Our beliefs and values surrounding concepts like family, childhood, and masculinity, are products of our time and culture.
Acceptance and equality for men and women, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or religious views, are the impetuses behind many a thoughtful article addressing how a man can better himself in an ever-changing world.
The amount and speed of information hurled towards us on a daily basis, like some bruising asteroid battering the earth, can be overwhelming. In order to be the best we can possibly be, we have to examine social trends, what’s acceptable now, and what’s not. In a pluralist society, judging ‘normal’ is an extremely difficult task. The good news, and the bad, is that ‘normal’ doesn’t really exist.
What does exist is the concept of ‘normal for now,’ or perhaps ‘normalish.’ Something considered standard by one segment of society might be unacceptable to another. Through debate, discourse and conflict, society reaches a consensus as to how normal should be defined, although it’s a constantly evolving concept.
When a father is determining how he should relate to his child, it’s important to step back and realize that the concept of childhood wasn’t something a man had to even consider in the past, because it didn’t exist. The choices facing a parent in the 1500s, when children were considered miniature adults, stand in stark contrast to the modern era. A responsible parent, centuries past, would often rush his or her child into adulthood (child labor, early marriages) as quickly as possible, because infancy and youth were associated with death, and many didn’t survive.
We are products of the age we live in, rooted in the deeds of our ancestors. The factors that go into making a good father, husband or son alter relative to when and where we exist. Addressing our emotional needs, insecurities and changing gender roles can be of great benefit now, but come some future dystopia when humanity his hunted by mutant carnivores, stopping to ponder how running away from a radioactive predator affects your sense of masculinity and the emotional development of your child could very well lead to the end of your life. Something that makes a man a good father now might not be that useful down the road.
The Ancient Greeks considered pederasty an essential component in the development of a well-adjusted man. For Viking warriors, murder was an accepted way of life. Thankfully we’ve made significant progress since then (sadly, not everywhere), although the ‘progressive’ line stemming from the past doesn’t always lead to a better way of life.
The ability of men to seek out mental healthcare without stigma has improved remarkably, but that doesn’t necessarily mean modern men are psychologically healthier than their forbearers. The brain is constantly bombarded with an endless array of choices and conflicting opinions as to how one should lead a healthy life. Simply wading through the information can be maddening. And just when you think you have things under control, a new study comes out telling you that actually no, you don’t, and here’s a new problem you need to worry about that wasn’t even on your radar before.
The theme of normalcy caught my attention of late because of the copious amounts of attention I noticed being paid to Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men. While that’s undoubtedly a provocative title, and some of the assumptions in the book about the decline of men, and how the postindustrial world is better suited for women, may or may not prove correct, there’s one thing I know for sure—the best the author can possibly hope from her predictions is that we’re entering a period marked by the end of a certain type of masculinity, and gender roles traditionally assigned to men, although that doesn’t mean things will stay that way, if this indeed is the case (and many believe it isn’t). Nothing remains the same, as history has demonstrated time and time again. Even the criteria we use in defining a good man are subject to change.
Image credit: State Library of Victoria Collections/Flickr