In two weeks, we will celebrate Father’s Day. A holiday that is often dwarfed in American culture by its counterpart Mother’s Day. In fact, for some single mothers Father’s Day has become Mother’s Day part two, where it is not only a day for them to acknowledge the roles they play in their children’s lives, but to highlight and feature where they feel there is a failure on the part of the father. Sexist thinking engages the ideologies that the role of fathers in parenting is not as important as mothers or that the physical absence of the father is the sole determinate in the success of children. Both views are unhealthy, false narratives that damage the souls of men and women equally.
What would happen this year if Father’s Day could open a dialogue about masculine spirituality? How could we as religious communities combat the toxic hyper -masculinity that underpins the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that serve as the foundation of our nations politics? What message would this send to the highest office of the land if this Father’s Day religious institutions across the nation would proclaim that patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation? No male successfully measures up to patriarchal standards without engaging in an ongoing practice of self-betrayal (hooks, The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love 2004). We would hardly have time to proclaim the disastrous effects of these interlocking systems of oppression on women.
Masculinity does not have any single meaning, except that it is put in dialogue with an “other” and the way in which it is perceived by someone in at a given moment in a given space (Reeser 2010). What is true about masculinity is that it can be considered a dialogue over a period of time between perceiver and perceived. We must acknowledge that masculinity is largely constructed by implicit social meanings that come to be accepted as truths about how males are supposed to think, behave, or function (Hopson 2013). Masculine spirituality is for those men who take seriously the opportunity for their own liberation from gender stereotypes and have in the process begun to seek anew a more sensitive self-understanding in light of the feminist critique. This sensitivity is an awareness of the full range of human emotions, comfort with one’s own body, the ability to relate in linear and circular ways, showing no fear of women and demonstrating ability to work with them as equal partners (James 1996). Masculine spirituality asks men to exist as co-creators with women, in healthy relationships with the rest of creation.
Father’s Day celebrations in religious institutions may prove to be an opportunity to talk about a new way of loving maleness. This is different from praising maleness and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity (hooks, The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love 2004). Loving maleness is caring about males for simply being. It is extending our love, whether or not men and boys are performing. It changes the patriarchal narrative of performance to a spiritual narrative of ontology. What if men were affirmed in our liturgies for simply being? Whether or not you are performing your role and function in light of patriarchy, you are valued because you are. If we take the opportunity to give this message, perhaps men would begin to define themselves in ways which allowed all of society to escape the tyranny of patriarchy.
Masculinity need not be equated with sexist notions of manhood and Father’s Day need not reify the social script of toxic hyper-masculinity. Religious institutions can lead the way in interrogating patriarchal masculinity to see the ways it has been and is destructive to males if we chose to use our liturgies to focus on repudiating this masculinity and redefining masculinity in terms that would be more life affirming. We might actually use our homily to say that reliance on a single male authority figure is dangerous because it creates a climate of autocracy where the politics of coercion (and that includes violence) are used to maintain that authority (hooks, The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love 2004). This Father’s Day let us use our pulpits to speak to functional, healthy masculinities, where men are encouraged to pursue their highest self and in so doing serve the world from a place of wholeness.
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.
—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Hopson, Ronald L. Jackson and Mark C., ed. 2013. Masculinity in the Black Imagination: Politics of Communicatimg Race and MAnhood. New York: Peter Lang.
James, David C. 1996. What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.
Reeser, Todd W. 2010. Masculinites in Theory: An Introduction. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.