Mind Matters—Fathers, Sons, and the “Feminine”

As I swam in my favorite oasis of summer, a quarry replete with filter system and a beach, I overheard a child say “Ouch, I skinned myself.” Father retorts, “Oh, you’re tough!” I let the comment go figuring that perhaps the Dad has assessed the situation accurately as “nothing to fret about.” Awhile later, however, I hear the son say again something about how he is hurting to which the father replies in a deep voice, “You’re tough.”

Now I begin to wonder if this is not a case where the father needed his inner feminine to come forward so that he could lead with his warmth (as a male psychologist-colleague would say to his male clients) and give his child an empathetic ear. Perhaps all this little boy needed was for his Dad to bend down and check his knee, give it a pat and a kiss. Instead, father ignored his child’s pleas, and gave him no eye contact or the briefest of concerns.

Granted that this father may love his son dearly and may even think that his actions with him will harden him for the game of life. The father, I would guess, wants to make his son in his image—and his image of himself is more than likely that of a “man’s man”—tough, invulnerable. Perhaps this is a man that bristles at showing any feeling other than anger. Vulnerability, then, would be a sign of weakness.

There is a Native American proverb that says, “Gentleness is the greatest strength.” This father would be even stronger, braver, if he could show his son that it is okay to feel vulnerable sometimes and that TLC (tender, loving care) is not just a “girl thing.”

On another day at the Quarry, I overheard another father remark to his son, “don’t act like a girl.” The message to be tough may be slightly less derogatory, but both messages convey the idea that to be vulnerable is to be feminine and that to be feminine is inferior.

What kind of world would it be if fathers could teach their sons gentleness and acceptance of their own feminine within? Comments of “you’re tough” and “don’t act like a girl” are signs that the feminine is given short shrift within these men. What if the inner feminine were allowed to rise in all its strength and power and be honored? The inner feminine that contains empathy and care united within the masculine would make a meek and mighty man: indeed, gentleness is the greatest strength.