Fatherhood vs Manhood

Manhood Ideals
Photo by Jim Larrison

When Bryce and JP reviewed Bryce’s list of “what makes a man a man” I found myself thinking that Bryce’s list felt narrow in that it seemed to focus on fatherhood as if a man isn’t a man unless he is a father. My gut reaction was that a man can be a man (even a good man) without ever being a father or even wishing to be a father. The difference between my thinking and Bryce’s was made clear when my list was discussed on the podcast and they noted that Bryce took the view of defining what separated a man from a woman while I took the view of defining what separated a man from a boy. Let’s explore the difference between manhood and fatherhood and how I feel about Bryce’s focus on fatherhood in defining manhood.

Bryce’s list consisted of two items on which he and I completely agree. The first is “protect and respect women” which is clearly different for a man than for a woman. The last is “provide/work for the household in which you live” which some would argue is no more uniquely male than most of the items on my list.

The focus on fatherhood in Bryce’s list came on the item labeled “become a righteous father.” In the podcast, where I had my reaction that this was too narrow, the focus of that item came across as the role of raising posterity. In Bryce’s published post I found that the focus felt more attuned to the attributes of leadership that are obviously necessary for a righteous father but that are applicable more broadly in the life of any man. In fact, I found that there were only two statements in Bryce’s post where I felt that the definition being proposed unnecessarily excluded men who weren’t inclined to marry or raise children:

If he is married without children… He should aspire to fatherhood.

If he is not married… he should be seeking a righteous woman.

In my opinion a man can be unquestionably manly and fully mature without having an inclination to marry or to raise children. To be a man he would need to respect and support those who chose to take on those responsibilities and he would need, without complaint, to fulfill any obligations of that type which resulted from his actions. What is not required to be manly is to aspire to fatherhood and marriage if you are willing to forego the benefits that attend those roles.

A man takes responsibility for his choices. If he wants the benefits of marriage he embraces the responsibilities that go with it. He doesn’t seek the pleasures of marriage while shirking the committment of it. Likewise, someone can’t father a child and be a man without being a father to that child insofar as the circumstances allow – including being/getting maried to the mother or providing whatever support is needed by the child and allowed by the mother.

In seeking to raise boys to become men I see the value in teaching them about what it means to be a father. The skills and responsibilities of fatherhood are precisely the skills that are central to manhood. At the same time, we should carefully guard against conveying the notion that not being (or desiring to be) a father makes someone less of a man.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.

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