Guest post: Fathers are not defective mothers

This is a guest post by Lucinda Hancock.

Recently I’ve been trying to live with more respect for my husband’s role as a father. It’s embarrassing, but for many years of my marriage I bought into ideas that effectively consider men to be ‘defective’ women. This has been most stressful in our relationship as parents. Fathers are men and the failure of our society to be reasonable about gender has made it difficult know what that means.

Last October I was surprised by new wording on the birth-certificate application. Instead of “mother” and “father”, it used “parent 1” and “parent 2” with gender selection boxes for each parent. I’d actually heard people talk about this kind of thing happening, but when you’ve just given birth, and you have to put your name under “parent 1” and state that you are female, it really sticks out how you are contributing to a socially constructed fiction, like there is nothing objectively female about the event of giving birth. And I can’t imagine anyone fighting to be called “parent 1” or “parent 2”. Frankly it would be more consistently non-specific just to go with Dr. Seuss’s “thing 1” and “thing 2”.

So here we are, in a society that seems to be gleefully attempting to erase observable and factual differences between the sexes in the area most pertinent to the fact of gendered existence, that is, in reproduction and parenting. The question is whether such ideas can answer and guide actual parents who are anxiously seeking to know about best parenting practices for the sake of their children. Many men and women have no idea how to agree on important details because there is no room to allow for differences between moms and dads.

The research is clear that fathers matter, but for the most part, we are uncomfortable acknowledging the particular and gendered differences that make fathers so important. Much of the analysis seems to bring out the economic poverty suffered in many single-mother families, but this view often gives the impression that having a dad is all about increasing the income of a family, and fails to give adequate insight about why a dad matters even if he fails to prosper economically. Even more than that, our failure to convey workable guidance based in reasoning about gender is pushing many viable marriages and families to the breaking point, as husbands and wives struggle to hash out important details of unity.

Who is right?

I used to think that my naturally more tuned in and attentive approach to parenting was the correct one, and I read many articles that seemed to confirm this bias. I would regularly educate my husband in the ‘right’ way to parent. Then I started reading about the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” and it’s damage to a child’s sense of confidence, self-direction and independence. I despaired because trying to avoid “helicopter parenting” felt like I was damaging my children’s sense of self-worth. But then I began to see that unity need not mean uniformity, and that the feminine approach, which some might call “helicopter parenting”, works very well in conjunction with the masculine “teach ’em a lesson” approach. (Watch this video to see some mom-comedians have a laugh about parenting. It’s interesting because it gives a very good overview of how confused moms currently feel about being moms.)

What makes a good father is not his ability to simulate motherhood, as I’d previously thought. It is using his masculinity in ways that are good for his family, such as his ambitious pursuit of know-how and resources that he can share with his family, providing for them, yes, but also setting an example of the interest and fun of adult life, being a hero for them, inviting them to become like him.

The difference between good fathers and self-serving men is not that one is self-debasing and the other self-interested. It is that a father’s self is wrapped up in the successful rearing of his children. His self-interest actually helps him remember his children’s needs and concerns, with a willingness to manfully fight for their success, because his own success is intertwined with theirs.

The importance of masculinity in fatherhood is often hard for women to understand. A mother tends to be far more comfortable with the dependent nature of small children, and so she sees it as part of mature behavior to mostly accommodate and tolerate childishness in her children. Mothers like to speak simply to children and generally make efforts toward compensating for their deficiencies. Fathers, on the other hand, do not accommodate childishness. Men are more comfortable treating children like peers who need to measure up. Men don’t talk baby-talk and they are much less tolerant of incompetence and deficiency. This comes across to women like the father is descending into childish selfishness and competitiveness, but is it such a terrible thing for children to be reminded of the gap between where they are and where they will need to be?

I cannot tell you how many times I have personally called my husband “childish” when he expressed a difference of opinion with one of my children. I repent, and let me tell you what that has looked like. When my husband gets irritated with one of our older children, I used to face my husband and defend my child. “You need to be the adult,” I would say. Now I face my child and support their father. “Your dad is trying to teach you an important lesson here. You should listen. It will be good for you.” You can bet my husband appreciates this new approach.

When both parents contribute the strength of their respective genders, the children win.

There is a strong feeling among many moms that there are no real answers, only personal preferences, guess-work and trade-offs. But returning to an understanding of the strengths and limitations of fathers and mothers as men and women immediately gives us a way out of the confusion. Mothers can be busy setting their children up for success and managing details while fathers challenge them and make them do things themselves expecting independence and maturity. And this cooperation works amazingly well…as long as they both stay engaged.

My problem with the oft extolled need for “consistency” in parenting while ignoring a reasonable discussion of the differences between moms and dads is that it has created a feeling of intolerance between men and women just at the moment when they most need to get along for the good of their own children, as well as the entire society. It has made men and women think they need to agree about ‘correct’ parenting, leading to perpetual disagreement and mutual disrespect that threaten the basis of homes where children can thrive.

