When my wife told me, two years ago, that our first child was a daughter, I flushed with joy.
“Do you want to know?” my wife asks.
She’s in such a buoyant mood. We must be having another girl.
“Sure,” I say.
“It’s a boy,” she says.
I close my eyes. My forehead thuds softly against the mirror over the sink. It’s my job now to say something, rather quickly, about how great this is, how excited I am to be having a son, a bouncing baby boy, an heir to carry on our silly family name. But when I open my eyes, the light inside the bathroom is a sickly yellow and my chest is hammering with panic.
[…]I fight with my twin brother, Mike, too, until he hits a growth spurt and becomes too big to tangle with. Our final fight is especially vicious. We grapple and punch and tumble across the bed. We can smell each other — our skin, our breath. The intimacy is disorienting. Not so long ago, the two of us walked to school pressed together at the shoulder. But the prohibitions of boyhood have torn us apart. These days, the only time we touch is when we fight.
Having pummeled each other to exhaustion, we stand face to face. Our chests heave with adrenaline. We’re confused, not sure how to bring this to a close. My hand flies up and slaps Mike across the face. It’s a loud, clean blow, delivered so quickly neither of us can quite believe it. Mike bursts into tears and runs from the room. I stand, staring down at my hand. My palm stings, but the rest of me feels nothing.
[…]I work hard in college to convince the world I’ve outgrown savagery. I quit the soccer team. I rally for nuclear disarmament. I adopt the prevailing feminist spellings (“women” becomes “womyn”). But when my girlfriend makes an offhand joke questioning my manhood, I punch a hole in her bedroom wall.
[…]It’s tempting to blame all this on my father. That would be the safe move. Perhaps if he’d encouraged us to share our feelings rather than pummel each other, my brothers and I would have entered the world without fear and loathing. We would have become secure citizens, ready to talk things through. But that would miss the point, that masculinity has always been governed by aggression.
To put it more starkly: Aggression is the means by which boys learn to share their feelings. Not even the most loving father can protect his son from the playgrounds, the bars and parking lots where bullies lurk, where soft emotions are hunted down and targeted, where fear becomes rage, and rage becomes violence.
[…]And whom does history commemorate if not those men most effective at marshaling their aggression to shape the world? For every Gandhi, a hundred villains. For every Enlightenment, a hundred Inquisitions. For every treaty, a hundred wars.
What I’m asking here is, Do we ever outgrow our savagery? Is there any way to strip from us the masculine pathologies acquired over millions of years of evolution?
Let me put all this in a more personal light: How am I to protect my son from a world that lives inside of me?
[…]So now you know why I feared having a son, and why, when I gaze down at my newborn boy sleeping — he is three days old as I write this — I am sometimes filled with dread. I offer no happy ending here, no eleventh-hour homily about the rescuing powers of forgiveness. A quick look at the state of the world should dispel such mush.
All I can say is that I’ll do my best with the love I have. I’ll hope my boy becomes someone different from his father, braver in the right ways, less frightened. This, it seems to me, is the only reasonable hope fathers can offer their sons.
This entire post is worth reading and speaks volumes as to why I wanted an “Amelia” rather than an “Ethan.” Like this author, I was absolutely thrilled when Amelia Jo was born.
Also like this author, I kind of fear for a son of mine and my reasons echo his, but not as intensely. While I can be aggressive and explosive, that’s usually because I’ve been pushed to some limit, I’m down to my last straw, and I react. Typically, I’m pretty laid-back, low-key, and sensitive.
My wife often tells me I’d be a good father to a son and that we need more men like me, and maybe she’s right when we get said son to his adult years, but I know I’d worry about what he’d face during his childhood, adolescence, teenage years where aggression and machismo rule supreme.