The most vital aspect of today’s men’s movement — and the least publicized and understood — is fatherhood. Dr. Bruce Linton takes a look at its evolution.
One of the lasting changes that came out of the 1960s was the Women’s Movement. What women began as a revolution, however, has become an evolution. Both women and men are continuing to move away from traditionally defined gender roles. While these role changes have perhaps been more visible for women, men are moving at their own pace towards new possibilities. The changes in role expectations are opening up a new world for men who want to be fathers. The egalitarianism that is now possible among couples allows men to express their deep desire and ability to be nurtures and caretakers that was previously the object of social disapproval. Women did that, not men!
Men are beginning to feel that they have a choice between spending time at work and taking time to be with their children while they grow up. Men who were able to take advantage of this possibility began to report a very deep feeling of satisfaction as well as personal growth, which they experienced by being with and caring for their babies. As other men viewed this new role-making behavior and began to hear men recount the peak experience of being present at their children’s birth, the notion of becoming a father began to take on new meaning.
In the new potentials of being fathers, men see the possibility to express themselves through nurturing; there appears to be something very attractive about this for many men. Maybe this nurturing quality has been dormant within us for decades. Perhaps watching our children being born triggers some ancient biological process. As men spend more time with their children, new images of what it means to be a “real man” are being created. A new more authentic masculinity is developing.
Is there a new “Men’s Movement?” Do we really need a movement? Since most of the institutions in our society are designed and controlled by men, what do we really want to change War, incest, poverty, racism and the relationship between men and women are not separate and independent issues but interconnected and part of our social value system.
Any men’s movement that does exist owes a great debt to the women’s movement and the development of feminist philosophy/psychology in the United States. For more than twenty years women have been championing the causes of equality and equity both in the work world and in family life. They have led the struggle to improve education and childcare.
This is the reasons for my starting the Father’s Forum in 1986. In groups with Robert Bly and Michael Mead, and in my own men’s groups and activities here in Northern California in the 1980-1990’s, I found a wonderful community of men. I discovered that the competitiveness and isolation I was taught to value was keeping me from being part of a community. The losses I carried within and never expressed were slowly eating me up from the inside. I began to understand how the unconscious devaluing of women had cut me off from a more nurturing part of myself. Through myth and stories, but mostly in the care of men — some older, some younger — I found a place to tell my stories. I became aware of how little opportunity I had had to talk about life, and the struggles of my own experiences, with other men. This is the greatest gift— to have the opportunity to safely talk with other men about the inner experiences of day-to-day living.
It was not until I had children myself that I began to realize that the issues of being a father and having a family were not being addressed by my “men’s work.” Talking about what it means to be a man is important, but if it does not connect to my evolving role as a father. I was going from “man to dad!”
I think the most vital aspect of today’s men’s movement — and the least publicized and understood — is fatherhood. A fundamental shift is taking place in our society. We are aspiring to transition from a hierarchical to a partnership culture. Here we find that work and home life, making money and raising children, are becoming cooperative ventures by men and women.
What today’s fathers are doing all over the country is a grass-roots political movement. When men become fathers, an opportunity for a profound and fundamental emotional shift in consciousness arises. The vulnerability of their children can touch their own fears and vulnerabilities, and an emotional awakening can occur. This awakening is not just to the world of feelings. It is a connection to the world of greater political realities that they must now struggle with. It is the experience of “generativity” that carries the father from his own concerns about his identity as a man to the greater concerns for his family and community.
For years the men’s movement has attempted to help men develop from the narcissistic stage of manhood to more dynamic involvement in our society. Today’s fathers are fulfilling this aspiration. Our sense of manhood, what kind of person we want to be — beyond gender definition — is what today’s dads struggle with. I see it over and over again in my father’s groups. Men are reintegrating the nurturing and generative aspects of their emotional lives, and are coming to terms with a new definition of what it means to be a man, a definition which includes how to contribute to a society worthy of bringing children into.
Photo: Flickr/Chris Price