As long as there is a battle over who is right when it comes to parenting, large numbers of decent marriages will fail, because the feminine perspective and the masculine perspective really are that mysterious to each other. Women will always suspect masculinity is, at bottom, prideful and heartless. And men are historically famous for considering femininity irrational and arbitrary. But the survival of our society depends on holding men and women together as mothers and fathers and setting up workable guidelines that help moms and dads bring out the best in each other.

In my own experience, I’ve come to appreciate a father’s ability to reinforce and counter-balance the love a mother offers her children: to her nurturing attentiveness and desire for social cohesion, he adds his example of self-interest and independent-mindedness; to her careful preparation and instruction, he adds his irritation with deficiency, giving the child needed correction; to her comforting willingness to share in the blame and consequences of her children’s actions, he adds his resistance against blaming himself, expecting the child to take personal responsibility despite excuses.

As society has turned away from appreciating masculinity in fathers, children have grown increasingly entitled and fragile. But turning away from the femininity of motherhood, which has been the point in much of the criticism of “helicopter parenting”, will only lead to different pathologies, not better outcomes.

Fathers and mothers need to reclaim the vitally important roles founded in their masculine and feminine cooperation. Our children and the future they will bring about are depending on it.

20 thoughts on “Guest post: Fathers are not defective mothers

  1. Makes me think of this post I saw at Instapundit:

    “UNIVERSITIES PROVIDE EQUAL TREATMENT, WOMEN AND MINORITIES HARDEST HIT: Colleges adopted policies to stop the tenure clock to help professors who are new parents, especially mothers. Study suggests fathers may be the real beneficiaries. “The authors of the new paper speculate that male economists who become fathers are taking the extra year on the tenure track not to nurture their offspring, but to write more articles and to have time to submit them to top journals.”

    Having and securing a good job is one of the chief ways men nurture their offspring. It’s sexist to ignore that, and to suggest that there’s only one, female-defined, style of nurturing.”

  2. I take great pride in my physicality to work hard and provide for my family. I push myself hard to become stronger and more efficient. I am oft remiminded of “Little house on the prarie” because the roles portrayed are really where we need to get back to.

  3. A recent study of Disney ‘family’ shows demonstrated that much of the comedic content comes from sassing the dad. This is a sad tradition in media.

  4. When my husband gets irritated with one of our older children, I used to face my husband and defend my child. “You need to be the adult,” I would say. Now I face my child and support their father. “Your dad is trying to teach you an important lesson here. You should listen. It will be good for you.”

    What a wonderful and powerful principle! Can we get someone to say something like this in general conference?

  5. The gender madness is so self-defeating, which is what makes it so sad.

    There is apparently a recent study that shows that girls can “throw like boys”, that there is no physical difference of the arm that makes boys better at throwing. Some think this supports the “no real difference” theory, but this would actually highlight the difference between boys and girls. Most boys view it as a top priority to figure out how to throw from a young age, and most girls do not, despite having similar potential.

    The current idea is to teach girls to care about learning to “throw like a boy”, but in doing so society taps into a distinctly feminine desire to gain social approval for its own sake.

    In the end, women will never gain the lasting approval they so desperately desire until they get back to embracing femininity, with respect for masculinity.

  6. Regarding General Conference, Elder Robbins talk about “Which way do you face?” comes to mind. Maybe the connection we don’t hear as much about is that wives act as testifiers of their father to the children. This is reflected in the biological fact that a father can only be sure a child is his if the mother is trust-worthily faithful to him. Her behavior testifies of his paternity. Similarly, women enjoy a naturally stronger bond with their children, a bond which they do well to share with the father by regularly showing her willingness to follow him, unless the man is completely unworthy.

    Like I indicated in the post about submission, many women have lost a sense of seriousness about defiance against husbands. This is not because the teachings are not there, as much as it is because defiance feels easier in the short-term (though it has heavy long-term costs) and society offers many ready-made justifications.

    But every time they encourage temple attendance, or keeping covenants, or reading the scriptures seriously, women should be reminded of what the prophets have taught about the relationship between men and women in marriage.

    I can see why it would be hazardous to be explicit, because there really are plenty of completely unworthy men out there, and women often have a hard time discriminating in that way. They tend to be caught between believing in unrealistic “chick flick” heroes on the one hand, and being overly forgiving and hopeful of change on the other hand. And somehow, the gap works out to exclude many generally worthy guys who refuse to make promises they don’t intend to keep.

  7. Lucinda, these are good points of course. I would point out however, that the “dysfunctional” dynamics between father and mother in the home are not a modern phenomenon, but seem to be fundamental to the human predicament.

