The Fathering Instinct

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I remember one afternoon when I was a single man in my early thirties walking up First Avenue in New York City. A man walked passed me in the opposite direction, with a little toddler riding happily on his shoulders. As he passed, I felt a tinge of jealousy.

It made me stop short. What was that?! I had never felt such a thing before. I was young, happy and single, having the time of my life. The thought of wanting to be tied down with a child had never crossed my mind. I was on the hunt constantly – some successes, plenty of strikeouts, but it was always exciting. Where on earth had this alarming new sensation come from?

At that particular moment in my life, there was no woman in my life, no one was trying to domesticate me. This feeling had arisen within me all by itself. It took a few more years, but I finally did get married and become a father. And contrary to the expectations of my youth, being a father has been far and away the greatest joy of my life.

So I personally cannot quite agree that fatherhood is a completely unnatural state for a man, a state that only becomes important when a woman tames him and forces him to accept it. It seems more likely to me that this instinct, while probably less evolved than the maternal instinct, nonetheless exists – but it has been forced into hiding by a culture that conditions men (and women) to relentlessly seek sex without responsibility, and then bombards them with sitcoms and movies and advertisements that routinely portray fathers as low-grade morons. Furthermore, as David Blankenhorn writes, “the idea of ‘being a man’ is increasingly identified with violence, materialism, and predatory sexual behavior. I am a man because I will hurt you if you disrespect me. I am a man because I have sex with lots of women and my girlfriends have babies. I am a man because I have more money and more things than you do.” But the standard of good fatherhood – I am a man because I cherish my wife and love my children – simply does not enter into the equation.

The result is that boys grow up thinking that responsible fatherhood and ‘real’ masculinity are at odds. In such a culture, most boys will choose masculinity.