So another Father’s Day has come and will go without much real change in American society’s attitudes toward fatherhood and men in general.
First, the requisite admission: many fathers are bad models and many men are abusive, oppressive and stupid.
Second, an obvious observation: our society doesn’t help when the mass media portray men as stupid, silly, sinister and violent. (Nor is the current spate of movies portraying women as violent help women or society, either.)
We all know how important the father role is to holistically healthy childhood development. And how devastating it can be to have a father who is abusive, neglectful and/or absent. Even adult children can be harmed psychologically by having a father who turns abusive verbally and emotionally.
I mentioned in my immediately preceding post (about movies and books) that the father-son relationship must be the most complicated relationship known to humanity. I’m almost glad I don’t have a son; it seems so hard to “get it right.” (By “it” I mean fathering a son.)
Sons especially look to their fathers for approval and blessing. So do daughters, of course, but I think daughters are more likely to forgive and not be damaged by a few fatherly mistakes. Sons internalize fatherly disapproval even when it is communicated only by a lack of verbal approval and blessing. I think it’s built into males to need that blessing from a father. And I think many men are conditioned to expect too much of their sons and withhold approval and blessing when they seemingly fall short of expectations.
Many of today’s social pathologies are rooted, I believe, in what some psychologists have called “father hunger”–especially boys and young men having no strong, loving, approving male to guide them and bless them.
Our society has literally millions of young men who have grown up with no father figures. Even most of their teachers have been women. Not that women can’t teach boys and young men, but studies have proven that boys learn better from men than from women. Girls also learn better from women than from men. Our public schools have too few male teachers.
What could society do to redress some of this? It’s a blatant lie that popular entertainment culture simply reflects reality. TV producers and movie makers clearly attempt to engineer society. So why do they not even attempt to help with this situation? In the past there were some TV shows and movies that portrayed fathers and men as good, but I suspect the widespread effect of the feminist movement, perhaps misinterpreted, has reduced that almost to nothing. It’s politically incorrect to portray fathers and men as good, competent, strong, honest, supportive and loving–unless there’s a “dark side” that eventually comes out that ruins everything positive portrayed.
Now, let me go back to the 1950s to illustrate. Some of you may remember the TV series “Father Knows Best.” The feminist movement has wrongly held it up to ridicule. I grew up watching it because my stepmother loved it. As I recall, the father, Jim Anderson, portrayed by Robert Young, was a good father in every way INCLUDING that he did not abuse or oppress his wife and kids. In fact, the very name of the series was clearly ironic. Jim Anderson DID NOT always know best. He frequently had to bow to his wife’s better knowledge and wisdom and he frequently apologize to her and to his kids for being wrong about something. Yes, he was a strong father, but not in any way an abusive one.
What I would like to know is why feminists vilified the show instead of promoting its portrayal of fatherhood?
In more recent years Bill Cosby was almost a perfect father in “The Cosby Show.” He was anything but patriarchal, but he was firm with his kids and portrayed wise, loving fatherhood.
Where are the good male role models in popular culture? I’m not talking about ones without flaws; I’m talking about ones that love their families and are neither silly (like “Phil” in “Modern Family”) or sour and emotionally withdrawn (like “Jay” in the same show). Sure, both of those characters do some good things and have positive characteristics, but they could hardly be said to be model fathers.
The other evening, after I had worked on my book all day, I sat down at the TV and flipped channels. I landed on a show I’ve never watched before where military fathers come home to their wives and kids–often surprising them. This was a welcome relief from the routine. At least for a few minutes we saw some really outstanding fathers–more than a few who cried about returning home to their children.
Would that a TV show would include just one really good father without having to bring out his “dark side.”
Maybe if society went out of its way to reward fathers who support their families, love them and bless them, and are competent and strong without any dark side, fathers would have more extrinsic motivation to by like that. Right now, what reward or acknowledgment does a good father get other than from his own family? All he sees and hears around him are negative images and messages about men and fatherhood.