    In the Bible, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the prophetic and patriarchal leaders in their homes. But in the case of major life decisions, it was the wives who took over. Eve, progressive and forward thinking, got Adam to take the fruit against his wish to simply obey God. Abraham wanted to give the birthright to Ishmael, the rightful firstborn, but Sarah got her way and convinced Abraham to kick Hagar out of the tent, after the Lord said “hearken to the voice of thy wife.”

    Rebecca fooled the blind Isaac into giving the birthright to the Jacob, rather than Isaac’s preferred, Esau. And Leah connived to become Jacob’s first wife against his wishes. Each of these cases were THE major turning points in Biblical history, and in each case, parents were at odds, and in each case, the wives got their way.

    God set men and women’s natures war with each other. He then gave men “official” authority, but knew that their wives would repeatedly undermine that authority. But He inevitably supports the women, saying “hearken to the voice of thy wife.” So if you are fighting with your spouse, you are in good company.

  8. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with the last assessment.

    We seem to have a predilection today to impute an overly noble motive to Eve and endow her with more wisdom than she certainly had. In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote in chapter 2, verse 14:

    “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

    I can’t think of too many times in the scriptures where the authors think that being deceived is a noble or good thing. Necessary occasionally, yes. But not something that most would hold up as a model of how we should live our lives. A repeated warning from the Savior himself was to be on the watch against deception.

    Granted, this particular mistake was a necessary step in the Plan of Salvation, but it was not “progressive”. Most Christian and Jewish authors I have read indicate that they are of the opinion that it was selfish and not motivated by a true search for knowledge. Do a thought experiment. When have you ever found one of your children hiding in a closet, monkeying around with makeup or in the case of one of my own kids, a can of spray paint? Was it ever a good thing? Metaphorically, Eve was hiding in the closet and refusing to ask for clarification once she thought she had additional information. I’m sure that it’s good that she did as further clarification from the Father might have prevented this step permanently. Eve’s nobility is not that she was forward thinking when she partook of the fruit, but that she was willing to pay the price for partaking of the fruit and did not cast blame on someone else. The oral transmission accompanying the Torah lays that mistake on Adam.

    I’m going to state strenuously that I am not equating the two, even though someone will probably misunderstand anyway, but if you take the thought of Eve being progressive to its logical conclusion, it goes places where you don’t want to wind up. Jesus had to be betrayed. It was necessary for Him to be killed as part of the Plan of Salvation. Judas was really just trying to take care of the poor. If not for him, the Plan would have stalled. So he was really playing an important part and we should be grateful to him for it. Doesn’t work, does it? I can’t prove this doctrinally, but I am of the opinion that if Judas hadn’t pulled an “Adam” and killed himself; but if he had instead pulled an “Eve”, owned up to his mistake and worked the rest of his life to make recompense, we wouldn’t use the epithet “Judas” today like we do. He was “deceived.”

    One of the things that’s somewhat difficult in my engineering job is a concept known as “bidding the black.” You have to go with what’s written in front of you, not what you are sure they need or what the circumstances in your world tell you might be desirable. In one case, we had a client that took a request for quote we had produced and rewrote it in such a way that they were trying to disadvantage us. We knew this because people in their own company warned us about it. They altered our documentation and when it came to the point where the request for a road around the unit came up, we bid out a gravel road since that was all it said. Bid the black. We won the job and gave them an upgrade for a concrete road at our cost since they had forced the issue. Well, really we had wanted to give them a concrete road all along and intended to. Just not at the beginning. There’s a parallel there.

    When it comes to the scriptures, you have to bid the black except where modern revelation provides a different interpretation. I have yet to find a modern prophet or apostle who downgraded Adam’s action or that of Eve from a transgression that required an infinite and eternal atonement to correct. And since I’m on a roll being politically incorrect here, I would argue that it was Adam’s initial action that was selfless and heroic, not Eve’s. Up to the point where he deflected blame to her. Unlike her, he made his decision with a knowledge of the costs, benefits and penalties of his actions. He knew the price he would pay for protecting her, serving her and following her lead and he chose to fulfill his covenant and do his duty anyway. I wonder if we would refer to the “Fall of Adam” today if he hadn’t chosen to blame his wife for the “predicament” he was in.

    As far as Abraham, Sarah and Hagar go, the Lord had already told Abraham that Isaac would have the birthright in Genesis 17:

    “19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.”

