Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle Men

"Tender Loving Caring"
- in my meditation garden -

For the past few weeks I have been paying attention to a rather annoying TV commercial directed at “Father’s Day” shoppers. It depicts a broadly smiling “rugged-looking” man grasping a rather larch wrench in one hand and a hammer in the other as the voice of an announcer says: Buying tools for Dad on Father’s Day is like buying flowers for Mom on Mother’s Day.  Every time I see this ad I am annoyed by it because it so blatantly promotes the kind of prototypical stereotypes about what it means to me a “real man” in this culture.

Supposedly women are gentle, nurturing, tender and caring, they exhibit qualities of kindness and forgiveness and that’s why women receive flowers on “Mothers Day.” But men (at least “real men”) are rugged, often unbending, take-charge kind of people. They are analytical, bold risk-takers who know how to build stuff and failure is not an option, so that’s why men get tools on “Father’s Day.”

As I see it, these gender stereotypes are not only ludicrous but also inherently dangerous. They keep men locked up within a guarded and protected ego, always in charge, afraid to fail, afraid to be vulnerable enough to allow others into the deeper places in their lives. The “tools-only” stereotype of what it means to be a real man sometimes inhibits men and “fathers” from showing affection and tenderness even to the people they love the most in their lives.   

We often hear speakers address a crowd of people with the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen.”  I think that “Father’s Day” is a good time for all of us (especially men and dads) to reclaim the term “gentle” when it comes to what it means to be a real man.

As I see it, gentleness, kindness, caring, tenderness, compassion and forgiveness have little to do with feminine characteristics, nor do I think that courage and boldness are particularly masculine traits.

We are most “human” (male and female) when we have the courage to break out of the restrictions of a protected ego and give our selves for the welfare of others. We are most human when we have the courage it takes to forgive, the boldness to be compassionate and the willingness to risk living a life of tender, caring and generous kindness in a culture of self-centered consumerism.  

We do not walk the path of wisdom as a man, nor as a woman. We walk the way of wisdom as a human called to live fully human lives.

Many centuries ago Saint Paul wrote a canticle about what it means to be fully human, proclaiming that human beings are most human when they are most loving. On this “Father’s Day” I want to be a “gentle” man and so I reflect upon the words of this ancient tribute to love. These words help me to remember what being a “real man” is all about.  They teach me what it means to be fully human.

Love never gives up on others.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have,
Love doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force itself on others,
isn’t always me-first.
Love doesn’t fly off the handle,
doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel.
Love takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth.
Love always looks for the best.
Love never looks back,
but keeps going to the end.

Happy Father’s Day!

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