men, masculinities and gender politics

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Daddy, Do Better

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I have three daughters whose respective ages are 10, 12, and 18; and they reign supreme among the reasons I am blessed to be me. Many people have enriched my life, but none like those "little women" who simply call me Daddy. They inspire me more than anyone to be a positive presence in their and others' lives. I love them more than words could ever convey, and I take incalculable delight in watching and helping them grow.

Regrettably, I have not always felt that way. There was a time when I believed that siring three daughters was a curse. I also was the kind of man I hope they will always avoid. I was manipulative and mean, and I used and abused women in just about every way imaginable. However, the more I looked into my daughters' eyes, the more I longed for them to see me as a father of which they could be proud. Yet, the more I listened to them, the more I learned the abysmal degree to which I was a disappointment and disgrace to them.

They told me about the nightmares, headaches, and tummy aches that ensued my fits of rage. One even told me that she was no longer proud to call me Daddy, an admission that nearly ripped my soul to shreds. They did not care about getting things, but how all in the family might get along. Although I was distant even when I was close to them, they did not want me gone. They wanted me to get better; to do better; to be a better person and not just a so-called better man.

Like many abusive men, I thought I was a dynamite dad even though I was a pathetic partner. So, my initial reaction to the chastisement of my children was denial, defensiveness, and downright seething anger. I accused their mother of poisoning their minds because I refused to believe that they could feel and express such disapprobation without adult assistance. Consequently, I adopted a me-against-them mentality that only made me more antagonistic and jealous as a parent and delayed my deliverance from the evils of domestic violence.


Still, my daughters persisted in challenging me to change. Their criticism was constructive, too, because they vented wholesome expectations and not just their woeful frustrations. One day our middle child even read to me an excellent children's book about conflict resolution when she noticed that I was becoming angry with their mother. Yes, they wanted a different daddy - their father to become a new man rather than a new man to become their father.


I wish I had changed sooner than later, but the day finally came when their speaking up and speaking out suddenly galvanized me into getting myself together. What I once perceived as insulting comments became inspiring critiques as I remembered saints of ol' reinterpretation of the biblical expression "a child shall lead them." Their loving me was leading me to a radical revision of me.
 

 

They were loving me to wholeness. Their healing presence in my life was helping me overcome the malady and madness of being a misogynist and male chauvinist pig. I made life hell on earth for many of the women who opened their hearts to me, but "the devil" that "made me do it" was not some fire-breathing, pitch-fork-carrying, soul-chasing, havoc-wreaking, metaphysical overlord of postmortem retribution. It was a steady diet of formative and formidable social experiences that etched into my subconscious a demeaning and demanding attitude toward women and self-serving beliefs about what it means to be male in general and "a man" in particular. My initial roles as a "hu-man" were scripted by negative social forces I could not resist until I recognized them.


My daughters' unrelenting love for me not only transformed my pitiful perspective on parenting, but also the way I think of and treat women altogether. They were resplendent rays of sun under which my heart warmed to the idea of fatherhood, and as I reached a profound awareness of their solidarity with all "sistas," I awakened to the powerful and practical realization that I could not give them proper respect without also showing the same respect to all women. Moreover, I was making indelible impressions on them as the first man to love and be loved by them, and I no longer wanted to bequeath to them negative images and ideas of femininity, masculinity, love, friendship, and human relationships in general.


It was not enough for my daughters to reach out with such love. I had to reach back and reciprocate it. In so doing, I learned to love them and others for who they are and, sometimes, despite how they are. I learned to look beyond others' faults and see their need for someone, including me, to always help bring out the best in them. I learned to respect those who do little or nothing to earn respect. I learned that true love is the motivation and means by which I can make the most of whatever moments I share with others. I learned that to love is to choose hope instead of hate; forgiveness instead of bitterness; selflessness instead of selfishness; kindness instead of cruelty; strength of character instead of weakness of mind. I learned that I cannot be much of anything unless love is everything to me.


It is not because they are cute and cuddly that my daughters are daddy's girls. It is because they are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Consequently, I would not love them any less even if they were the most stubborn and obstinate children. However, they are as good to and for me as anyone in my life. I just had to humble myself and then parent. When I relinquished the role of the know-it-all-and-have-it-all dad, I became receptive to their incomparably good influence as children with hearts made of heaven's gold. I learned that it is truly a blessing to have children because they are treasures in earthen vessels, and they, too, can bless and enrich my life.
 


Richard Jones is a writer living in Detroit, MI.  Copyright (c) 2004 Richard Jones. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission from Richard Jones.