Fatherhood is not some impoverished male motherhood

In a recent article in the NY Times on the paucity of men in the counseling world (“Need Therapy? A Good Man is Hard to Find“) a professional/academic psychologist from the University of Texas, Austin, makes the following statement: “In the same way that there is something very personal about being a mother, something very important to female identity, the experience of fathering is also very powerful.”

What is disturbing about this sentence is the fact it was said and printed in the first place. Why would anybody think that there was something special and defining about being a mother but deny that a similarly special and defining experience affected fathers? Particularly today, as fathers share more of the child-rearing responsibilities, such a statement is condescending and insulting. It purports to combat a common assumption about men/fathers as devoid of feeling and attachment, as uncaring. But it really reaffirms those assumptions, in part by the revelatory nature of the claim, in part by the professional credentials of the person making the claim, and in part by still devaluing the experience of being a father:

  • The reader is meant to be surprised by the statement, it is meant to be a revelation.
  • The claim is all the more important because it came from a trained professional who can unearth these human experiences in ways we common folk cannot.
  • Interestingly, fathers are not a type a person but a type of action, “fathering” sounds a lot like “fathering a child” and very little like “being a mother”.
  • And, in the end, there is only something “very powerful” about fathering that is not, apparently, something “very personal about being a [father], something very important to [male] identity.”

Something is amiss in our purportedly modern society when professionals (and the broader public) continue to disparage the role of fathers. Men are assuming more responsibility for raising children. Increasingly, men are stay-at-home fathers. And many others would probably opt to be stay-at-home fathers if economics allowed it. So why do we insist on denying to them some equality of attachment to their children? Why is it men cannot form bonds with their children that extend beyond the paradigmatic, emotionally shallow “fathering” with its connotations of “siring offspring” and “bread winning”?

If there is “something very personal about being a mother, something very important to female identity,” there is something equally personal about being a father, something very important to male identity. Stop making fathers into second-class parents.

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