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30/06/2018 07:50 SAST | Updated 30/06/2018 07:50 SAST

To Have Good Relationships With Their Kids, Dads Must Evolve

'It appears many children have a love-hate relationship with their fathers, and there is some merit to their contradictory feelings.'

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Dads have a bad rap.

Fathers' Day has come and gone, and with that a slew of commentary on how "it's easy for a man to be a father, but not all of them are dads". The collective sentiment here is that generally, men have not earned the mantle of a loving parent. I feel compassion for men who are the collateral damage in this outrage against male incompetence. At the same time, I understand the gut-wrenching emotion that has birthed this unflattering opinion. It appears many children have a love-hate relationship with their fathers, and there is some merit to their contradictory feelings.

What is the source of the incongruence? The ideology of patriarchy. It oppresses not only women, but children too. The thinking behind it is that men have a mandate from God, culture, psychology and/or biology to rule women and children. This authority gives the patriarchs the prerogative to dictate what their charges will be, do and have.

Male privilege supposedly facilitates an efficient chain of command for society. Men are the chairmen, directors or CEOs anointed to run households, communities, regions and nations. Whether these men are competent or not to manage this responsibility is given blanket amnesty by the sovereignty of their sex. This is where it all breaks down.

Incompetence is a far greater threat than malice. Many men are struggling to be competent dads, not because they don't want to. They have no desire to hurt their wives and children – they just don't know how not to. They come from a legacy of fatherhood in which children did not speak unless spoken to, interaction was for disciplinary purposes, leniency was synonymous with weakness, displays of affection were the domain of the mother, and boy children received attention only to be made into photocopies. This is the root of the parental awkwardness they now exhibit.

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Contextually, society has since evolved over the centuries from primitive, to simple and then complex. All this triggered by economic processes developed for mere survival. German sociologist Max Weber formulated the theory of rationalisation to explain how modernity was born. He describes two types of authority that are in opposition to each other. Traditional authority presides over primitive society, while modern society is characterised by rational-legal authority.

In essence, traditional authority upholds the sacredness of traditional norms and operates by submission to the traditional authority figure. The traditional authority figure is appointed in terms of customary and patriarchal rules emanating from the sanctity of age-old rules and powers. Loyalty is not to the position, but to the person holding the position. For centuries this was the basis of societal leadership.

Why dads have come to have a bad rap is because many of them are now fumbling their way through parenthood because patriarchal power dynamics have changed.

Conversely, rational-legal authority confers the responsibility to manage an intricate web of people living under complex conditions. A bureaucratic system elects, appoints or employs individuals to represent the system. In terms of governance, nobody is above the law as everyone has to adhere to rules and procedures. The authority is attached to the position and not the person holding it.

Modernisation has replaced traditional patriarchy with systemic patriarchy — which holds every individual accountable to the requirements of capitalism. Even the family, communal, cultural and religious hierarchies of patriarchy have become compromised by the individualism of modernity.

I can't help but be amused by the irony of the transition from traditional to rational authority. It's a perfect paradox of consequences. Drawing analogy from "The Matrix", a cautionary tale about how artificial intelligence is bound to enslave its very creators, capitalism has boomeranged to usurp the personal power of individual patriarchs.

Why dads have come to have a bad rap is because many of them are now fumbling their way through parenthood because patriarchal power dynamics have changed. The result is the pandemic of psychological, emotional, physical and financial problems that often plague households.

A man rendered insecure by a changed society might escape the mammoth task of parenting a child, choosing absence when he realises the level of accountability the rational-legal society requires from him. Or he may be a present parent who is so browbeaten by limited autonomy that he has closed up emotionally.

Perhaps he feels disrespected by superiors and tries to assert his power by bullying his wife and children into submission. More commonly though, he means well, does his best but makes a total mess of things as he tries to balance his male ego with the compromises he is forced to make.

Come Fathers' Day, these victims of both household and systematic patriarchy are confused about how to express love to someone who is absent or loveable on an ad hoc basis. The solution is for dad to adapt.

It's not the fault of women and children that many men often feel emasculated by their attempts to grasp at the remnants of patriarchy. Sadly, they turn on these soft targets, rather than facing the new world squarely and redefining their roles accordingly. Modern patriarchy is a system that sees not only women and children as minors, but also men, who are forced to submit to the hegemony.

We are in an era where everyone is battling to survive in the world because one percent of the population controls the majority of the world's resources. Children may not understand the socioeconomic dynamics of their context, but they can tell that their dads are generally unhappy. How can they tell? Because their dads turn on them in moments of frustration.

How do they internalise this behaviour? They initially attempted to be well-behaved so as not to provoke their dads, but when they realise that the problem is beyond them, they learn to either confront or avoid them. These dads that I am describing are attempting to still enforce traditional authority in an untraditional world.

Come Fathers' Day, these victims of both household and systematic patriarchy are confused about how to express love to someone who is absent or loveable on an ad hoc basis. The solution is for dad to adapt. My father is one of the evolved men who realised he had to adapt. He now has a wife he has been married to for 41 years, girl children who carry their daddy in their hearts, and a granddaughter who proudly declares, "Grandpa is my best friend."