Secrets a Father Must Keep: A guest post on men and the media

__________________________________________________________________

Today’s guest blogger Ken writes fiction, crafts poetry, and creates music – all highlighted on his blog The Weltschmerz Collection.

__________________________________________________________________

“When I was born, they looked at me and said
What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.

And when you were born, they looked at you and said
What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.”

– Barenaked Ladies, “What a Good Boy”

It is a confusing world we live in.

An innocuous statement at first glance, but hear me out.

Nothing seems clear, and for me it never has. From early adolescence on, I was told what clothes to wear, how to cut my hair, what music to listen to, and every action movie, every television show, every music video told me what a man is; what a man looks like. A man wears Ralph Lauren and smells like Calvin Klein.

As I grew up some, and tried to understand girls and then later, women, I was told many different things about what a man is supposed to be, and what a woman wants in a man, and so I tried to do those things; tried to be those things. I wasn’t listening to real people, I was listening to the media, and even if it came from the snotty girls from my 7th grade class, they were just repeating what they’d read in Popular Teen Magazine or whatever.

But then things got confused – it seems I lost the signal behind all the noise, because the message didn’t seem clear anymore, and the things that I thought were true were being contradicted and changed. The ideal of MAN that the media had once pushed as the archetypical man was now being called misogynist and sexist and archaic. A new, more sensitive man was taking the stage, but strangely enough, he was no less trim, tanned, and fit, he just maybe kept his hair a little longer, and let his beard grow out some. And he still dressed in designer clothes and had a firm ass and a washboard stomach.

And so I return to my previous statement – that it’s a confusing world.

Sometimes you’re told that a man is strong, and that means physical strength, and that a man is confident, and that a man is rugged.

Other times you’re told that a man is sharply dressed and suave and debonair, and trim and lean and handsome.

Then you’re told that a man is dependable, and provides for his family, and is faithful, and loving, and kind.

And then you’re told, via shows like Desperate Housewives, that none of that matters – that you can be the most wonderful man in the world, but what every woman really wants is to fuck the well-tanned, well-toned pool boy.  (That this is what women have been dealing with for a long time is not lost on me, I assure you.)

When I received that message loud and clear, I felt substandard, and the idea of trying to be it all – to be all of those things that a man is supposed to be, and stay young and trim and buff – overwhelmed me to the point of defeat and resignation.

Like the song says, “We’ve got these chains hanging ‘round our necks – people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.”

I can’t say I’ve ever felt objectified by a woman – I don’t think I’ve ever had someone stare at my ass, or make comments as I walked by. I just don’t think I was really ever that cute, to be honest, but at the same time, when I was younger, I never really worried too much about my body. I had other concerns that were keeping me from talking to girls. By the time I finally got over that, I think perhaps I overcompensated and let my ego go wild. (Somewhere there are videos called “Ken’s Ego Gone Wild,” where my Id drives a red convertible through the Spring Break of my subconscious with my Ego passed out drunk in the back and my Superego flashing its boobs at random strangers.)

But then reality set in, and I got married and had my first daughter. At some point, I looked in the mirror and, for the first time, realized that I was not an underwear model, and due to my genetic makeup, sedentary job, and the inevitable aging process, I never would be. I don’t know exactly at what point it happened, and I don’t think I could pinpoint one day, but somewhere along the line I became very uncomfortable with my body. I found myself horribly unattractive, and couldn’t see why anyone else would find me attractive, including my wife. I tried going to the gym, but that only made things worse. Going to the gym when you’re already feeling fat and unattractive is like deciding you want to give music a try and sitting in with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Now it’s a few years later, and after two more daughters I pretty much have to be a feminist. Because I love my daughters, and I want the world to treat them with respect, and I want them to value themselves – and not as something pretty to put on a shelf, or to hang on some boy’s arm. But even more than that, I want them to respect the world – other women, and men, too. I don’t want them to treat Feminism as revenge for thousands of years of patriarchy, as some do. I want them to treat everyone with respect, no matter what they have between their legs.

I don’t want them to ridicule men, or to get the idea from pop culture that men are either macho misogynists or else are nothing but fat, lazy, boring buffoons, and that a sign of female empowerment is the ability to chew up a man and spit him out when something more interesting comes along.

I don’t want Feminism to be “turnabout is fair play” for them – I want them to be better than that – I want them to treat others the way they want to be treated, and I want them to demand that treatment from others.

