We recently celebrated International Men’s Day. It’s a contentious awareness day. Some would argue that men do not need a day of international recognition since the cultural, economic and business decks are tipped so heavily in their favor but when it comes to Black men, we know that the deck is often stacked against them. We must celebrate our hard-working men, just as mothers must be recognized for their hard work. Heck, according to the World Economic Forum the gender pay gap could take over 200 years to close if we carry on at our current trajectory. Nonetheless, many have used International Men’s Day as an opportunity to confront the gender stereotypes and misconceptions that have led to the ubiquity of what we now call toxic masculinity. Fathers are the bastions of masculinity. It’s in their interactions with their sons and their daughters that the parameters of masculinity are defined.
“As such, it behooves all men to think about what kind of man they want their sons to grow up to be and what kind of men they hope that their daughters will interact within their professional and their social lives.”
All you dads out there will know that kids do what we do as much as they do what we say. With that in mind, here are a few reminders that we could all use a little more often, from those just starting to grapple with the demands of parenthood for those with college age kids…
It’s okay to show our emotions
The idea of the stern, stoic patriarch is something that desperately needs to be put to bed. When we bottle up our emotions it can only lead to negative consequences not only for us but for those around us. Emotions need an appropriate outlet so that they can be dealt with in a constructive way. It’s okay to cry on front of your kids. It’s okay to laugh in front of your kids. It’s okay to get mad in front of your kids, so long as you can model an appropriate way to deal with that anger.
It’s okay to ask for help
Where is it written that dads have to be completely autonomous units who need neither help or guidance under any circumstances? Best case scenario this leads to standup comics making jokes about men never asking for directions. Worst case scenario, this leads to dads getting woefully out of their depth, and crashing and burning psychologically. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for help whether it’s looking for legal help with father’s rights or simply needing advice on the right way to bleed a radiator. When our kids grow up feeling that they have to tackle the world’s problems on their own without help, we’ve set them up for a fall.
It’s okay not to have all the answers
How many times did our dads wing it? How many times did they give us an erroneous answer to a question we asked and stick to it even when they were proven wrong? There’s absolutely no shame in telling your son or daughter that you don’t know the answer when they ask us a question. In fact, it’s a great opportunity. You can guide them to help find the answer together. This will encourage them to have autonomy over their own learning rather than accepting everything you say as rote.
When we take quality time with our kids, admit our frailties to them and let them see our vulnerable side, we do our part to erode the less flattering aspects of masculinity which have dogged men and dads for generations.