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
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 father Edwin|
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
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.
|My stepfather Vincent|
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
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
|With my son, Ian, when he was around 8|
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
father’s active involvement in the
family, then we see the fragmentation of family relationships so common today.
|As a boy in the Lower East Side|
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
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.
|During the Occupation at Wall St.|
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…