As we enter the traditional remembrance season during which those who sacrificed themselves for the “greater good” are recognised, it is worth reflecting that men have been programmed for self-sacrifice since, well forever.
They instinctively sleep by the bedroom door, allegedly hard wired to be the first reactor, defender, first victim should something nasty invade the “cave”.
They learn from the overwhelming weight of narrative tradition in films and fairy tales that they are supposed to endure trials on behalf of the family, the community and to prove themselves worthy of a partner. And this generation of fathers still has the “muscle memory” of grandfathers who “went away” and sacrificed themselves for the greater good in world wars, allegedly doing so with a quiet, resigned dignity.
The problem is, it’s a cliché to which we’re now largely desensitized because it’s frankly expected, a given and as a consequence, it garners little sympathy, attention, credit or even support. In fact, it is increasingly used as a weapon against men, especially in court by unscrupulous individuals trying to portray the masculine as “aggressor and risk” and the feminine as “protective and nurturing” when the opposite can just as readily be true.
Is it, therefore, any surprise that men clad in superhero outfits scaling big monuments to give voice to the injustice of parental alienation, are largely marginalised and ignored because, well, most people expect suffering on behalf of the family to be part of the parent’s lot and certainly the man’s lot and are intolerant of what is perceived by many as self-pity or selfishness.
Of course, the flip side of that equation has been sexist stereotyping of women as passive princesses, objects of ambition, victims of the birth rite, nurturing earth mothers, long-suffering stalwarts and mainstays of the family “left behind” to cope when men march against men or lack the maturity to cope with family life.
But, as with the masculine stereotypes, how dated and inappropriately subordinate these female stereotypes seem to our modern minds. We’ve spent decades now subverting these clichés and evolving to a more empowered vision of the female gender.
Yet, let’s be honest, can the same be said of the sacrificial male archetype? Has this really changed or have we simply bolted more onto the weight of what we expect from boys, dads, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, men?
Modern, so-called metrosexual males, to varying degrees, have tried to play their part as reconstituted fathers, often in the face of hostility from Baby Boomer grandparents who are largely threatened by the criticism implied by this evolution of parenting. They have at least tried to be partners in the truest sense during the key phases of child-birth and nurturing, recognising, in return, the just cause of female equality in the workplace and home.
But what happens when the fairy tale family, the meeting of two apparent equals goes wrong, as more than 1 in 3 now does? Seems that our systems still operate to that out-moded gender polemic.
A large part of the problem is, we have yet to create the precedent that is appropriate to the pace of the evolution of the individual models. In short, our divorce process is patently out of step with the vast majority of parenting processes. One has evolved while the other appears to have stalled. And it is here, in this gap, that the abuse of children and non-resident parents of both genders is happening.
In the movies, there’s a noble place for the self-sacrificing male who falls on the grenade for his colleagues, who takes one for the team or who helps the women and children to the lifeboats while he waits to drown. The problem is, how sensible is that action if he is the only one who knows how to row, is the strongest, the best nurturer, leader or navigator? Chances are, they will all perish, he will only have bought them time. And this analogy applies to many divorces which lead to bankrupted fathers and alienated, badly damaged children forced to repeat the patterns of their parents.
Current divorce legislation seems to be the equivalent of the terminal threat to the growing number of fathers alienated from their children by the system. They may have been prepared to sacrifice their house, pride, fortune and even much of their fathering time to the “grenade” – strewn cause. But what if it destroys them? Who wins if the children are abandoned? And what if the real threat to the children’s futures wasn’t actually from the outside but was lurking within all along in the form of an unstable partner hell-bent on destruction? This is the nightmare that keeps all non-resident parents, regardless of gender, awake at night, most nights, I can assure you.
Parent alienation is an abuse of power by one party to inflict ongoing trauma on the other, using the children and family assets as weapons. It happens to non-resident mothers as well but, largely owing to the legacy of sexist thinking, the vast majority of non-resident parents are currently men.
Children need both decent parents in their lives for a whole variety of reasons. And it’s an irrefutable fact that, whatever their flaws, fathers are equally amazing. They get stuff done, they invent, they create, they engineer, they care, they love deeply and are among the finest of artists, always have been and yes when necessary they can be formidable warriors too.
So if you are unfortunate enough to be reading this without the benefit of a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement and sometimes the road ahead seems strewn with peril and jeopardy, just remember that your children need you and there is little point sacrificing yourself, walking away or throwing yourself on that emotional or psychological grenade.
Society has evolved and our answers to challenges facing us need to evolve as well. Our children need answers not problems, parents not martyrs, peace not pas and you really are man/woman/parent enough to find another, better way.