Father’s Day, 6/17/12

1. My father is a self-made man. He came from a family in India that didn’t have much and excelled at physics, being one of the top talents India had to offer then. He came to the States and is a proud graduate of Rutgers University. I can’t say I understand his work in physics; my dissertation will be a lot more accessible than his to a number of people, I suspect.

Being self-made and conceiving the world through an analytic science – well, there’s a trade-off. The temptation is to try and formulate wholly original ideas about how everything works. Sometimes, the results are spectacular. No one will say my father failed to provide and then some. We were never lacking in terms of stuff. A lot of what I’ve accomplished I owe to his support of basics.

I think the friends my family had growing up could be counted on a hand with three fingers. – No, you don’t even need that many. –

2. There’s a lot of talk about how children without fathers fare very badly for the most part. I’m very grateful to have a Dad. And there’s lots of talk about how we need better men, men like those of previous generations who go to church, fight for God and country, don’t waste time with video games and comic books, keep fraternizing to a minimum (not always the worst thing in the age of the “bro”), work hard and save money for the sake of a family.

I don’t want to comment further on my situation; I’m grateful. I’ve met lots of awesome Dads. But if our criteria for what makes a manly man – a great Dad – seem to permit his being a “tyrant,” I’ll suggest that’s no coincidence. I’ll also suggest that if we’ve narrowed the family unit down to “at least they take care of themselves and don’t bother anyone,” then there’s no room in a conception of a traditional head of household for things like reaching out to others, finding out more about the world, not getting lost in conspiracy theories, respecting others’ experience.

I don’t need to say more. Those of you with Dads who’ve been wrong precisely because they were right know exactly what I mean. For previous generations, that may have been something cute that could be laughed off. I think one reason we live in a post-marriage world is that while our parents are amazing providers, there’s only so much materialism and cynicism about everything outside the house can produce. At times, I’ve met the sort of parents that would make Stalin blush, either out of “Even I wasn’t that crazy” or “Wow, I could learn to bully people from him/her.”

3. The debate over manliness has focused on defining man in a feminist age. I don’t see how one can talk about men and women outside of the family, though, since that is where gender roles most come into play. That doesn’t mean we need a traditional conception of the family. All it means is that the basic respect relationships require might be something we’re belaboring a bit too much, especially if we expect it to tell us who “men” and “women” are explicitly.

We do see men as fathers. Any serious comment about manliness starts from what a father is expected to produce. The bar has been far too low for years, not because of video games or comic books, but because what it meant to live in a solid, loving family was compromised even in the days suburbia was just emerging. This doesn’t mean there weren’t and aren’t solid, loving families. It just means if you want something better than what we have now, you can’t go back. The fathers of the future have to find their own path, understanding they are accountable to the future, not the past.

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