Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Sermon [Fathers, Sons and Daughters]

Happy Father’s Day, mi gente,
I guess this is not your typical Father’s Day offering. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be honest with one’s self. My fathers were good, if flawed, human beings, but they gave much. I was definitely not a good father, but I tried… 


My father as a young man holding me.
What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?
 -- Antonio Machado

I had two fathers and possibly more. I had uncles, older cousins, as well as elders from the community who were in many respects father figures. But the two that were most influential was my biological father, Edwin, and my stepfather, Vincent. They were two men who shared the lived experiences of being Puerto Rican men in a racist society. Yet, in many other aspects, they were polar opposites.

My biological father was almost all yang: penetrating intelligence, extroverted, creative, charismatic -- he was
My father Edwin
everything a little boy wanted as a father. I adored him -- worshiped the very ground he walked -- and I wanted to be just like him. My father passed on to me the gift of the love for knowledge and I could never repay him for that. My father’s example taught me that there was a higher purpose in life and he taught me love for knowledge, beauty, and truth.

My stepfather, Vincent, was almost all yin: he was easy-going, definitely not cerebral, loved doing things with his hands, and loved music. As a child, he would take me to
My stepfather Vincent
his various jobs and brag to his friends and co-workers that I was a genius. Then he would say something like, “Go ahead, ask him anything,” and his co-workers would and I would almost always get the answer right. He used to get a big kick out of that. Vincent, instead of resenting my intelligence, supported it. Any other man would’ve felt insecure, but not Vincent, because he was easy going almost to a fault. Not that he was a pushover, he wasn’t. He had the hands of a carpenter and laborer, large and rough. As a child I saw him knock out a man much bigger than him with one punch. Vincent was simply less confrontational than my father. Vincent’s example taught me dependability, consistency, or “showing up” as he might have put it.

These days it’s popular for the chattering class and politicians of all stripes to go on at length about fathers and fatherhood. On one side, there’s the myopic notion that almost all social ills can be placed firmly on the shoulders of fathers -- or “absent” fathers. Of course, this is just a form of scapegoating. Sure, fathers are important in the development of young minds, but a father being more “present” doesn’t automatically translate to a better, more just society.

I was once involved in the creation of a leadership development workshop that utilized relationship-building skills. My assumption then and still, was that the essence of
With my son, Ian, when he was around 8
leadership is about the ability to connect to people, rather than forcefully leading them by the nose. Whenever I would ask workshop participants to list what they perceived as leadership qualities, nurturing -- a core skill for relationship building-- was almost never mentioned. When our culture emphasizes bread-winning and individual success for men at the expense of care-giving, the welfare of children suffers. A father’s absence impacts our children’s development of social skills, self-esteem, and attitudes towards achievement. But more importantly, our culturally warped understanding of masculinity contributes to various forms of maladjustment, such as lack of impulse control, violence, incompetence, dependence, and irresponsibility. The son of a psychologically absent father experiences a weakened identification with what it means to be a man, and the daughter experiences a weakened relationship to the masculine principle.

Yet, in the name of family financial and psychological welfare, our legal system emphasizes the importance of the father’s job (or ability to earn), and therefore his absence. When social attitudes and norms are not supportive of the
As a boy in the Lower East Side
father’s active involvement in the family, then we see the fragmentation of family relationships so common today.
Don’t misunderstand my point: I am not advocating for some notion of bullshit “men’s rights.” We live in a patriarchal society that confers privilege on men -- especially white, heterosexual men. I am saying that we -- all of us -- need to redefine what it means to be a man. We need to redefine masculinity if we’re going to do away with oppression and violence. What I am advocating for is to take down patriarchy by redefining what it is to be a man and, by connection, what it means to be a father.

In the end, we are all flawed creatures. We all make mistakes. As for me, I would say that if you were to ask my son, he would give at best a mixed review. More likely, I don’t
During the Occupation at Wall St.
think he would characterize me as a good father. And he would have good reasons for his view. In the final analysis, I too am seriously flawed human being. I guess what is important is not to get too stuck in who’s “wrong” and who’s “right,” but to do the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do at that moment.

And yet my own experience leaves me with the feeling that a good father, or a good man, however that is defined, requires more than getting the task done right. Perhaps fatherhood is more about being genuine and revealing ones vulnerability to those you love. When I reflect on the relationships between fathers, sons, and daughters, I am reminded of the words of the poet Rumi: “Out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My son, if he chooses, will one day be a father and if he can take even a little of what my own teachers gave me, then he will be a man.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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