Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Down But Not Out: Biblical Manhood/Fatherhood Pt. 1

This is part one of a two part series in my studies of Biblical manhood and fatherhood. This first part was written using only secular sources, hence the lack of Scripture, Christian references, etc. The 2nd half will be much more Scripture oriented and detailed. Stay tuned.

Manhood and fatherhood in America is undergoing a significant change. Traditional family values, goals, and ideals are being uprooted by a world of stress and pressure to be more, to be better, to exceed. Conventional masculinity is being redefined as unstable and something to be “proved”; hence the creation of the self-made man. Instead of landownership or independence, today’s men now focus on vigorous recreation and strenuous careers. These attempts to become a “real man” have manifested themselves in family units and have been a significant factor in divorces, unethical behavior, and the emotional separation of families. It is an issue that hereditarily spreads from one generation of men and their children to the next; abuse and neglect brought by fathers leaves a deeply ingrained impression on young men as they pursue manhood and fatherhood.

The eradication of traditional ideas of fatherhood have created a new age of men who are struggling to define themselves and their roles. This has led to millions who have rushed in to marriage and fatherhood unaware of the task, commitment, and struggle they will be faced with. Men and fathers have become estranged and emotionally distant to their children, they pay child support every month and maybe see the kids every weekend. Today, millions of children are dangerously lacking in a loving, caring, and most importantly, a present father. Fortunately on the other end, according to the National Census Bureau, 2.75 million children are being raised by fathers.

Several fathers, when given the time to play and spend quality time with their children often feel inadequate in their role as nurturer, teacher, or disciplinarian. This can almost directly be equated to the fathering example they were brought up in. The upbringing and education (or lack thereof) that a father shows his son(s) is directly correlated to how that son will in-turn treat his children, wether it be positively or negatively. Fathering children can be a blessing or a disease that will inherently spread from one generation, to the next, to the next.

Women and children are no longer obliged to be “seen and not heard.” Mens sole role isn’t merely financial. There is a new era being ushered in, asking “what is American manhood?” In his book, Manhood in America, Michael Kimmel states,

"Self-Made Manhood is our legacy from nearly two centuries of American history. But it is not our nature; it has a history. And the meanings of manhood will continue to change. It is my hope that such changes not rehearse the failed strategies that have dogged our efforts to prove our manhood, but that we accept the responsibility to consider other possibilities, other visions of manhood"

Trying to create and prove ourselves as men goes against our very being. Deciding that a man is or is not “manly” based on what he does, where he works, or how he treats his family is a fallacy. These lies are what fuel the insecurities, the uncertainties, and the broken hearts in millions of American households.

These specific attributes are still very much alive today, but Kimmel mentions that men can no longer accept this. There are alternatives to what the mass media foists upon men. Consistently, the men and father figures on TV are depicted as inadequate, undisciplined, and cowardly. They’re jokes, meant to be laughed at and nothing more. If there is an once of depth or morality to be gleaned, it is from the wife, children, etc. It’s possible that, in reality, this is how several households are, but men and fathers cannot accept a life of insignificant distance (physically and emotionally) in their respective families. Creating a “man cave,” working a blue-collar job, and a vulgar tongue will not prove your masculinity. Rather the love, respect, and time shown towards a wife and children will.

Despite the apparent downward trend in modern fatherhood, men have been responding in an effort to break the cycle of alcoholism, abuse, neglect, and hatred that spans multiple generations. In Patricia Fry’s article, a young father, Ronald tells his story,

"Dad was drunk and always coming home late. I lay awake listening to him beat Mom, her crying, him loading guns while giving us kids' names to each bullet, watching him choke her to unconsciousness and on and on. I ran away from home for the first time at age fourteen. I got heavy into drugs and alcohol. I stole cars, broke into houses. From age sixteen to eighteen, I was mostly incarcerated-a total loser. Now I have three sons, and they never cry themselves to sleep because of what Daddy's doing to Mommy. They don't feel a wave of terror when I come home from work. Thank God they'll never know that terror."

Granted, Ronald’s story is a grim retelling of the destructive power of fathers. The time and effort that is necessary for this kind of healing process takes years, decades, and even then may bear no fruit. This process these experiences growing up are the cause of why so many men and women hold an overwhelming hatred for their fathers. After years (and possibly decades), men have had to heal their wounded relationships with fathers through forgiveness and a soft heart. Only through this can young men begin to dig themselves out of the mire of imprinting and heartbreak.

This attitude of understanding has led to a shift, a trend, of men promising to not be like the fathers that they grew up with; but rather to be intentional and involved in the family they were a part of. "Fatherhood is inside every boy at birth, but the kind of nurturing he gets from his father will determine how far it goes."

It’s this nurturing and positive upbringing in the first months that effect how that child will in turn grow up and train his children.

“Fatherhood is worth it.”

Parenting, and specifically fatherhood, is one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors any man will pursue. It’s the role young men were innately meant to fulfill. This incomparable nurturing, love, and growth will change a man for the rest of his life. “Fathering is not a passive process; the process of fathering has profound effects on men themselves and important implications for children.”

Being a man is not what the American media portrays it to be either. Manhood is strength, courage, provision, protection, sensitivity, and the list goes on. It is not something that has to be proven or shown to anyone. The traits and characteristics naturally emerge over time. Being a father to your children and a husband to your wife is love, respect, discipline, leadership, and again the list continues.

By no means is this an easy process however, studies show that many fathers are required to negotiate their work schedule and habits for what’s good for the family. This role is a daunting task, however, it is the ultimate mark of a true man; a father who has a lasting and positive impression on his children and the generations that follow.

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