Sunday, February 5, 2023

My Fathers


January 25 was the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law's passing. Krishan Syal was a good man and one of my fathers. I miss him profoundly. I wrote this for him after he died. If I could, I would like to talk to him about what I'm going to write here. We had so many conversations about important things like this. Kris was one of the most authentic men I have had the privilege to know. He cared for me, respected me, and shared what he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. He was a father at a time when fatherhood is increasingly difficult to define. We need a new definition of what it means to be a father in the world today.

I'm reading "Of Boys And Men" by Richard V. Reeves. The book is an exploration of why the modern male is struggling, why it matters, and what we can do about that. The book addresses many elements of the male experience, and fatherhood is a prominent theme. A quote from the book stuck out for me,
A man who is integrated into a community through a role in a family, spanning generations into the past and future, will be more consistently and durably tied to the social order than a man responding chiefly to a charismatic leader, a demagogue, or a grandiose ideaology of patriotism." 
- George Gilder, 1973

When I read the words "charismatic leader," "demagogue" and "grandiose ideology," I don't need to think very hard to provide many contemporary examples of each one of these types of men. These are men who are lost in their perception of masculinity. They believe that to be strong, others must be weak. They possess insecurity and fear without knowing how to be humble and authentic. Locked in a zeitgeist of days gone by, they are confused about their place in a society that no longer fears them, and can no longer be controlled by them. They deny the true nature of their emotions masking them with anger and aggression. This is a diminished state of manhood that cannot be sustained. To say that our next evolutionary step forward for humanity depends on the formulation of a new definition of fatherhood is no exaggeration. 

A segment of Herbert Vilakazi's opening address to the National Association of Child Care Workers 1991 Biennial Conference (http://tinyurl.com/yfxzdwn) in South Africa provides brilliant insight into how we need to think and act if we are to support today's children as our gifts to the future, and it frames how what fathers, (and mothers,) need to be,

"The problems of children and of youth, giving rise to child and youth care programs, can only begin to be solved in that society of humankind’s dream; a more collective-oriented society than at present, when the father of the child shall be every man as old as the child’s father... and the mother of the child shall be every woman as old as the child’s mother..." 
I have had many fathers. Collectively, I received most of what I needed to be the best man I can be from them, but I didn't receive everything I needed from any one of them. These were men that had their own strengths and weaknesses, and I was only interested in their strengths. My point is it took a village to raise this child. Interestingly enough, it also took this child to raise my village; the community of influential men that saw me as worthy of their care and attention, and I will be forever thankful for that. 

Being a father means many things, and being a man does too. If fatherhood by definition is similar to the definition of manhood as defined by so many, we're going to have more problems. There are qualities in caregivers that all children need to thrive. They need love. They need responsible care. They need to witness positive examples of fairness, resilience, work ethic, kindness, authenticity, vulnerability, and more. Sadly as I said before, these elements aren't necessarily evident in a world with far too many men displaying opposite traits. I don't know if those men who can't measure up for the young people in their lives can be adequately supported, but I think the effort is worth making. There is no logic in vilifying those inadequate providers of the positive traits mentioned above. Rather we should be looking at the stories behind these men's stories to find out what hurt them to the point where they may feel inadequate and quite likely unable to express that in ways that lead to reconciliatory change. 

There is another trajectory worth exploring as well. We can be one of the many fathers as "old as the child's father." We can do many things to support children; our own, and others, but it's a remote possibility that any one of us can do everything needed. I believe that every man on earth has the capacity to be a great man, and by virtue of that, a great father. We need to talk about what a great man is, and what great men can do to raise the next generation of great men.  

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