Father’s Day can be filled with happiness and precious memories, or it can be a reminder of violence and emotional pain.

In everyday lives affected by domestic violence, victims and family members often will try to balance a violent equation by saying, “But he is such a good dad.”

This will be said within the very same sentence that describes a man’s horrific acts of violence perpetrated on his family.

Do we expect so little of men in America that changing a diaper or taking a child out for a meal can outweigh the consequences of his abusive behavior?

The answer is written daily under the police blotter section of our newspapers. The answer is “Yes.” We expect far too little from men in America.

As a culture, our expectations still are shaped by gender. “Boys will be boys” is one of many accountability dodging statements that limit our children’s chances at respectful connections.

As a man who grew up in central Maine, I can tell you firsthand that boys will be whatever we expect them to be. That statement, “Boys will be boys” amounts to a moral anesthesia, intended so we can avoid looking too closely at the bigger picture of men’s behavior.

So, who teaches boys what it means to be a man in America?

The answer is found all around us, within our peer groups.

One of the most influential places boys learn to be men is in school, from peers who have learned at a young age to fit in; they make up the popular crowd.

They are the models of mainstream cultural values, unfortunately as revered as the words of God in the Bible, Torah or Quran. I learned more about “the man I was supposed to be” from those peers growing up than from any textbook.

You were a man if:

* You could take a punch without flinching or crying.

* You could give a punch and make someone flinch or cry.

* You could verbally demean and emotionally castrate other males.

* You were having sex with lots of women.

* You boasted to other guys about your sexual exploits with no regard for the young woman’s value or reputation.

As I look back now, I am thankful for a few good male role models along the way who demonstrated a masculinity of respect.

I am now the director of Menswork, a certified batterer’s intervention program in central Maine, and I can attest that these cultural definitions of masculinity have not changed in the 24 years since my high school days.

In my job, I hear men’s own stories about their violence week after week, violence that rests upon a misshapen notion of masculinity. Domestic violence is always preceded by power and control strategies.

Men who use violence on partners and family begin by first “objectifying” their victims. Objectification in an intimate relationship strips away personhood, alienates a victim, and is motivated by a “better than” or “entitled” mentality, sometimes referred to as male privilege.

Male privilege is invisible until you look for it; it includes learning to escape accountability for inappropriate actions by demeaning your accuser, calling them crazy, a pussy, a girl, a baby, psycho, nuts.

If your definition of “being a man” motivates messages to boys like “Stop being a girl and quit your crying,” then you are teaching boys to cannibalize their emotional selves.

American Author Clarence Kelland, wrote; “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

By showing our sons and daughters how to be emotionally healthy, loving and connected, we teach them to recognize those traits in future partners. As fathers, we must not model abusive behavior, for if we do, we are pledging our daughters to those who will objectify and abuse them, and we are sending our sons in pursuit of an emotionally disconnected form of masculinity.

This Father’s Day can be a turning point, an opportunity for you to look squarely in the mirror. Eradicate the objectification of women from your speech and action. Become respectful and encouraging in your home, and increase your child’s self-esteem by listening to their stories.

Only then will you deserve the honor of being called a “good dad.”

Jon Heath is director of Menswork, a certified batterer’s intervention program in central Maine.


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