Tuesday, March 21, 2006

To Be A Man

John Doe of Disenfranchised Father has taken issue with a statement I made in this post. Specifically, he did not like when I said "Be a man." You can visit his discussion of my comments at his post: Be a Man?

Hmm, so what exactly did I mean? Obviously, I felt some discomfort at this statement as well or I would not have felt the need to preface it with "I hate to say it this way."

I have read John's post a couple of times and tried to reason out what I meant versus his reaction. He said, "Telling him to "be a man" amounts to the same thing, for him, as blaming an unwanted pregnancy on her. (Not only that, but it seeks the best of both worlds by appealing to a suspect idea of machismo.)"

I'm not entirely certain how to respond. In the face of his concerns I can certainly reorganize what I meant to say. I believe my true intent with Be a man was really to say Be an adult. As in, we all have an adult responsibility to protect ourselves irrespective of what a partner may tell us - particularly when such decisions could result in the introduction of a child to the world.

But then, I certainly would not say Be a woman. That statement would call to mind someone having a gender crisis - not someone lacking in appropriate decision making or inner fortitude. So it appears instead of truly discussing my opinion I allowed myself to utilize a cliche to try and make a point.

I also must consider this within my points of reference. I am not certain how forthright I have been about my age but I am in my early to mid twenties. Be a man is statement I have used several times with male friends - particularly those who are forced to consider questions like paternity, custody, etc... The only friends we have with children are those who have unwittingly brought one into the world. My husband was the same. His ex wife was on the pill.

How to explain then her announcement that she was pregnant the evening of their senior prom? I don't know. Maybe she wasn't taking the pill as prescribed. (I'm not sure how many men are aware that the pills effectiveness is largely based on taking it correctly - every day at approx the same time.) Maybe she wasn't taking it at all. Or maybe she can be included in that 1% where the pill truly fails.

But what I do know, and what my husband will tell you, was that he wanted to believe that she was protected but he was also operating under the "it can't happen to me" mind frame.

Well it did. And to several of his friends that same year. And to many of our friends in the years since.

The initial reaction from most of our male friends has been a belief that it was either "not their child" or that this conniving female had "tricked" them into impregnating her. My response to this has invariably been, "did you protect yourself?" and each has answered with a different variant of "she said she was protected." To which I know I have responded, "Grow up, be a man and take responsibility for the choice you made." And that really is what it comes back to me for me - each party makes a choice. You can call that choice to trust or not to trust but I would call it self preservation.

Is it unfair to say Be a Man? Maybe, I don't know - I'm a woman. It is certainly a cliche statement. Am I trying to appeal to a suspect idea of machismo? Possibly. I certainly would if I thought it could prevent more fathers from finding themselves embroiled in an expensive and protracted custody battles.

I don't think, however, that my statement can be construed as equivalent to blaming an unwanted pregnancy on the woman. My discussion was about taking responsibility for ones own actions, accountability and self protection. It was to say that if you don't protect yourself you have no right to place blame anywhere else. And if you do protect yourself and still find you have a pregnant girlfriend then (I suppose unless a paternity test is required) no blame can be placed anywhere as you both tried and have been blessed with what can truly be called an accident.

As John noted, "The fact is that it is (still) impossible to guarantee protection against pregnancy resulting from sex between two suitably fertile people." But you certainly can mitigate the risks. Choosing whether or not to do so is an individual question so I suppose we should all be adults and make decisions as such - whether you are a man or a woman.

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Blogger John Doe said...

Hi Meg,

I would have to admit that my response was fairly deliberately meant to provoke, because "be a man" is a provocative thing to say. While you, as an adult, may be meaning something like "be an adult", to a man it is a challenge to his manhood, which is something quite different and perhaps closer to your interpretation of what you would be saying when you told a woman "be a woman", i.e. a gender challenge. This is especially true when it is said by a woman to a man - she is challenging him at a quite visceral level, whether she knows it or not. In your context "grow up" might be a more appropriate, if similarly harsh directive. Alternatively: "be a father".

That said, I do stand by my assertion that telling an unexpectedly pregnant father to "be a man" is something like telling an unexpectedly pregnant mother "tough luck". Some years ago, her luck would indeed have been tough: she'd have been pretty much on her own. Now, his luck is potentially tough. Yes, greater responsibility on his part might have saved him the pain but these days, even if he does belly up to the responsibility, it is well within her powers to limit that responsibility to the purely financial. That is, "being a man" may amount to spending the next 18 years finding enough money to keep the courts happy while getting precious little return for this effort. To my mind, the responsibilities that go with fatherhood, unintentionally or otherwise, include a personal investment in the child. The father should be intimately engaged in the raising and education of his children. It should be a labor of love. It should be utterly independent of the issue of money. But, in many places these days, should the mother, for whatever reason, decide she doesn't want him involved, there is little to nothing he can do.

So, apart from the gender challenge aspect of "be a man", it is also a tacit recognition that the possible price for failing to be responsible about prevention is 18 years of wage slavery for no reward. Actually, I guess it's not the same as blaming the woman, at least she got to walk away with the kids and, we hope, a lifetime of return. He, potentially, gets nothing but an invoice. Until fathers are culturally re-identified as an important positive force in the life of a child, to "be a man" is to accept drone status.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

Hi John

I would like to first say that I am very much enjoying this exchange. I need someone to call me out when I start spouting off before fully considering all of the implications of what I say. Believe me, that is an ongoing problem.

I also *enjoy* (is that the right word considering the subject matter?) your blog and check in whenever I have some surfing time available.

I do think that I failed to consider the inherent challenge in saying “be a man” particularly when delivered by a woman. And in considering the times I have used it within a personal context, it would seem as though it always followed a males assertion that some woman somehow tricked him into getting pregnant. This is obviously reactionary as I just don’t wander around all day espousing such directives at every wayward male I encounter.

