A City Where Men Love Babies: an excerpt from Kindling Quarterly

Print magazine on fatherhood debuts with a look at how men react to babies in other parts of the world

Brooklyn-based Kindling Quarterly launched in January 2013 to “explore fatherhood through essays, interviews, editorials, art, and photography.” It is a beautifully designed magazine with thought provoking content. We’re pleased to announce a partnership with them, starting with Creative Director August Heffner’s travel essay on how men in other parts of the world view babies. For more on where you can find the rest of the first issue, visit Kindling Quarterly.

The flight from New York City’s LaGuardia airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk takes about eight hours. We opted for the overnight flight, hedging our bets that our nine-month old might sleep through his first international flight. We lost. I spent a large portion of the flight walking up and down the aisles with him in my arms. It’s an odd task being the only man standing in the airplane, trying to calm a child in front of about one hundred audience members.

In my experience, the feat of calming a crying child in public results in, at best, knowing smiles from mothers and averted looks from the rest. At worst, it can result in the offer of “help” from a stranger who assumes more experience (and a closer bond to your own child?) or an audible grumble of what you should be doing (probably leaving).

For my first captive audience on Turkish airlines I was not offered “help,” I simply received enthusiasm. A male flight attendant ran down the aisle to pick up my son and pinch his cheeks. An hour later, as his boredom returned, another male flight attendant emerged with a variety of makeshift toys—coffee lids, straws etc.—and proceeded to play with my son as if I didn’t exist. This man, possibly doing his job keeping the baby calm and other passengers asleep, did not appear to be working at all. He was having the time of his life with my son. It was an adoration I’ve only seen with family members and close friends.

And so went our entire stay in Istanbul.

Our son would so much as open his eyes and from somewhere, anywhere, a man would appear. Mustachioed soldiers, whiskered cab drivers, stern security guards, teenage boys, average tough guys. These men would come from out of nowhere and engage with him. They would start by trying to make him smile. When our son smiled these men would do something I’ve never once witnessed in my own culture; squeal with pure delight.

My wife warned me before we decided to go, “Turkish people love babies.” I wondered what that meant, do some cultures not like babies? Isn’t it somewhat universal to smile at a child? Then we arrived. We stayed in a touristy area near the must-see Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. As New Yorkers we were used to being ignored by the crowds of English, German and American tourists. We poked around the Grand Bazaar, a shopping enclave that has been running continuously since the 1500s, and hunted for a group of outdoor, but somewhat hidden, restaurants frequented by the Bazaar’s workers. ‘Real authentic’ we thought, we won’t make a big scene.

As we arrived, the waiter stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Oh. My. God.’ you could see his mouth move before he quickly motioned to his co-workers. They popped out one by one to see our big-eyed travel companion. They played with him, gave him toys, and took his picture. Finally, while I was finishing my meal, I realized I had stopped paying attention. I looked up and my son was holding a cell-phone blasting electronic dance music. Four men clapped around him, laughing uncontrollably.

This might feel like a scene from one of any dystopian sci-fi novels; reproduction ceases, children become scarce, and the human race threatens to die out. But there were plenty of babies and children to be seen. This was different and the stories started to pile up; the old man in the shipyard that chased us down to give our adorable American a balloon, the chef that threw us a plum “for him,” and the man who pinned a good-luck charm on his overalls. It didn’t stop until we came home.

Upon returning we shared our experience only to hear of familiar stories; “it’s the same in Vietnam” or “we had the same experience in India.” It wasn’t something in the Turkish water; it was our own. It’s hard to fully grasp the cultural codes in the society you live in and it doesn’t always get easier when you see it from the outside. But what happens when a baby comes to the average American workplace? An extremely Mad Men-esque scenario is much more likely than a group of squealing suits. American men may be considerably warm in private, but amidst all those smiling faces, balloons, plums, and good-luck charms, maintaining our austerity feels like an awkward use of our emotional resources.

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About Kindling Quarterly

Kindling Quarterly playfully assesses and celebrates the multitude of experiences that form contemporary fatherhood. Kindling is a print magazine self-published by its founders; editor David Michael Perez and creative director P. August Heffner, both new fathers and first-time publishers.

