Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons of the patriarch

Older men, on the other hand, often serve as a reminder of what we are left with when we choose patriarchy instead of working towards a solidarity with women. Just to look at them is to break my heart. I usually get a good dose of this around the holidays.

One of the elder patriarchs in my extended family could be a very impressive person, all the more so in the twilight of his life. Why don't men understand that they will grow old, get sick, and die? This bastard hasn't lifted a finger in preparation. But his advancing years won't accommodate him like his partner always has. Now he feels cheated, having done everything he was "supposed" to do as a man; namely, to assert himself as such, and reap the benefits thereof!

I'm desperate for any male mentor who speaks from the advantage of a life lived in close proximity to death. What do I need to be doing now, while I can still choose? But most of these older men are stuck as if they still want to be boys. They can't even acknowledge where they are, except to complain.

It saddens me to say that many male elders exist for me as brilliant examples of what I must avoid at all costs! Of course, this is helpful in its own way; tragedies often are. Where some men bicker with others over petty, prideful things, I will have to practice simple humility. Where they are self-consumed, I'll have to be outwardly-engaged. And where they are estranged from their partners and loved ones, to say nothing of women in general, I know that I will want closeness.


greg said...

So what is your point? That as we men go older, we should embrace our feminine side? Consult with females more? I'm trying to understand what you are advocating. Thanks for your time.

JRB said...

Thanks, Greg.

Whatever its promises, in the end, patriarchy has reserved a place for working class men at a table for one.

Rich men can buy company, but what the working class man has to offer others is only what he has invested in the development of himself.

My observation is that patriarchy extends its benefits for a time on the condition that we don't develop authentically, but rather in the way that we are "supposed" to as "men" -- i.e. as patriarchy instructs.

What I am advocating is that we resist this tendency and the short-term incentives it provides, in favor of the difficult work of becoming who we are in our relationships with others.

greg said...

Hmmm, I've never considered this. ok, I think I'm starting to understand the concept, but I can't see (right now) how this would translate into action in the real world. Can you give me a real life example of actions or behavior that exemplifies this?

JRB said...


Sometimes I ask my partner or my mom whether I can help in the preparation of a meal. In the case of my partner, this is more or less expected; in the case of my mom, not so much. In either case, the meal gets made whether I offer any assistance or not, because the individuals who initiated the project are committed to seeing it through, they generally enjoy the process, and they even take some personal pride in doing it.

And the same time, it is work on top of whatever other necessary work for the day, and I'm sure their first preference would be to have some capable help in the kitchen.

I am not in all culinary situations "capable help." Therefore, offering assistance under certain circumstances can amount to not helping very much at all, or even being a burden. If patriarchy gives me a pass on these things because "I am a man," then feminism would motivate me to develop for myself the capacity to act in a way that is genuinely useful for the people I care about, and not accept what I could otherwise "get away with" without penalty in the short-term.

The penalty is in the long-term, in the limitation placed on the relationship when one person fails to act in solidarity with another -- when one person accepts a limitation on who they could be.

I hope this is helpful.

greg said...

yes, that's very helpful. thank you.