I’ve been considering the engaging and insightful responses Dr. Butler gave to my questions. For days now I’ve been rolling them around in my head. Thinking about the boy. Thinking about the way he looks at me when I come home from work. Thinking about how I want to do this well, fatherhood.
I’m encouraged by the sharp, intellectually-satisfying, and richly faithful (and faith-filled) responses the professor gave. I’m not attempting a review of the book, either in this post or in the interview itself. But I will jump off of a response that Dr. Butler gave in order to make or underline or highlight one point: new fathers need models.
You’re familiar with the phenomenal television show, America’s Next Top Model. How can you not be? Tyra Banks created something interesting and all-kinda-thoughts-provoking in that show. But my goal isn’t to speak about that show. Well, one thing. My wife watched, or watches, that show like she needs a conversion and it’s the only religious episode in town. We have one television. And I just stopped trying to hold the remote when that thing comes on. But I digress.
Dr. Butler wrote
A father is not only one who takes responsibility for his actions, he takes responsibility to care for, provide for, nurture, and protect his children. This deep sense of responsibility is guided by his commitment to being present and fully participate in every aspect of his children’s lives. Many men understand responsibility to mean that we work hard to be good providers; but responsibility that is guided by relationship means that we work hard to give of ourselves those things that we have worked hard to provide. It is our presence, participation, and active giving that makes all the difference in the world.
Dr. Butler is lifting up a value, responsibility guided by relationship in order that we might give ourselves. Not just our things. Not just money and stuff.
New fathers need models to do this. It’s not something we learn in an age when too many sisters are raising children without fathers in particular or without male presence in general. It’s something we have to pay attention to. It’s something we might not even know we don’t know.
Presence. Being there. Sticking around. It’s bodily. It’s emotional and mental.
We have to learn how to stay put when we want to leave. We have to see and copy the hard soul and psychological work of anchoring our heads where our feet are, rather than running away physically or mentally. We have resist the urge, the inclination, or the habit of walking out, or shutting down, or clamming up. I didn’t see this everyday growing up. But I knew that I needed to capture everything I could and still do from my father when we did interact. I know now that I have to ask him hard questions that may surprise him but probably really won’t. I know I have to take good notes from the men in my life, the long list of men who’re raising good kids and who are aiding me in my quest to do the same.
When talking about the mentoring relationship where this learning happens, Dr. Butler said
It is the ability to tell and listen to the stories of life’s ups and downs. Also, finding mentors requires an openness to believe that another as a good word about life to share. Becoming a good father means that a man is willing to sit down to tell and listen to stories that speak about the everyday up and down experiences of life.
I love this language. The everyday up and down experiences of life. Who talks about that? Who listens to that? Who wants to? Really. It’s boring, we say. It’s unhelpful, I think. We could go on and on without heeding this counsel.
We must find and feed the mentoring relationships that equip us for the good journey of fatherhood and parenthood. When we believe that another man has a story to share, it removes the notorious lie that burrows into the head of a novice dad, the lie that says you’re in this alone. It’s never true that we have to parent alone, and mentoring reminds us of that. The community of others reminds us.
I’m glad for the answers that are in this interview and for the wisdom in this book. I’m glad that Dr. Butler is pointing out that there are models, top models, for fatherhood, and not just the ones on television.