Kathryn Lopez posts a column this week about the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLIV: Brees after Super Bowl win was a poster boy for family. K-Lo notes that the winning quarterback for the Saints scooped up his young son in the aftermath of victory, holding him with both love and glee.
It’s an image America needed.
“Given that about one-in-four American boys are living apart from their dads at any one point in time, it is great to see a Super Bowl champion with his wife and son, and to see that this win is all the bigger for him for being shared with his son,” Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project said.
Elizabeth Marquardt, author of “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce,” and director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, isn’t a football follower, but she liked what she saw: “It bespoke an intimacy of real time spent together. Even in a football stadium of screaming fans the toddler boy didn’t look anxious. He knew he was safe. He was with dad.”
I couldn’t agree more that it was a touching moment. I too like the image of a father embracing his son; I like seeing unguarded affection between parents and children. We all agree it’s a lovely thing.
So what’s the problem? The folks K-Lo cites in her piece (and the organizations with which they are affiliated, like the Institute for American Values) are relentless in their insistence that fatherhood has been damaged by feminism. For the cultural right to which folks like Wilcox and Lopez belong, the empowerment of women has led to the inevitable marginalization of men. In the strange math of social conservatives, it’s all a zero-sum game: the greater the freedom of women to divorce, exercise reproductive sovereignty, and earn money outside the home, the less self-worth their male partners will invariably feel.
It’s subtle in this piece, but explicit elsewhere in the writings of the anti-feminist traditional marriage movement: the great lie that male responsibility is contingent on female vulnerability. Only when women defer to men, submit to men, allow men to take the proverbial reins — only then will men “feel” valued, feel needed. According to this tired bit of wisdom, men get confused and alienated when they are denied the opportunity to shoehorn themselves into a traditional masculine role. The notion that gender identity is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, the notion that men and women can possess different plumbing but the same skill set — all this is too much for the be-penised to grasp. Fathers have abandoned their families, the lie goes, because they no longer feel needed or valued as men.
I adore my daughter. My worth as her father is not compromised by the fact that my wife earns a good living outside the home. My wife relies on me as I do on her — we rely on each other to be there, to do what we say we’re going to do, to pick up the dry cleaning and the baby food when we say we will, to be faithful. The fact that my wife could be a successful single mother without me doesn’t vitiate my value as a Dad. The fact that the world wouldn’t go to hell in a handbasket were I to disappear doesn’t mean I don’t feel loved and important. My daughter needs me, and I believe her life is better with me in it. My wife and I love each other and are building a life together. But my manhood — and my status as a father — is not under attack in our culture, unless you buy the myth that insists that a husband’s dignity requires a certain amouht of frailty on the part of his wife.
So here’s to encouraging fathers to be present in the lives of their children. And here’s to recognizing that the greatest obstacle to making that happen on a wider scale is not feminism, or the culture, or the legal system — it’s our outdated notion of masculinity itself.