Let’s take a moment to be hopeful.
I came across this tweet the other night that, quite frankly, gave me a rush of hope that the conversation around fatherhood is changing. The knee-jerk reaction our society experiences, when it sees a man showing affection to his son, is slowly looking less and less like vitriol. And sons openly express a longing for overt displays of affection and nurturing from their fathers. It feels as though there is a growing awareness that the connection that is possible between a father and son can be an anecdote for a lot of the problems percolating in our society today.
Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you? pic.twitter.com/XDMIsgjUKI
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) October 22, 2020
I realize the subject of this tweet will bring a lot of different things into this conversation, so let me make something clear: This is not a discussion about the individual who crafted this tweet nor is it about the specific men in the photo. The photo could be showing any father-son combo throughout this world and still carry the same weight.
What stood out to me about the original tweet was the assumption, held by a lot of men, that the only type of human connection they are allowed to have with others is one of a sexual nature. This assumption states that the only reason for the father to be kissing his son on the cheek is because he is doing so with the intent of communicating or instigating sexual intimacy.
This assumption is not innate to the human condition. We are not hardwired to interpret every intimate interaction with those around us as potential procreation. Unfortunately, many individuals are conditioned to believe this way. A lot of young men are taught that to be that close to someone, there must be at least the potential for sexual conquest. But, the response to this tweet illustrates that this, too, is changing. Here are a few examples:
Yes! And so needed. Sadly some parents believe they make their sons stronger by withholding affection. Those children will bear the scars. Being comfortable showing them love and affection at any age lets them build and model on true strength & not on the fear of appearing weak https://t.co/xA2O6er1pU
— Paul Stanley (@PaulStanleyLive) October 22, 2020
I give my son a morning beso and bedtime beso and I hope I get to do that till I depart this earth. https://t.co/0h2B9aD8ch
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) October 22, 2020
This makes me miss my dad very much. If you’re still lucky enough to have yours, give him a big hug or if you can’t do that give him a call. https://t.co/reVetOpGdV
— Cristóbal Alex (@CristobalJAlex) October 22, 2020
I only wish my dad and I could have had more open emotional interactions growing up. Now that he has Alzheimer’s all I do is think about the wasted time we spent not showing our true feelings. Hell we didn’t even hug until I moved across the country https://t.co/IJle2fxYW4
— J Spray (@JSpray84) October 22, 2020
There are different tones in the responses, including sentiments of pity, of grief, and of determination. Of course, as is the truth in the world of social media, there are also plenty of examples of “what about the other guy running for office,” or “go to hell,” or “what is wrong with you?” but today, I want to focus on the ones that really illustrate how the narrative around what it means to be a good father is shifting.
Modeling Positive Masculinity
There is still work to be done. There are plenty of ways we can promote change in how our young men are raised. And, a multitude of ways we can help challenge the views of individuals who strive to confine men to one singular definition of what it means to be masculine. But take a second to look at these responses and find a sliver of hope today.
Take comfort in the fact that we, as a society, can continue to normalize these types of interactions within fatherhood and other relationships. We can model this behavior, we can reinforce this behavior, and we can reward this behavior.
This is not the type of change that happens by way of a few poignant PSAs. Substantive change of this nature happens when generations of new men enter fatherhood with a concrete understanding of what is required of them; what it means to be a good father. Sure, there are plenty of instances where we need to be strong and push through adversity. And, we can model this type of behavior to our sons, but we can’t use that lens for every human interaction. We can’t allow any deviation from this type of behavior to be seen as inherent weakness. It is exactly the opposite of weakness. It is a sign of true strength.
I try to go to bed every night with the comfort that the narrative is changing. And, yet, I still wake up each morning with the motivation that there is much left to do. My hope is that this discussion provides comfort and motivation to you as well.
*Zach Flood, a clinical psychotherapist, was recently featured on a Revealing Men podcast that focused on his work with Randy Flood helping business and organizational leaders create healthier and more productive workplaces and professional environments.