But how can I teach them that if I don’t have respect for myself? I don’t want to lie to them – but how can I confess to my daughters that I look at myself and think I’m ugly, and then berate them if they say something like that about themselves?

How can I tell them not to look to the media for the ideal of beauty when that is exactly what I have done?

And so there are some secrets a father must keep in order to protect his children and give them something better. I bear the burden of my horrible self-esteem, and try my best to teach them to ignore what the media says about their bodies. I try to direct them toward role models that are more than just pretty faces – writers and artists and athletes and musicians who have more to offer the world than just their bare flesh in a music video.

This sounds trite, but though it may be too late for me to ever feel good about myself, I’ll be damned if I can’t give my daughters something better.

Advertisements

17 responses to “Secrets a Father Must Keep: A guest post on men and the media

  1. Wow! Conspicuously great post. Hat off to the author.

    Man, woman, it doesn’t matter…. the strength of a person’s character is what they do for others without hoping for reward.

  2. It’s such a responsibility being a parent. Having struggled with self-esteem and wondering what to base it on myself for much of my life… I hear you. We have two daughters and one son. The world they are growing up in is in many ways unrecognisable to us as parents. Guiding them and at the same time still trying to grow up, mature, find healing and make sense of everything for ourselves is a massive challenge! Having so few answers I find I put most energy into simply trying to develop and maintain good relationships with them… some days this seems to go better than others.

    • I sometimes wake up and forget that I am an adult. I thought that once I was an adult everything would make more sense, and that I would be wise and be able to impart that wisdom on to my children. What a shock to find out that I am still in the dark about most things, and that my strength is often found in faking it.

  3. Fantastic post, I don’t have any children but do have nieces and nephews and in the last few years as they are growing older I promised myself I would never greet them by commenting on their clothes, their looks etc. Instead ask after school, hobbies, books and sure enough each has their own unique personality, a personality which will lead them to from strength to strength as they go through the decades. After all, it is us adults who are the necessity to guide and nurture, no matter our own failings. From reading this article I don’t think this man need worry about failings if this is is resolve, he will be a hero in his daughters eyes.

    • My daughters and I talk about the books they’re reading, the movies they’re watching, and we often commiserate about the lack of strong female leads…. my eldest daughter’s favourite thing in the world right now is The Hawkeye Initiative (if you haven’t seen it, check this out: http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/). We talk about the failings of “teen literature” and how being a woman doesn’t mean being weak or second class. I hope they are getting the right messages.

      • That site is fan-freaking-tastic! In the near future, I’m going to do a piece on something I’ve been dying to talk about – “Strong Female Characters” and how some of them are included in movies (just as these women are in the comics) to make ladies feel that yep, we’re all empowered now… much like how racism is now “over.” Thanks, Obama!

        • So long as Katniss Everdeen is not on the list — she is NOT a strong female character (or, she is, until the writer throws her under the bus in the last 25 pages of the third book)
          I wanted to write a very angry letter to the writer on that one….

  4. What an open, honest look into the issues a man faces with media and body, and a great reminder that we are ALL greatly impacted by it, men and women alike. Great post.

  5. Thanks so much for your openness. One of the most important (and hardest) lessons we need to learn is self-acceptance. Teaching this to our children is most challenging when we know deep inside that we are still on this journey ourselves.

    • This is something my parents did absolutely right. I never doubted that they were comfortable in their own skins, even though – once I was old enough – my mom confessed that, of course, she’s always had certain insecurities she struggles with. But I think there’s a lot to be said to waiting to have that conversation… as Ken put it, it’s not lying, but keeping a secret until the time is right.

      • I definitely agree with this—although my family was not always as sensitive about body issues as they could have been, I think the direction they swung was the healthier one in the long run. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized that, y’know, parents are people, too!

        Glad you organized this Jennie & excellent post H.K. — definitely a good POV on a topic I personally haven’t seen discussed much from a male perspective and certainly very little from a father’s.

  6. No offense, but welcome to the world of being a woman – where double standards are the rule rather than the exception. This saddens me for women, and it saddens me for men, too. Kudos to you for doing all you can to raise strong AND kind daughters, women who are confident AND compassionate. I only hope you are able to extend that same love and regard to yourself one day – you really do ‘deserve’ it. 🙂

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s