Rediscovering the Lost Art of Masculinity
There is an old country song about a cowboy who accidentally got a girl “with child.” In the lyrics, he asks his friend:
“…you know I’m a rake and a ramblin’ man
Free as an eagle flies…
Well, look at me now and tell me true:
Do I look like a daddy to you? Oh, do I look like a daddy to you?”
The character is debating whether he has it in himself to enter into the predicament he has created, or whether to run away. Having become a father, will he be able to be a dad?
I imagine that many men ask themselves similar questions. Too many opt out.
The Gift of Having a Dad
Not everyone has the blessing of having a true “Dad.” To be a daddy is, in most cases at least, to be present. And I had one of those dads. He is, without a doubt, one of the single greatest blessings of my life. I am a daddy’s girl.
And I hope all you guys out there who are hoping for marriage are looking forward not to just scoring a hot chick as you browse the profiles at your fingertips. I hope you are also looking forward to being a daddy. When you survey the women you swipe through on your screen, I hope you are looking for the mother of your children.
I may have taken for granted the value of having a dad who affirmed me, who loved me into a self-respecting womanhood. One of the reasons why chastity has been possible for me is that my dad was respectful—indeed reverent—of my womanhood as it budded under his care. And he took pains to protect it.
He Takes the Chance to Defend my Honor
In my high school, there was this thing called “initiation.” Upperclassmen would get freshmen into their cars and take them to some remote place from which they would have to walk back.
I remember the day my dad counseled my teenage self at the kitchen counter not to get into any cars with boys after school. Okay, so I was a little embarrassed.
In adulthood, I know that my dad understood the danger of getting into a car with a boy more than his innocent, naïve little girl did. He suspected that there may be more to getting “initiated” than anyone was saying. I never did get into a car with a boy after school.
In retrospect, I treasure that little counseling session. I have always longed for someone who respected me the way my dad taught me to respect myself.
Somehow, when I looked into my dad’s eyes, he communicated a message to my delicate feminine heart. “You can do it! You are capable! I believe in you! You can try and you can miss the mark, and I will still love you! I’m delighted that you tried! You are safe with me! I am proud of you.”
When I looked into his eyes, he told me who I was. That security gave me the freedom to soar. It also meant that I didn’t need to go looking for affirmation in unhealthy ways.
Not all Men are like That
It didn’t take long to figure out that there aren’t many men like Dad anymore. In a later chapter in life, one of my boyfriends seemed very concerned that I could possibly someday gain weight. He did not think it would be possible for him to be attracted to someone who may become “obese.”
I was as thin and light as I have ever been, due to an anxiety-producing season of my career that made it difficult for me to eat or sleep. But, as I was familiar with what often happens to women after childbirth, I knew that I could offer no guarantees.
Nevertheless, I must say, it was troubling to discover that he was more concerned about the weight of my body than the weight of my character. Should this relationship progress, how would he father my children?
He gave me a fitness book as a not-so-subtle hint of his expectations. That ended that.
In yet another chapter and another relationship, my beloved had a moment when he seemed embarrassed at my enthusiasm about my faith. I found myself retreating inside myself, with the question…are you ashamed of me?
This led to a frank conversation about where we really stood, with our faith, and with each other. He would have been happy to settle for a more nominal Catholic life. I would not have been. Sadly, that ended that, too.
And then there was the night that my boyfriend, who struggled with same-sex-attraction, told me that there were many men he found more attractive than me. Oh, yeah? Is that a fact? Buh-bye.
There once was a fella who didn’t show up for a date one night. After a few rounds of explanations, I finally learned that the reason. He was busy doing a drug deal—which apparently was part of his life along with daily Mass and rosary and other religious things.
Was his girlfriend impressed? I don’t think so. No, she was looking for a daddy for her children. They did not exist yet, but that was beside the point. A drug dealer was not going to get that gig.
Hence, I am still single, as a matter of the self-respect I learned from my father. There are worse things than being single.
Men at Work Often Means More Than We Know
Still, a single girl has to fend for herself. And work can be another place where a girl’s relationship with her dad can be decisive. Because of him, I do not suffer fools gladly.
When on occasion I have crossed swords with the office bully, I do my best to graciously state my case, stand my ground, and not be bulldozed, come what may.
On the other hand, there are times when a girl’s expectations, shaped by the respect she learned from her father, are not met. I have been in situations where my relationship with my boss was somewhat insecure. In one case, he didn’t seem to know how to communicate whether or not he was happy with my work. And I simply did not know; I could only guess.
In retrospect, I realized that I was looking for his approval in the way that I had experienced my dad’s approval. During that season, regarding this boss, I wrote in my journal, “I wish he would tell me who I am!” But perhaps, after all, it’s better that he didn’t.
Someone wise once said, “Work as if you are working for God, and not as if you are working for men.” It’s a good principle to practice, even when your employment situation is less than ideal. God has achieved some mighty things when we’ve had our lonely Joan of Arc moments.
Nevertheless, most women long to be desired by and approved of by men.
Of Manly Men—Duties and Choices
Men, perhaps it is part of the curse that we women look to you to tell us who we are. In Genesis 3:16, one of the consequences of the fall for women is that “your desire will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.”
In the age of redemption, men, you have a choice. You can remain in your fallen self, and you can destroy the women (wives, daughters, friends, and even employees) whom God entrusts to you. Ignore her, criticize her looks or her weight or her lackluster days. Or you can rise into redeemed manhood and call her to your loving, affectionate, manly-man gaze that braces her up and tells her, “You are safe with me.”
That, essentially, is the charism of husband-ness and the essence of daddy-ness. Your manliness does not consist in the length of your beard or the toys you collect. Your lasting bequest is your gift of masculinity to the world, which makes it a safe place for a girl to grow up, and a woman to blossom. And you can do it as a husband, as a father, as a boss, as a priest, as a doctor, as a lawyer, as a mechanic, as a soldier, and even a poor man. The possibilities are endless.
I’ve had a dad who lived the gift of his masculinity in my life—a gift I wish every woman had.
For singles, the lack of a steady masculine presence in our lives represents a true crisis. Too many women have never had a dad to affirm them, tell them who they are. And because of this, too many women operate from a profound deficit of self-esteem. We look into your eyes to tell us what our daddy should have told us—or at least to pick up where he left off.
Further to that, too many men never had a dad to affirm them, tell them who they are. And thus, too many men operate from the same deficit.
So many of us live with a crippling need for the affirmation of a less than perfect father. And we try to recover from our father’s imperfections, vicariously, through our significant other. Fear strikes when he doesn’t return our text, when she doesn’t seem interested, or when the look in our beloved’s eyes is that of disappointment. Is there any hope?
Thanks be to God, yes.
This is My Beloved, in whom I am Well Pleased
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
God wants to be the daddy we never had. He wants to teach us—whether sons or daughters—to look into his eyes and hear him say, “You are safe with me.” It is only from this vantage point that we can, without fear, enter into what we hope for with our beloved, accept their limitations, and find their quirks endearing.
And it is only from this vantage point—wherein we are more concerned about what God thinks of us—that we can truly enter into a healthy relationship with a spouse.