Hell, if I was in my early 20’s, single, stupid and free of responsibility, and I caught a dude going on about nibbling toes, and somebody being a “wigglepuss” well…I would probably chortle, and not in the supportive affirming way.
I think I’ve established that fatherhood shakes up a fella’s life like some sort of Elvis song. It frappes your routines, charcouteries your social life, it blanches, bastes and Bobby Flay’s your fragile identity as an individual in control of any aspect of your destiny. But what does being a father do to a guy’s sense of manhood?
Firstly, let’s establish, I’m a nerd. I don’t just quote from Star Wars movies, I quote from Star Wars novels. And I work in theater. So my authority on masculinity may be questionable. But I have seen every mafia movie ever made, and I have a BA in anthropology (from a private school, no less), so I know from cultural studies.
What does it mean to be a man? That’s the place to start – and frankly, that’s a whole other essay. That’s an exhaustive study of the works of Hemmingway and Van Damme. So in the interest of brevity, I’m going to edit, condense, synthesize and make shit up like a good liberal arts grad, and list the qualities of American Masculinity thuswise:
A man has a sense of duty
A man has authority
A man has Independence
A man has Power (and power tools)
A man has Hair
A man is made uncomfortable by feminine hygiene products, but not killing things
And then there’s the whole violence thing. We have to be at least capable of throwing down.
Oh, and homophobia.
So. There it is. The traditional American Man. Don Draper, eat your heart out.
But what if a fella’s violent and dutiful, but lives in his mom’s basement?
What if a dude owns a company and has his own house, but plays video games all day and is gay?
What about Xena? Is she a man?
Who’s asking these questions? Jeez, you think you’re bloggarizing and all the sudden it turns into a damn press conference.
Listen, these traits compose an ideal, and a culturally specific one at that. I’m not saying they’re healthy or destructive, I’m just saying, for good or bad, these are the traits that American men are measured against by their republican dads.
So how do these square with fatherhood?
That’s the odd thing. Though in the well-rested eyes of the single man, a dad looks like he’s lost the battle for relevance in a big way. But by these criteria, against expectation he’s rocketed up the charts: His duty has increased (heh, doody. That’s poo) his authority has increased – he’s got a whole other little dude to mold and shape and boss around. His power? It certainly hasn’t decreased – muscle power alone sees a spike from carrying 6-30 lbs of pooping, staring human for the first year or two. Independence? Not only does he have to be independent, his whole damn family does now. Okay, so by sheer exposure he’s probably less bothered by feminine hygiene, but we still really have no idea what that’s all about
So think about it you cologne–smothered lone wolves; fatherhood ups a guy’s rating on the collated scale of manhood so much so that they might as well be playing a completely different game. It’s millimeters to gallons. Thumb wars in the cafeteria to pit fighting in little Odessa. It’s Bugs Meaney to Darth Vader.
There’s a recent study showing that men raising kids have much less testosterone than men who don’t have kids. This was no surprise to me – we don’t need testosterone any more. Evolutionarily speaking, we’re at Mission Accomplished.
The mission, by the way, was hot action.
Saying dads have less testosterone is like saying the space shuttle has less rocket fuel in orbit than when it’s still in the atmosphere. The fuel is there to get us out of the atmosphere, once we’ve left gravity it only gets in the way when we have to fight the Decepticons.
As fathers, we reach Man 2.0 What was once a stain-free, condom-buying caterpillar is now a hairy, insurance-buying butterfly. We take the long view, think big-picture, we’ve left the company of the brave young warriors, lusting for battle and trophies, and joined the circle of elders around the fire, deciding the future of the clan and whether to use cloth or disposable. In short, we have nothing left to prove.
Except that we might still wear that Metallica shirt sometime, so don’t throw it out.