. Father. Papa. By whichever named we call him, no matter whether he was a good dad or a horrible one, no man looms larger in a man’s life than his father. For better or worse, his influence is inescapable. He is our model for manhood. Thus few things elicit stronger feelings in a man than his father.

Every boy wants a perfect father. He wants the man who acts as protector when things go bump in the night, who teaches him out to break in a baseball glove and how to shave, who gives him advice on women, and who becomes a friend and confidant later in life.

I get the role model. No man looms larger in a man’s life than his father. Fair enough, – the first idea of manhood we get from early childhood on is the behaviour and character of our fathers. Although mine never taught me how to break in a baseball glove, and I really can’t remember him teaching me to shave. Until last year, he never gave me advice on women, either, and although I do consider him a friend of sorts, I am not sure if I am in that stage of “later in life” just yet.

The feelings that exist between father and son are rarely expressed. Many of us still think about that one time our father said, “Son, I’m proud of you.” And many dads still cherish the time their sons said, “Thank you, Dad.

I told you it’d get sentimental.

Most of have never taken the time to really thank our dads for everything they’ve done for us and shown us or had the courage to acknowledge how much they’ve hurt us. Yet if we don’t understand how we feel about our dads, we can’t understand how they shaped us, and we can’t understand ourselves and why we turned out the way we did. So today we’re going to write a letter to our first models of manhood: our fathers.

I guess they wanted to cover all grounds here. There is a saying that says everyone’s parents fuck everyone up, so I imagine that includes our fathers. I have noticed that around my age (early to mid twenties), people start reflecting a bit more on their relationship with their parents, and mostly on figuring out which defining traits of yours you recognize in them. The exercise of contemplating on whether this is a result of nature or nurture is actually trying to decide which one of your traits are inescapable and which ones you get to change yourself. A simplicity that we cannot really afford since learnt and socialised behaviour is near to impossible to change anyways, especially when it comes to core characteristics and identity markers.

After finishing studying, everyone is trying to figure out what they want, and a big portion of the answer to that question is who you are and who you want to be. Naturally, that includes figuring out to what degree and it what ways you have been influenced by your parents.

Of course, within the parameters of this experiment, we’d have to focus more on masculinity in particular. However therapeutic this exercise might be, the letter undoubtedly has to include some narrative on the rite of passage from boy to man and how our fathers influenced that process.

These rites have been studied extensively by anthropologists in the contexts of a wide variety of cultures. Some have construed the passage in terms of actual (mostly communal) rituals. The distinction between a boy (or a child) and a man are more clearly defined and are associated with a particular social status.

Although in our (modern Western) societies we do have a rite of passage that is legally defined (being 18 in this country) and celebrated some sort of ritual (I imagine this to be 21 in the U.S.), there are no real rituals that mark the passage from boy to man in our cultures.

Maybe that’s why we’re in such a crisis of masculinity: no one told us we are men, and the markers we usually have to measure masculinity by (let’s say patriarchical misogynism) are slowly disappearing thanks to feminism.

I find the definition of masculinity as being a dominant, assertive, and powerful Man very problematic in this light. Because of its relational nature and because of the binary gender-definitions we have grown to use in the last, say, 200 years, men have dominated women systemically, resulting in inequal opportunism in measures of societal success. I say systemically because a patriarchical system does not depend on actual (physical) domination, just a recognized, reified, and institutionalised unequal power relation between the polar opposites of gender, which allows one opportunities and priviliges that the other one is being denied.

This system was created by those who came before us, and probably confirmed to by both our parents. Regardless of your father’s age, it is likely he experienced at least one of three feminist waves in his life time. I wonder how that impacted him. My father happens to be a feminist so I doubt I’ll get much enlightenment from him considering I just informed him about this blog post and he looked puzzled when I mentioned Men’s Rights Activists.

He is, in a way, a very manly man in the sense that he’s handy. Builds stuff himself. Does woodwork as a hobby. He just does not feel the need to make all of that part of his expressive identity in the way I do (by writing a blog, for instance). I had a particularly interesting talk with him just now when I told him about this project I am doing. He told me he understood why I think the Art of Manliness is so hilariously interesting, and then he asked me whether he should start waxing his moustache now.

I told him no.

Today’s Task: Write Your Father a Letter

Whether or not you had/have a good relationship with your dad, today you’re going to write him a letter. Even if he’s passed on or you don’t know where he is. Sending the letter is optional; writing it is not. The purpose of this exercise is for you to get out and write down your feelings about your dad.

Man-meter: it was interesting to talk to my dad about this 30 days challenge.

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