Love, Masculinity and Absent Fathers
Ever since I was a child, Father’s Day has always left an unsettling feeling in my stomach. Call it daddy issues or whatever the heck you want to call it, but the one thing I don’t lack is honesty. I almost forgot this weekend is the “special” day until I received an email asking me “What is the most important thing you have learned from the fathers in your life?” I immediately chuckled and cringed at the question as my mother’s words rolled off the tip of my cynical tongue: “Never ever rely on a man to support you or make you happy. Just look at your father!”
While I’m extremely proud to have been raised by a resilient single mother, I also carry strains of sadness and disappointment in my heart when I think of my father’s struggle to love his own family. Unfortunately my story is overwhelmingly common, as many of us grew up with absentee fathers and single moms struggling to make ends meet. It is no coincidence that all four of my very own best friends grew up without their fathers (maybe that is why we connect on such a cosmic level).
There are a plethora of studies done to explain why so many fathers are emotionally and/or physically absent from their children’s lives. We can look at the structural realities of prisons, poverty and immigration laws that tear families apart, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. But those are only strands within a huge matrix of factors.
How do I explain my mother, a daughter of poor Mexican immigrants, who was only allowed to date and marry white boys like my father? That was a recipe for survival assimilation that didn’t bake out so well. My father, a white dude who grew up in middle class America with no threats of racism, incarceration, poverty, or la migra, still managed to be an absent father and emotionally abusive husband. Even with all his privileges and opportunity, patriarchy, racism and masculinity got the best of him.
As I have gotten older, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on why so many men such as my father disrespect their families. Why so many men flee from challenging situations instead of working through them.
I hate to admit, but my father has definitely informed my own relationships with men, and my ability (or lack there of) to trust and love them at times. It has taken me a long time to learn that the problem isn’t men per say, but the way in which maleness and patriarchal masculinity is rooted in our society and imposed on men and women.
In The Will To Change, my favorite author bell hooks writes: “Violence is boyhood socialization. The way we ‘turn boys into men’ is through injury… We take them away from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase ‘be a man’ means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection is masculinity.”
So many men like my father have replicated violent behavior because they have been socialized to behave that way. They have been taught through violence to reject their emotions and become numb and distant, which allows them to commit violence (emotional or physical) on others, especially those who are closest to them.
Even with all of my pain, I’m working on getting to a point where I can unconditionally love my father and patriarchal men while critiquing their actions. I also have to remember that I’m surrounded by so many beautiful fathers and men who embody both the masculine and the feminine. People like Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center, who isn’t afraid to cry in front of a crowd of people and hug his daughters. Men who are in touch with the emotionally open part of themselves that allows them to communicate and love deeply.
This fathers day I choose to celebrate men who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and dismantle gender norms. This fathers day I applaud all of the active fathers who are teaching their sons and daughters how to dismantle patriarchy and oppression through their actions. This fathers day, lets get deep and tell all of the people we cherish how much we really love them!