Risk, chaos, and inhumanity drive a loving father to defend and protect. This is my instinctive reaction when I witness kids in cages, native peoples attacked with dogs and pepper spray, police violence, blame and hate crimes, media manipulations, child abuse, sexual assaults, abuse of power, elimination of health protections, mass shootings, environmental rollbacks, and on and on and on. Chaos is everywhere.
With my own children, I’ve caught myself in a state of hypervigilance whenever I think they might be in any level of danger–even from minor scrapes and bruises. My wife wonders if there is bias at work when I seem too enthusiastic to educate my daughter on the prevention of scars. It has made me ponder. I earnestly wish to protect both my children–girl and boy–from chaos and injury whenever possible AND also appreciate that no one is immune to the social influences of bias, sexism, and machismo.
Generally speaking, my sense of hope, as a father, is challenged on the daily. What world will my kids navigate in their adulthood? Will #MeToo, BLM, No Ban/No Wall, Earth Day, Time’s Up, and other current social movements create enough awareness, accountability, and change to protect them? Or must I dominate my immediate environment for family self-preservation, helicopter parent with an iron fist, and take and keep what’s mine before someone else does? It seems too easy to fall into such an abyss.
The unknown is real…and so are the consequences of exaggerated masculinity and entitlement to dominate. Machismo, in its worst form, will lead to more of the same: an additional, culturally-relevant layer of barriers to complete self-fulfillment and ultimate freedom.
During times of heightened anxiety, repression, and division, what is needed most is precisely a renewed commitment to our ever-evolving values of what it means to be part of greater humanity. We can’t be led by fear and insecurity.
At the most basic level, as a father of a girl and a boy, I commit and recommit to accept my children’s mistakes. Perfection is elusive and true learning and self-esteem happens with unconditional love. I practice pausing and breathing, FIRST, when I get angry…and then I move on to love. I remain vigilant of dysfunction passed down through generations so I can break cycles of negative behavior, pain, and suffering. I practice heightened awareness of mass media influences that attempt to define my daughter’s identity for her (as well as that of my son’s). I dedicate time to life-long learning through formal parent education. I teach both children to be the greatest versions of themselves through respect of boundaries and practicing empathy. My son likes to copy his older sister and read books, so I support that. My daughter likes to copy her brother and ride her bike down steep hills after him, so I support that. And I make my children acutely aware of my love for their mother, her work, and her inherent value. There is so much more I can do. There is so much more to do.
It’s machismo, in part, that keeps Latinas with a 53-cents-on-the-dollar pay gap. It’s machismo, in part, that demands girl education around relationship violence. Despite tremendous gains, Latinas still remain grossly-underrepresented in politics at roughly 2,500 of 700,000 elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Latinas receive less than half a percent of venture capital funding. And fathers have a serious role to play in turning these statistics around. There are societal forces, often beyond our reach, that already limit opportunities and slow progress for women and Latinas in particular. It’s up to us fathers of Latinas, at minimum, to break machismo shackles that burden our daughters and their futures.
This Father’s Day, I’m going to ponder what else I might do to combat machismo in my midst and in my behavior. I’m going to be more intentional with my word choice when talking with my daughter about injuries and more intentional about what my son hears during these conversations. I’m going to be more intentional in explaining what is unfolding in the news when my kids ask me about it. I’m going to support measured risk-taking and encourage the challenging of social norms in a way that allows my children to find their way and in their way. In 2020, we’ve already witnessed rampant abuses of power, a pandemic, an earthquake, murder hornets, a stadium-sized asteroid, civil unrest, temperature-rising trends, changes in the economy, and more. This hints toward a challenging future for daughters and sons. They don’t need our machismo baggage in the mix too. The patriarchy, bias, and systemic barriers are real. And so is our ability to make lasting change, together. The time is now. Happy Father’s Day.