A “male role model” is a man who can teach a child how to ride a two-wheeler, how to grip a football, how to catch a fish, or how to parallel park.
There are plenty of men that do those things for their children and the children of others, and they should be honored. But I think it takes much, much more to be a good father. The difference between a male role model and a father is that a child knows their father will take a bullet for them. A child sees a good father as an example of faithful devotion in the form of long-term, uncomplaining work as an act of love for his family.
Today, we’re dissolving the traditional nuclear family, believing we can free ourselves from abuse, violence and cruelty by allowing, and celebrating, a diversity of alternative family arrangements. These new, more flexible families use support networks and social services to empower mothers, giving them new options in how they want to live their lives. Mothers want the same financial security that a working father once gave to a nuclear family, without making compromises that limit their freedom. It’s no wonder that most divorces are initiated by women, and single motherhood is becoming celebrated.
Mothers love their children just as much as they always have, and it’s important to them to believe that the lack of a father’s daily presence in their children’s life doesn’t cause any harm. While there’s some grudging acknowledgement that children need men somewhere in their lives, a “male role model” allows mothers to address that need, without the need for any long term commitments. This year’s role model can be easily replaced with another.
Of course, there’s a vast gulf between a good father and a father that is abusive or negligent. Some fathers are bad enough that children really are better off without them. But this is true of mothers too.
The dissolution of the family, and the replacement of fathers with male role models are all part of the atomization of modern life. We’re told that the good life is all about freedom, self-expression, and self-actualization, and that any social bonds that constrain our choices must be broken. The process seems unstoppable, because the more people are severed from their communities, their social clubs, their churches and finally their families, the more dry kindling is available to fire still more liberating changes. Once we saw both fathers and mothers as exemplars of devotion, care, and love, but the self-sacrifice they exhibited seems incongruent in a post — Christian era.
It won’t stop with fathers. Fatherhood is easier to dilute than motherhood, because it is more obviously a social construction, but there’s no real firebreak to protect motherhood from being deconstructed the same way. Ectogenisis — artificial wombs — will be ubiquitous before the end of this century, leaving “mothers” with no special claim over their technologically gestated children than “fathers.”
I still maintain the Christian belief that the nuclear family is an ideal, as well as the admittedly patriarchal belief that traditional fatherhood benefits everyone. Children just have to feel safer when they have a strong protector. Offering decades of patent and steady labor has to yield real benefits for children. Mothers who love their children should welcome the presence of someone just as devoted to them.
I believe that sacrifice, not selfishness is the key to fulfillment. So when I say that traditional fatherhood benefits everyone I include fathers as special beneficiaries. Providing for others can be a joyful experience — this is why the military and first-responders take such pride in what they do.
So good fathers are not “male role models.” They are much better.