It’s Father’s Day and I need socks. Socks and underwear. Ties, socks, and underwear are the traditional gifts for dad for this festive holiday. Over the years, I have come to wear ties less frequently except for an occasional bow tie, but I use socks and underwear all the time, as you might imagine. I tried wearing shoes French style once, which is to say without socks, but my feet hurt and I looked like an idiot. The French, évidemment, can pull it off.
I went commando and sockless one weekend, but that was when the Dominican laundromat down the street closed because of a water leak. I also did not shave or shower. Honestly, I have never felt freer. I could swear women looked at me differently. Dogs certainly did.
The other day, I asked a friend about his plans for Father’s Day. He has four children, all under fifteen. He said he wanted to be left alone. I told him I understood. That sentiment is shared by many men. It could actually be our motto (borrowed from Greta Garbo).
Are men anti-social? Developmental psychologists tell us that the task of male individuation is to pull away from the mother and forge a distinct, independent identity. This differs from female individuation in which wholeness is sought through relationships; not distance but closeness. I am reminded of my one-year-old grandson, who spends a lot of his time throwing things. It’s hard to get close to someone who has you in his sights. He also has a terrific arm.
The implications for parenting are obvious. While the mother forms bonds of intimacy, the father, through behavior and instruction, shows how to become independent. That’s the theory. This doesn’t mean there are no emotional bonds between father and child. It’s just that those bonds are different. And independence does not mean abandonment but includes responsibility, perhaps even duty. There is a reason the traditional role of “provide and protect” looks like something you’d see on the side of a squad car.
If men relinquish this role, either through personal negligence or the desire to have a relationship like the mother’s (e.g., Robert DeNiro breastfeeding in Meet the Fockers), then there is no modeling of independence for the child to follow. This could be one of the reasons adolescence has become so complicated and painful for youth today. It also creates competition between father and mother, which is the last thing a relationship needs.
What of fathers and daughters? Are not those relationships especially complicated? I have three daughters and two granddaughters. So, I can say of course they are, and not only by the fact that individuation is almost never completed, so that there exist unresolved issues and expectations on both sides. They are complicated by circumstance and personality as well.
This is where I fall back on the Greeks, particularly Aristotle. I refer to him in business ethics, teaching, and relationships for what he teaches about reason. Reason is an act of the intellect, but you must have the will and desire to use it and follow it through to its logical conclusion, no matter what that may be. That means our mistakes and even our vices can be made right through our decisions.
If those decisions admit truth and are directed toward other rather than self, they can overcome a multitude of sins. If they are based in love and tempered by faith, hope, and prudence, no amount of conflict can undermine them.
They can make most things right, even an unusual wish for Father’s Day.