Some brief notes on fatherhood and masculinity

I want to share some general thoughts I have recently had about fatherhood and how it has affected my ideas of masculinity. The reason I am doing this is to better understand my own position as a student in this areas and hopefully someone who can express a clear argument based on my research. My main thoughts relate to three themes: emotional masculinity, physical masculinity and responsible masculinity. All three of these themes owe a debt to Connell’s concept of ‘re-embodied’ masculinity and their illustrative example of fatherhood.

I start with emotional masculinity as I regularly find myself grappling with conflicting emotions as a new father. Waking up to the sound of my son crying immediately stirs parental protective emotions, tinged with the resentful emotions of a disrupted sleep. The moment I see my son, I am immediately lifted from resentment to pure love as I switch on the light and his confused squint grows into recognition and a smile. With that smile, I cannot help but reciprocate and feel the malaise of the morning begin to fade. I can’t remember ever feeling this way as an adult. There is something about the dependency of a child that brings out an emotional malleability I have not experienced before. I have opened myself up to such emotion by involving myself in his mornings and by regularly interacting with my son as a daily routine. I think this emotional openness has taught me to be more physically interactive with my son too. It is something that has grown as time has gone on, but stems from my emotional bond with him.

I have recently started incorporating a morning cuddle into my morning routine with my son. It might seem like a strange thing to write, but previously I was a lot more transnational with him in the morning. We used to start with me lifting him out of the bed, doing a nappy change and taking him downstairs for breakfast. In the last couple of weeks, as he has grown in confidence and become more interactive, I have sensed the opportunity to cuddle him and nurture our physical bond. This is something I ascribe to re-embodied physical masculinity, or the idea of physical masculinity as an intimate and close interaction with my son. I know Connel described the transactional elements of physical masculinity as important to the ‘re-embodiment’ of masculinity, and I feel this has been an important gateway to my own re-embodiment, but I also feel I had to make the leap to the sincere and genuine cuddle and open emotional bond I am growing with my son.

I have felt this physical masculinity influence my interactions with others too. My cuddles in the past were a lot more transactional than they are now. In the past I would ‘hug’ as a social behaviour, but not as a natural and comfortable interaction (apart from with my wife). Now, I find myself embracing the natural connection a hug can bring to human relationships. It is symbolic of family connection, love and warmth, which I contend is often missing in workplace interactions. Perhaps my interactions with others will become more loving and emotionally open as my experiences as a father develop, I can only hope.

My final reflection on responsible masculinity comes after a weekend with my family during which my wife had an evening with friends from our antenatal class. It was apparent to me that this was one of a few rare occasions when I have been responsible for getting my some to sleep without the crutch of my wife in case he wouldn’t fall asleep. Falling asleep is simultaneously the most natural and more complex human process I know. It requires a feeling of safety, comfort and calmness as well as the simplicity of ‘feeling tired’. Being responsible for my son’s sleep time meant that I had to embody the safety, comfort and calmness typically provided by my wife with breastfeeding. I held him, read to him, rocked him and responded to his irritation. It felt very precarious at points as I was following my instinct, but it taught me about my ingrained intuition as a father and the need for fathers to take responsibility for their children as independent parents.

I think the independence of masculine responsibility for a dependent child is the critical point here. I have taken collective responsibility for my son (with my wife), ever since he has been born, but a part of me has always known that my wife has been there to take over if needed. As I have grown more confident, I have increasingly felt the impact of taking sole responsibility for my son on my ideas of masculinity. Responsibility, to me, has become a far more all-encompassing concept. In the context of the workplace, line managers take responsibility for their team, but don’t always take full responsibility for the ‘whole’ person.

The ‘whole person’, in the context of work, includes the personal life and commitments therein that comprise a colleague’s substantive life outside of work. So, parents need support to be parents, not just lip service to that life outside of work. It is the responsibility of the workplace and it’s hierarchical representatives to enable that. Equally, it is the responsibility of the parents to push for those rights in their working arrangements. Therefore, when fathers are asked to do longer hours, or work outside of the norm, they should take responsibility for their parental responsibilities at home being just as important as their working responsibilities.

Masculine responsibility means taking full responsibility, not shirking that responsibility because you feel the ‘primary carer’ will pick up the slack. I have been guilty of this at times at work when I set of 10 minutes late. Would I have done the same thing for a work meeting? Probably not. I realise as I type these closing remarks that my own masculinity is not coming up to the mark and before I can write about this, I need to live it!

To conclude, I have found my recent experiences have refocused my ideas of masculinity as a product of fatherhood. Masculinity is associated with ideas of physicality, emotion and responsibility. These three pillars can easily be interpreted in different ways depending on cultural influence and personal circumstances. I presented my own reflections here as a father forging his own path of masculinity and aspiring to contribute something to this complex theoretical landscape. I hope my reader will also reflect on their version of masculinity and consider how they experience and live emotional, physical and responsible masculinity in their life.

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