Comments

  1. i recently found this paper ‘‘A Very Sensible Man’: Imagining Fatherhood in England c.1750–1830′ which suggests a similar state here in england between those times. and if in england perhaps in other parts of europe or america. while obviously harder to research in the lower class, the paper suggests affectionate male parenting was not class specific. you could find the writer, to interview her on paper further

    i wonder if, the change from a man being granite exterior, warm interior to a man being granite exterior and granite interior [muscular christianity/ imperial masculinity from 1870 to 1918 (maybe to 1945)] is due to the confluence of social darwinism theories appearing at the same time as expanding late 19th century ce european empires/frontiers

    Two features of ideal masculinity are particularly significant.
    Firstly, the crystallization of a model of ‘Christian masculinity’ was
    influential. Religious tracts, sermons and pamphlets aimed at shaping
    male behaviour from c.1670 to 1800 reveal the ideal Christian man
    as forgiving, magnanimous, benevolent, virtuous, moderate, self-
    controlled, and a worthy citizen; hallmarks of manliness that were not
    distinctive to any one religious persuasion in the period examined.
    Secondly, the values personified in the ‘man of feeling’ were significant.
    He was imagined in a domestic setting, and embodied emotion, sensitiv-
    ity and gentleness.

    These qualities had widespread cultural power until
    at least the 1820s. Between 1785 and 1815, for instance, the
    Gentleman’s Magazine celebrated elite men’s domesticity and ‘connectedness’, that is
    the ability to sustain relationships with family and friends. These
    models of masculine identity overlapped since the religious objectives
    of Christian manhood fitted neatly with the traits of sensibility.
    The convergence of the two is especially noticeable, for example, in James
    Fordyce’s Addresses to Young Men(1777) which aimed to produce a man
    who was virtuous, gentle, possessed of sincerity, compassion, generosity,
    bravery, disinterest and magnanimity.

    The mix of ‘types’ of manhood is not unusual. For example, while feeling, genteel sensitivity andbenevolence were promoted, they were ideally combined with traditional admirable masculine virtues such as fortitude, stoicism and courage
    […]
    […]
    William Cobbett’s chapter for fathers, in Advice to Young Men
    (1830), still promoted this sentimental vision:
    But the man, and especially the father, who is not fond of babies; who does
    not feel his heart softened when he touches their almost boneless limbs;
    when he sees their little eyes first begin to discern; when he hears their
    tender accents; the man whose heart does not beat truly to this test, is, to
    say the best of him, an object of compassion.

    The sources reveal that this notion was rooted in the culture of sensi-
    bility, since they assumed that an infant’s special needs tenderized a
    man’s heart and that a father had a special kind of love for infants.
    Fathers were also expected to be softened by watching their wives nurse
    their babies.
    […]
    Inadequate fathers were also described as ‘unfeeling’, which denoted their inability to feel
    the powerful emotions increasingly associated with fatherhood. This
    emphasis upon fathers’ feelings for their offspring was fairly novel in
    representations of English fatherhood and raises the question of how
    far it pervaded other characteristics of fatherhood, particularly those
    more traditionally seen as crucial to responsible paternal care, like
    provision.
    […]
    The second half of the eighteenth century was a turning point in attitudes towards the male exercise of
    authority with a widening definition of what was considered inappropri-
    ate behaviour. A similar shift is detectable where modes of disciplining
    children are concerned. Demands for a benign form of fatherly govern-
    ment developed from the later seventeenth century and flourished within
    the culture of sensibility. Under the influence of thinkers such as John
    Locke, François Fénelon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the good father
    was required to use kindness, negotiation and distraction to facilitate his
    children’s good behaviour.
    […]
    […]
    In the period c.1750–1830 the good father was
    tenderly affectionate, sensitized and moved by babies; he provided hugs,
    material support and a protective guiding hand. Engrossed in his off-
    spring to the exclusion of much else apart from his wife and national
    duties, this father offered moral example and instruction and possessed
    a deep understanding of his child’s personality. The characteristics of
    imagined fatherhood were driven by the specific conditions of the Geor-
    gian period; forged in concerns to promote national strength and the endeavour to stabilize a society disrupted by social, economic and cultural change.
    http://bit.ly/11fLQNF

  2. So the storm of industrialization that blew through western society, Exchanged all that for consumerism and prosperity…..a very poor trade for men in particular. One more rarely noted sacrifice expected from men for the last 200 years.

  3. Dan Flowers says:

    Hmmmm… I didn’t know I was Turkish.

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