Are you dad enough? – revisited

The preamble.

Since Sunday was Father’s Day and since it seems like my brief, lunchtime glimpse into the strange land of Facebook yielded streams of my-dad-is-wicked-cool accolades, I thought I’d revisit something I wrote a little more than a year ago.

Rebuttal to TIME Magazine’s cover image. [17]

“Are You Dad Enough?” was initially written as a reply to all the hullabaloo regarding a cover story (and its evocative cover image) published by TIME. Truly, the subject of masculinity and fatherhood has been on my mind for a very long time. I dare say it goes all the way back to a time before mobile devices and internet (and in my case, before color television). I’ll offer two brief thoughts and then repost last year’s “Are You Dad Enough?” piece.

1.

On a school playground miles to the east of the river explorers named Holy Cross, an older classmate told me that my father was not a real man because he had the word reverend in front of his name (like some men have the words officer or doctor in front of their name). So, I did the only civilized thing I could think of at the time and challenged him to a fight. I had read of such noble duels in books. And that began question, what is a real man? There’s a lot more to that story, but you will have to read that another time, but that set the for stage learning about true masculinity and ultimately fatherhood.

2.

Upon being a father for the first time, a friend suggested I read a book called Wild at Heart. I did not get very far into reading this book for a couple of reasons. One reason is the author’s gobbledygook claim that real men do not work in offices or cubicles and that real men are found kayaking down rivers in Colorado. [1] Another reason for putting the book aside is doctrinal error. [2] Iron John is another book on masculinity, or maybe it should be better described as the masculine mythos. [3] The author claims it is more of a fairy tale than a book about men, but he strikes a chord with the need for fathers to be present and be part of the process of the maturation of boys to manhood and fatherhood. [4] One book that made the most impact on my thoughts on masculinity and fatherhood is a book that is now out of print, Missing From Action. [5] It’s more of a history book about American masculinity, but a very good read. Again, I have more thoughts on these books and what I’ve learned, but you’ll have to read that at another time.

Here’s the piece, as it appeared last May:

Are You Dad Enough?

What do you think about all the reaction to TIME magazine’s recent cover featuring an attractive blonde mother breastfeeding her son? [6] [7] [8] [9] The fact that a nurturing mother evokes such outrage is amusing to me. [10]

This public response to a magazine cover begs the question (at least in my mind): would TIME ever run a story titled “Are you Dad Enough?” and cover the nurturing aspects of fatherhood? [11] Another question that comes to mind is: when was the last time you saw a father portrayed as a responsible father on the cover of TIME magazine? Or any other mainstream periodical for that matter? Has the model of a loving father vanished from the landscape of American culture? [12]

Plenty of examples of fathers are portrayed on television, but I’m not talking about the Tim Allen “Aarrrgghh, Aarrrgghh, Aarrrgghh” type dads who think going to a sporting goods store is fatherhood. Nor am I talking about the According to Jim beer-guzzling, television-watching, misogynists who seem to mess up everything and then Cheryl has to come in and fix the problems before the end of the show. [13] This portrait of American dads is degrading to those fathers out there who manage to change a child’s diaper, wash the dishes, do the laundry, fix a plugged tub on a Sunday morning when everyone needs a bath before church, [14] play trains with the younger children or stick ball with the older ones, and, in general, serve and sacrifice for their family. [15] I know plenty of fathers who are working crumby jobs just to feed their families and take care of their homes. They sacrifice their own dreams and aspirations because that’s what dad’s ought to do.

Now there are plenty of derelict dads out there who sit around and play video games all day, try to be cool with their kids and consider their children cultural objects. They are poor examples of fatherhood. Dear boy-dads, grow up. You are fathers now. You are no longer cool, hip, or awesome. Fatherhood is a difficult, thankless but ultimately rewarding vocation. Fathering a child only takes moments. Fatherhood is a lifetime commitment. Join the ranks of nurturing, responsible fathers and own it with dignity and grace. [16]

