For the past week, I’ve found myself strangely nervous about becoming a father. Up until now, I’ve maintained a rather laissez-faire attitude toward the whole thing. I was excited, sure, but not worried. I knew that I had it in me to be a good father. I still do, as a matter of fact, but now I find myself wondering just how naturally it will come to me.
Last night I voiced my concern to Paint, who wisely tried to help me attach a name to my generalized dread.
“Are you nervous about having a baby? The keeping it alive part? Or are you more worried about the developmental stuff?”
After a few moments of pondering, I responded.
We spoke well beyond when we should have gone to sleep, but still, something was nagging at me. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I realized what it is.
In just a few days we’re going to find out the gender of our kidlet.
We had an anatomy scan about three weeks ago, and Paint and I opted not to find out in favor of having our doctor write the gender in a sealed envelope that we then delivered to one of our friends. That friend has spent the intervening time setting up a scavenger hunt that will end with Paint and I discovering a piece of who the stow away in her belly will be.
People are always asking if I’m hoping for a boy or a girl. In terms of raw desire, I’ve not felt a pull in one direction over the other. But when I think about it, when I really examine who I am and what I’m about, then it’s clear to me that wanting a girl is the obvious choice.
My entire life, I’ve felt like something of a fraud. I’ve never behaved how boys are supposed to behave. I was never interested in sports. I never chased girls with frogs or caused any kind of mischief. Instead, my mother was training to be a counselor so her friends were constantly coming over at all hours of the day looking for advice. Since I lived there, I was allowed to sit in on those conversations, observing and listening. I learned empathy was something to aspire to. I learned compassion and kindness mattered to people. A premium was placed on intelligence and spirituality, and so those pieces of my psyche were developed early and took root in my loamy soil.
Unfortunately, this emotional intelligence came with a cost. When the news talked about an earthquake, I cried. When I heard about a plane crash I’d cry, then mention it during our pre-meal prayers for months on end. The notion of someone being mean was so foreign to me I literally couldn’t comprehend what was happening when I found myself being shoved off our porch by a neighbor girl.
All of that to say, I was soft. My mother encouraged this trait. My dad… Well, he wasn’t sure what to do with me. He loved me, but I think my sensitivity threw him for a loop. When he was a lad, he was rough and tumble; I was soft and stationary. He wasn’t sure what to do with a little boy who raided his mother’s craft supplies to super glue a tea-stained doily to the top of a potpourri filled mason jar to spruce up the living room. Similarly, I wasn’t sure how to handle a mustachioed man who came home from work covered in carbon black and insisted that the cartoon was called “Duck Butts”, rather than “Duck Tales”. (Fun fact: When he would sing “Duck Butts, wooo-oooo”, I would fly into a rage. To this day, I’m not entirely sure why.)
Don’t get me wrong, there was never a day in which I didn’t feel loved. Eventually, we found ways to connect and now we’re thick as thieves. But when I was young? It was a little touch and go at times. I was always aware that there was something about me that was an unknown quantity to my father.
What I’m just now realizing, is that my relationship with my dad shaped my understanding of masculinity.
Real men work in factories and get dirty and take cars apart and fix their houses and own tools and and live near their extended families.
I’m thirty-one years old, and I still feel that “unknown quantity” residing somewhere within me. Only now, instead of projecting it onto my father, I’ve begun projecting it onto the entire notion of manhood.
I don’t do any of those things. If that’s what a man does, and I do none of those things, then what am I?
I’m something else.
An unknown quantity.
Having a daughter would be easy because I would only be demonstrating to her what men could look like.
But if I have a boy? He’s going to look to me for an explanation on how to be a man, but I’m not a man, I’m an unknown quantity. How can I teach him something I’ve never learned?
That’s it in a nutshell. I feel “less than” my own idea of masculinity, and as a result, I am damning my son to being “less than” as well. This “dread” I’ve been feeling isn’t actually fear, it’s guilt for not being able to be the man my hypothetical son needs me to be.
Now, here’s the crazy part. I don’t actually believe any of that. Do men have to be mechanics and good with a band saw to be considered a man? Absolutely not. I know that. In my head.
But my heart?
My heart believes something else. My heart believes that because I’d rather be sitting at a computer than in a tent, because I’m more interested in grabbing a cup of coffee than watching “the game”, I’m somehow doing manhood wrong. As if the choices I’ve made, the path I followed isn’t a truly valid option. Like somehow I’ve just been skating by, and at any time the world is going to wake up and notice that I can’t grow a mustache to save my life and revoke my testicles.
My heart is wrong you guys.
While I was in the midst of sorting all of this out, I came across this fantastic article from the Good Men Project. Its author, Mark Greene has the right idea:
If we want our freedom from the oppressive rules of the Man Box, we need to take away its control over how we define manhood. We need to create a world where being a man can mean being anything. Any work. Any play. Any love. Any life. And just to be clear, the options we’ll need to topple the Man Box will have to be so wide-ranging that being a man can even look just like being a women. And I don’t mean doing the dishes instead of mowing the lawn, I mean a man with a woman’s body.
He goes on to say that men can be anything. Period. There are no rules, no roles one must adhere to in order to be a man.
Men can work in factories, sure. But they can also work in offices and theaters and hair salons and preschools. They can like taking cars apart, but they can also love art or chemistry or dancing.
Should I have a son, when he looks at me to see what a man is, I hope he sees a man who is brave enough to carve out his own definition of masculinity.