On Mother’s Day I wrote about gendered parenthood and it seems only fair to do the same on Father’s Day. But before I do that, I’ll start with a nod towards all the families with kids and no fathers.
I’m thinking here of single-mother households and lesbian mother households (and yes, they overlap.) Just as Mother’s Day creates a minor crises for motherless families, so Father’s Day creates a crises for fatherless ones.
Schools have become more accommodating though, offering the opportunity to make a Father’s Day project for a grandfather, an uncle, or any other significant male figure. The key, of course, is that the recipient must be a man. A kid making a Father’s Day card for a woman would still get a reaction, even if the woman to be honored were the bread-winner, the disciplinarian, the lawn-mower and the power-tool user in the household.
Anyway, today I’m musing about an article written by President Obama president, who has taken the occasion of Father’s Day to speak about the need for men to increase their involvement in child-rearing. I’m entirely supportive of this idea. There are many reasons why leaving bulk of child-rearing duties to women is a problem for men, for women and for children.
But I’m interested in the specific language the president chose. Here’s a quote from the President’s article in Parade Magazine:
That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.
It’s an interesting formulation. I appreciate the recognition that the job does not end at conception. As consistent reader’s of this blog will know, I don’t even think the job begins at conception. Being the source of the sperm doesn’t (shouldn’t) make you a parent. It may motivate you to become one. It may suggest that you are situated in a way that you’ll have an opportunity, but it doesn’t just transform you at that moment.
Then there’s the statement that “what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.: I like the sentiment–the equation of raising a child with courage. And I think it’s not a bad way to encourage men to step-up to these obligations–to suggest that skipping out shows a lack of courage. It’s a nice appeal to the part of a man that might need to feel macho, and at the same time it undermines the notion that being able to impregnate someone is proof of masculinity enough of masculinity.
But here’s a puzzle I’m left with–what makes you a man, the President says, is having the courage to raise a child. I think that means that countless mothers qualify as men, for they are courageously raising children.
You might suggest that the solution to the puzzle is that it takes courage for a man to raise a child (and hence, it makes a man manly), but it doesn’t take courage for a woman to raise a child. I don’t think that’s so, myself. And in fact, it takes particular courage for a woman or women to raise a child without a man. Which means that all those single mothers are actually men (which makes them fathers?)
I suspect I’m taking the language here far too seriously. It’s a rhetorical move meant to challenge men to undertake and fulfill obligations to children, and a reassurance that they will be thought manly if they do so. But still, it’s an interesting word choice. And again, I think it sheds a little bit of light on gendered parenting.