Island Men's Network Article
What do Canadian fathers want?
It seems like a simple question, one that would find a ready answer. Yet, as I assembled this issue of Everyman on the theme of fathers, I was unable to find any Canadian writing with a positive vision of modern fatherhood. Nostalgic reflections on past honour, reaction against anti-father prejudice and legislation, courageous sharing and airing of the wounds and fears of separated, divorced and isolated fathers, practical fathering advice, celebration of the joys of fatherhood--these are all available in current Canadian literature, and are all featured within the pages of this issue. But an inspiring vision of where we are heading, what we want for fathers and fatherhood in contemporary Canada--I couldn't find it.
And that's both ironic and sad. For it is in the realm of fatherhood and fathers' rights that North American men are most seriously discriminated against, are most painfully disadvantaged and unequal to women. Consider. After conception, a woman has two legal rights to choose whether she wants to be a parent or not: she can abort, and she can put her child up for adoption. The father has no such rights, nor the right to be consulted or even informed about the choices she is making. He has only responsibilities. And if she prefers to keep the child from him and raise it alone or with another man, he has little chance (currently less than 15%) of getting even equal time shared custody. Yet, his responsibilities for financial support remain, and are assessed much more heavily than hers in equivalent cases. This situation is currently outrageously one-sided in favour of women. Yet popular perception and the media continue to see women as the disadvantaged gender in parenting. How can we understand this?
The answer is that women possess and have exercised a type of power in society that has allowed them to determine what social issues should be addressed, and how the facts about them should be interpreted. That this power has been exercised under a banner of powerlessness, is really quite remarkable. I rank it as the most spectacular propaganda achievement of the twentieth century. But what is this female power?
It is the moral power to affirm or to shame. Women possess it because they have always been the primary parent in those first years of infancy when moral foundations are laid in the psyche of a child. It was mothers who, almost always, decided what was good and bad, when we were worthy and when unworthy. As adults, we still--men and women both--see that power to say what is right and what is wrong, what is morally relevant and what should be ignored, as belonging fundamentally to women. What is new in this century is that women have discovered that their moral power, used since time immemorial in the domestic world of the family, also works powerfully in the world of public politics previously assigned to men.
And it works most powerfully of all when applied to the politics of parenting, where men have always seen women as more competent, more naturally knowledgeable because of their biological advantages and their historical experience. And so we have reached the situation of today, where women have most of the legal rights associated with parenting and men most of the responsibilities, while the popular perception is that the opposite is true.
I believe that men are being called to confront this inequality. However, the journey for each man involves freeing himself from the moral power of the mother, internalized in childhood and now projected onto all women. The mythopoetic men's movement is one approach to this work, where the focus is on healing men's internal wounds in community with other men. Until that work is well advanced, these men know in their gut that they lack the soul-strength to address societal injustices, where that would involve standing up to and refuting the shaming of women. Mythopoetic men's work is an important aspect of men's journey to wholeness, and Everyman is dedicated to supporting and encouraging it.
The men's rights movement is taking the complementary route to wholeness. These men focus on the external injustices and prejudices that men (and women) face. The pain that these men feel is often externalized as anger or fear; their internal woundedness remains. These men know in their gut that they will not have the strength to go inside and feel their pain until they have worked through some of the external political inequities. This is also important work. It is, of course, the other side of the coin to the mythopoetic movement. Everyman is dedicated to supporting this work as well. And, most importantly, to building bridges between the two, finding ways to help them recognize each other as brothers, as two halves of a single movement.
We will know that that work is succeeding, the two halves joining and approaching wholeness, when men begin to articulate powerful, positive visions of masculinity. Such visions will build on a strong and unashamed foundation of internal wholeness, and will look out into society to articulate inspiring visions of real social justice and political process. Owning our own authentic moral power, passionate and compassionate in the service of men and women both, we will become the leaders that society so desperately needs. We will know, as men and as fathers, what we want.
I am proud to be a part of these two men's movements at this turning point in history when, for the first time ever, significant numbers of men are on the threshold of becoming whole.