This does get tricky for me. I have found that many of my husbands male friends (and my male friends) take a more uncensored approach around me than they do with other females. I believe this is largely due to my outspokenness on issues like divorce and custody in that men are routinely turned into little other than paychecks and occasional weekend visits. So I find that I am often balancing my beliefs in this arena against the interests (interests is not really the right word but I hope you see what I mean) of my own gender. It would ridiculous for me to assert that I don’t feel some anger when I hear something about “the bitch who lied about being on the pill.” I try to be reasonable and understand the enormity of the situation that has caused such commentary – but I know full well that of all of my male friends who have been “tricked” – many were positively nothing of the sort. And to try and deflect the bulk of the blame for this situation solely on the shoulders of the woman is irresponsible, childish and completely ignores the inherent responsibility of both parties.

I must say, often this feels deeply personal to me. I have never lied about being on the pill – but each time I read stories of this ilk I flash back to the several times I have missed a pill and had to double up the following day. This was never intentional and really only happened a few times in college when my scheduled changed on a daily basis. Thankfully, I didn’t get pregnant. But if I had - the thought of whomever I was dating telling everyone we knew how I “had lied about being protected” or “tricked him into knocking me up” makes me absolutely ill. Accidents happen – even to those who take their pill exactly as prescribed. It is not 100% effective. To immediately jump to the conclusion that any woman was so desperate to spawn your child that she would misrepresent her level of protection is (I think) a pretty presumptuous and arrogant supposition. I believe that there are women who do such things but I don’t think it is necessarily widespread and most likely the woman is as surprised, concerned, and devastated as the male. Being the woman (especially if you alleged to be protected) bring the additional stressors of having to worry if people will think you tried to get knocked up as well as (dependent on your circumstances and religious persuasion) possibly abortion. Not to mention the whole life changing event of bringing a child into the world.

As for “be a father.” That is spectacular advice in theory. And I agree that there should be a personal involvement, that mothers are able to limit participation in egregious and unforgivable ways and that the raising of ones child should be completely independent from financial contributions. For that matter I believe that the income of both parents should always be considered in child support orders, if the arrangement is 50/50 unless there is a massive disparity between income levels (and generally not even then) there should be no support, recipients of child support should have to account for how it is spent, and that like those who don’t pay support – parents who withhold visitation should be immediately jailed. I believe joint physical and legal custody (50/50) should be the normal starting point in a divorce unless the parties privately agree otherwise.

I believe parents should share the financial, personal and emotional experience of raising their children. I believe in a court they should be considered equally as they were equal when the child was created. Yet, there will always be fathers and mothers who will either be unavailable to share 50% of the burden – or just unwilling. To posit that all fathers or all mothers want to have that “emotional” bond with their child would be a misrepresentation. I believe most do – but not all and herein lies why a one size fits all system will not work for custody solutions.

You said, “Yes, greater responsibility on his part might have saved him the pain but these days, even if he does belly up to the responsibility, it is well within her powers to limit that responsibility to the purely financial.” It does not seem fair to alleviate the males responsibility to protect himself from an unwanted pregnancy by pointing out how inequitable things can get for all males within the context of family court. As much as I believe both parents should share in the responsibilities of parenting – they must also share in efforts not to be a parent. Neither the before or after should be considered anything other than a mutual responsibility that falls equally on the shoulders of both parties. To disregard the enormity of the decision you make by leaving your future in the hands someone who has “told” you they are protected (this of course doesn’t even get into STD’s) and then decry the decision making capabilities this person is (though improperly) imbued with after the birth seems a bit disingenuous.

I understand the point you are making about “drone status.” And I even understand what you are saying about 18 years of slavery. And while I don’t think this is fair (and I think through the course of the blog I have repeatedly demonstrated that I don’t think its fair) you yourself have admitted that “the possible price for failing to be responsible about prevention is 18 years of wage slavery for no reward.” Here it is – the price of failing to be responsible about prevention. There is a choice – as a man today this may be the only choice you are still afforded in regard to your children or lack their of. It is a fleeting choice that one has to make at probably the most inopportune of times. But nevertheless the choice exists. Is the situation so dire that we must counsel men in this fashion – wear a condom or else? If you aren’t ready for children I think this is the reality men need to come to terms with. Is it fair? Maybe not though I refuse to deviate from my assertion that both parties should be responsible for prevention.

None of this, however, can account for the problems faced by divorced fathers. If you became pregnant while married it is reasonable to believe your spouse is being honest about measures taken to prevent pregnancy. It is further rational to believe that were (god forbid) divorce to occur that the courts would accurately assess your child’s need for both parents. The reality, however, is often quite sickening.


P.S. There are some women out there who recognize the positive force that is a father – I promise.

2:50 PM  
Blogger John Doe said...

Hi Meg,

Any disagreements I might have with what you have written here are so minor as to be irrelevant. I often feel that we live in an age where personal responsibility is not properly encouraged but it is also human nature to back up into denial in the face of unintended consequences. What brings people out of denial is education, and sometimes that is an education which hurts. One day, perhaps, sex will be truly "zipless", but not quite yet and the result is often the collision of the old world with the new. While we argue over ways to deal with it, responsibility gets passed around like the proverbial hot potato, power plays abound, people get hurt and children are damaged. In my increasingly scarce Rousseau moments, I hope for a future where children are always wanted by both parents and each parent respects the other even if they hate the ground they walk on. The realist in me recognizes we're not even close and are unlikely ever to get there.


P.S. It would be hypocritical of me to assume that all women are like my ex. I know they are not. Nevertheless, they should not be able to exercise the power they plainly can when it comes to dictating to fatherhood.

4:45 PM  

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