I stood there exhausted, a bundle in my arms. So light. There was almost nothing there, like it was too soon for there to be any mass to him. I rocked from foot to foot with a sway that would become habit. I have no idea why I did that, but I did. I stared at his closed eyes. His curled fingers couldn’t even make it around my thumb.
I wanted to be everything for him. I wanted to be strong, kind, energetic, calm, sympathetic, stern, wise, gentle, just and thousands of other things.
But there was more to be. Back on the bed The Mamantor lay drained and exhausted. She’d just brought forth a person, it’s hard work. My love for her grew that day. For her the list rolled on. I wanted to be strong, loving, supportive, understanding, strong, tender, stalwart, open and ad infinatum.
I made a million promises to myself about what I was going to be that day. But I was still me. Me with all my fears, foibles and flaws. With my weaknesses.
In time I grew, I matured, I got used to the new balance of things. I grew patience, I grew endurance, I grew calmness, I grew tolerance and I grew a capacity to love that I never knew I had. And I rejoiced.
But I was still me. I didn’t get super powers or extra limbs, or extra brain cells. I was just me.
A thought came to me recently about men and what we try to become in our lives. We want to be strong. We want to be brave. We want to be dependable. We want to be supportive. We want to be practical. We want to be manly, and I’m not sure we really know what that means.
Then, those of us that do, become dads. We want to be manly plus a bit. We want to be fatherly, and I’m not sure we really know what that means.
It’s different for everyone. That’s the nature of humanity and the nature of the world, it’s made up of differences. We take the perceived average of humanity, weight it with our own experience and hammer out a social narrative based on that. It’s complex and nuanced. But the archetypes, the ideas of masculinity and manliness pervade our waking – and probably sleeping – lives as men.
And then we become fathers.
Men a strong. Men are practical. Men are supportive. Men are enduring. Men are brave. Men are strong. Men are men are men are….
But how useful is that?
This post is an introduction to a series called the 5 virtues of fatherhood. I don’t quite know where it will lead yet, I was going to plan it out meticulously and release it in dribs and drabs, but the writing bug has bitten me and I am impelled to write this right now.
Men are told to be lots of things. We aren’t always told to be them directly, but there are expectations foisted upon us. Just as there are for women. I’m not insane enough to deny that for a moment. Nor do I wish to compare the two, I just mean the weight of social pressure bears down on men too in ways that are both similar and different, self-perpetuating and externally imposed. Whatever you call that pressure – patriarchy, dialectical materialism, society, groupthink, culture or whatever – it exerts itself on us all, like a cookie cutter that we just don’t all fit. That in fact, none of us completely fit.
Reservoir Dad recently reflected upon himself. He questioned his self assured-ness as a modern man, he questioned his well adjusted-ness and he questioned his emotional awareness. It’s inspiring work, and it got my brain ticking over on these concepts and these thoughts. So basically, these posts are all his fault.
What I want to explore are these kinds of questions; What do men expect of themselves as fathers? Why do we expect that of ourselves? What impact does it have on our children? You know, simple stuff.
I’m interested in turning things upside down. In looking at how sometimes our worst experiences of parenthood – the stuff that tests us – can help us become more self-aware and can, perhaps, be good for our parenting and for our children. About how “strength” – the manliest of all man qualities – isn’t always the answer.
So, in the spirit of that, my next post will explore the first ‘virtue of fatherhood’.