    Hagar wasn’t kicked out until Chapter 21 and the reason for her expulsion was nowhere near as trivial as the Bible would have you believe. We’re told in verse 9 that Ishmael was observed to be “mocking.” In Hebrew, the word “tsakhak” means to laugh. There is a reflexive form of it, which phonetically sounds like “mi’tsakhak”, but I’m not sure exactly how it’s spelled and couldn’t find it online. Need to go back through my notes. When mi’tsakhak occurs between couples, it’s the Hebrew euphemism that is consistent with the English “know” that shows up throughout Genesis. When Ishmael indulged in it and it was translated as “mocking”, it connotes a high degree of disrespect, making light of sacred things and possibly bordering on blasphemy. Sarah didn’t want Ishmael gone for a petty reason. She was rightfully concerned that he would be a bad influence on Isaac, who everyone knew was the rightful heir. Abraham didn’t want to send Hagar and Ishmael forth for many reasons, not least of which was the harshness of the climate. None of them had to do with confusion over the birthright. Most writers lay the blame on Hagar and her weakness as a mother. Assuming that Abraham could have raised Isaac righteously in the presence of Ishmael (big assumption), where might the world be today without the massive grudge between Judeo-Christianity and Islam?

    I will grant that Rebekah was a clear case of the wife knowing the will of the Lord better than the husband did, but she was the exception here. Leah did not do the conspiring regarding Jacob. Laban did. Go back and watch the “Taming of the Shrew.” It was not socially acceptable for a younger daughter to be married before an older one, so Laban was simply fulfilling his social obligation by deceiving Jacob. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, most writers claim that Rachel’s initial barrenness was a good thing because it allowed one unattractive woman and two low-status women to have a husband and children where they otherwise might not have. Like the issue between Ishmael and Isaac, the in-fighting between the women had repercussions we are still dealing with today.

    I’m not saying that wives can’t often be more discerning than their husbands when it comes to spiritual things, however I don’t see how the assertions stand up when looking at the scriptural record. Lehi and his family are a clear-cut example to the contrary. In my own life, I have found that when my wife and I counsel together, things usually work out much better. I can’t remember where it is in the oral transmission, but one of the writers indicates that Adam’s biggest mistake was allowing the Adversary to gain sole access to Eve and not being in a position to offset the lies and counsel with her in real time. That would have been very heroic. Of course none of us would be here.

  9. Sooner or later, on one of the many worlds God created, both Adam and Eve would have partaken of the fruit before consulting with God. That joint decision provided the conditions of the Fall. Moses 1:34-35 provides the possibility that other Adams and Eves made the choice of obedience, either one or both delaying their decision until asking God, at which point it is possible that their reward for obedience would have been the fruit of knowledge. However even those on those other worlds need Christ’s Atonement. Nate makes good points. Just because an act creates a needed ‘switch’, as in Martin Harris losing the first translation or Judas betraying Christ, does not remove the burden of repentance and restitution.

  10. I like to think about all the invisible women who have helped humanity progress. As the saying goes, “well-behaved women seldom make history”. I would add that they (well-behaved women) do make things easier for the thriving of their children, which I think is more important than “making history”.

    So for every 1 woman in the scriptures that defied their role, there are a lot more who did what they needed to keep humanity moving along. We really don’t hear much about most prophets wives, or mothers. I think that’s part of the injustice of the modern (feminist) perspective, to assume that the well-behaved women didn’t do anything necessary just because it’s not explicitly recorded, even though their lives and hearts and concerns are there in the lives of their husbands and children.

    I would also like to say that discovering the ideas I’ve talked about in this post and the one about submission have profoundly improved my day-to-day life. I used to think that my “personality” just wasn’t a good match for marriage. I’m not exactly shy about my opinions with my husband (and he’s fairly solicitous of my opinion.) But these practices of tolerating my husband’s masculine perspective as a father, and recognizing his right to lead, have not impeded my “personality”, it has just made the happy heaven-like times more frequent and reliable.

    I tend to agree that Adam and Eve were probably not hanging together very much before the transgressive decisions were made. When a creepy guy approaches my husband, he quickly comes and lets me know to have heightened watchfulness. I think it’s a problem when men assume women are careful enough without guidance about decisions regarding strangers. Men need to recognize that they need to do border maintenance so that women can keep their stranger-welcoming tendencies without too much danger. This is an important trait in women, to be able to welcome the precious little strangers who are their children. It dooms humanity when women are expected to be the watchful/suspicious ones. That mentality leads easily to the kind of practices that treat babies like parasites instead of precious children. Women need to be able to act on strong desires to sacrifice personal comfort for strangers. That’s why men need to be the watchful/suspicious types to keep their families safe, and why women need to heed their men, especially regarding strangers. Adam was wrong not to be protective of Eve, Eve was wrong to believe a stranger over God, Adam was wrong to follow Eve without asking God first.

    PantherII, yes, “bidding the black” really is necessary, otherwise, too much confusion. It’s one thing to try to figure out what it all means, it’s another to assume what we’ve received is incorrect because we don’t understand it.

  11. Lucinda: thanks for this. Your OP here and follow on comments clarify your thesis/stance/outlook as stated in other posts. It’s a much better picture now, and looks good.

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