NOTES FOR THE PREAMBLE:
[1] Full disclosure: I never finished reading Wild at Heart because I was so put off by the author’s logical fallacies… I mean, did the author not consider that some of those real men he is insulting work in a dimly lit publishing company office preparing his book for the masses and on the weekends they may have the adventure of kayaking down a Colorado river?
[2] Tim Challies, “Book Review – Wild At Heart,” June 3, 2004 accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.challies.com/general-news/book-review-wild-at-heart
[3] One book reviewer summarizes the book best, stating: “Iron John’s thesis is provocative yet simple: fathers aren’t doing a very good job of raising their sons because they are “absent” and also because our culture has lost the use of ritual in marking off the phases of maturation.” Read the rest of the review here: Brian Charles Clark, “Iron John: A Book About Men,” 2005 accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.curledup.com/ironjohn.htm
[4] Here’s a quote from Iron John: “The inner boy in a messed-up family may keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years…. Most American men today do not have enough awakened or living warriors inside to defend their soul houses. And most people, men or women, do not know what genuine outward or inward warriors would look like, or feel like.” But don’t take my word for it, buy a copy and read it for yourself.
[5] It is difficult to find a copy. You may want to try a search on AbeBooks.com. UPDATE: I located a website that hosts the content of Missing From Action, accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.ccel.us/missingfromaction.toc.html.
NOTES FOR ARE YOU DAD ENOUGH?:
[6] In my opinion, the reaction to the “Are You Mom Enough?” TIME cover is a combination of paleo-puritanism, meso-feminism, and neo-idiocy. Accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20120521,00.html
[7] “Mika Brzezisnki… suggested on the air that the cover was needlessly sensational…” in the article TIME Magazine cover of breastfeeding mom sparks intense debate on “attachment parenting.” Accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57432374/time-magazine-cover-of-breastfeeding-mom-sparks-intense-debate-on-attachment-parenting/.
[8] “Time magazine staff writer Kate Pickert defended the cover” saying “I think that we knew it would be a provocative cover but we’re thrilled that lots of people are responding to it… We’re happy to see that we’ve sparked a great conversation.” Read more: Breast-Feeding Time Cover Mom Responds to Critics. Accessed June 17, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/05/breast-feeding-cover-mom-responds-to-critics/.
[9] “There is no doubt that the TIME cover strikes the public as shocking. But, as Pickert points out, the women featured are at one extreme end of this always-controversial discussion.” Read: Jamie Lynne Grumet, Breastfeeding Mom On ‘TIME Magazine’ Cover, Illustrates Attachment Parenting. Accessed June 17, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/10/jamie-lynne-grumet-breastfeeding-time-magazine-cover_n_1506096.html.
[10] It is no longer shocking. At least, not to me. But maybe that’s because, as a culture, Americans are desensitized to shock. What really shocks us, as Americans, any more?
[11] Can you imagine a bare-chested attractive father on the cover of TIME magazine? Okay, maybe a bare-chested Brad Pitt with his children might sell magazines. The truth is, magazine publishers need to sell magazines and a female with suckling will sell more copies to the over-sexualized masses than a cover of the opposite proportions. Think of the last few covers of TIME magazine that featured a male figure. Almost all of those covers feature men of power and influence. Has there ever been a magazine cover featuring a nurturing father?
[12] If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might propose that there is a war on true, masculine fatherhood in America. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Just thought I’d beat you to the punch before I get pushed into that corner and painted as a FoxNews-watching/ditto-head/wing-nut. Which I am not.
[13] The only role model on television I can recall that resembles those two characteristics is Heathcliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show.
[14] Not that I’m using personal examples to boast of more “real” dad credentials, but fatherhood is about serving and sacrificing.
[15] That is where the “amen,” “hell-yas” and other forms of applause is supposed to go. Read this post again and respond accordingly.
[16] This post started out as a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek imagining of a bare-chested father on the cover of TIME magazine, but became a rant. Apologies for the sudden fury. And blessings to those who actually read the small print.
[17] PHOTO CREDITS: Though I created the mock TIME magazine cover, I found the retro father with children photo on this Tumblr page.

Letter writing, a vanishing art

A book is more than a collection of letters and pages.

The week before Fathers Day I completed a book design project that is a “legacy of letters from a decorated World War II hero…” Or so the back copy states.

Reading a manuscript like that, at times, seems voyeuristic. The compelling part of the book is the context of knowing that the author was three when his father passed away suddenly. He grew up hearing friends and family tell him “You sure look like your Daddy” or “I knew your Dad, he was one of the best.” The letters that the author collected for the book shares who is father was and what kind of man he was. But most importantly, for the author, it was the only way to hear the voice of a father he never knew.

At times, during the process of designing the cover and page layout, I glimpsed that boyish tenderness of the author (now in his sixties) as he ached for the presence his father. I cherished Fathers Day all the more as I thought of the author.

A couple of things come to mind as I wrap up this project and send it to press. First, the art of letter writing seems non-existent. The last letter I received was from my oldest child who placed it in my boot for me to find one morning. It was a simple note written in colored pencil. It is placed in my journal. I glance at it periodically.

Last time I received a hand-written letter was years ago. There are the seasonal holiday letters that begin filling my mail box every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. They usually arrive as letters printed out on decorative stationary purchased at Kinkos or Office Depot. But hand-written letters? Do people still do that in our culture?

Secondly, the legacy left behind of those letters written prior to, during and after a major historical event impresses me. What kind of legacy might we leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of un-memorable text messages. What will our tweets and status updates mean a half century from now? Will Twitter be obsolete by then? Or Facebook? Can you imagine your grandchildren asking you, “What’s Twitter?” After you explain the whole social media birth of micro blogging they giggle and say, “Twitter is so 2012. I can’t believe how primitive that seems.”

Emails may convey some of the gravitas as a written (or typed) letter. However, as Luddite as this sounds, I still have hand-written letters from family and friends placed in an old shoe box. Letters and notes from a woman who became my wife are stored in a similar fashion. A typed note from my grandfather, when age had crippled his hand-writing, is placed in a book of his poems as a reminder and memento. As a child, my grandmother wrote a brief letter to me each birthday and placed a stick of gum in between the folds. I looked forward to that letter each year. You can’t attach a stick of gum to an email.

Besides, I doubt anyone in our culture would wait, anticipate and enjoy a letter that arrives annually. Everything is so urgent… almost panicked. Why isn’t someone responding to my emails, texts, tweets? It’s been 30 seconds! (Place emoticons here.) In my own life, I notice how differently I process social media and online content. There lacks a linear stretch of the intellect when processing clusters of data points from Twitter, Facebook, HuffPo, etc. My attention span fatigues when I have to wade through a barrage of emails, updates and tweets.

Yet I enjoy the long articles in the Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books or the like. It stimulates my mind. 700-word news articles for the most part bore me. There’s nothing there but a nut graph. No context. No history. No personality or narrative trajectory. Just a Google-like, or Wikipedia-like, democratized collection of information. There’s nothing there to engage my mind. Nothing that challenges my mind, beliefs or values. A book on the Battle of Agincourt offers nuances that blog posts, tweets and texts don’t offer.

Reading through a legacy of letters, like the book I am ready to send to press, captures the exchange of ideas in a sustained, generational conversation between a father and a son. The more our culture engages in the scatterbrained conflagration of data items, I suspect civil, engaging conversation (like letter writing) may become obsolete.