Fatherhood is inescapable, whether or not you have any children. If you are not a father yourself, you have likely been fathered. And if you have not been fathered, it is likely that people close to you have been. For men with children, fatherhood is a potent site of masculinity conspiracy activity for two main reasons. First, it is a primary mode of transmission for the conspiracy: from father to son and daughter. Second, for many men, fatherhood closes down a number of freedoms that seem to funnel them towards ever-greater manifestations of the conspiracy. For example, perhaps they have to start providing beyond their individual needs, or find their values shifting with the new responsibilities of fatherhood (and the new pressures of the conspiracy). There is nothing about these examples that necessitate greater alignment with the conspiracy, but it tends to happen, as we’ll explore in this chapter.
As with each chapter, I have chosen a particular focus or slant on the topic at hand that requires glossing over other aspects. In the following discussion of fatherhood I have focused largely on fathering boys, because I believe that the passing on of the masculinity conspiracy baton from father to son is most deserving of the time and space I have with you. That’s not to say that fathering daughters isn’t also a crucial part of the conspiracy. Just, as we shall see, conditioning boys perpetuates the conspiracy, so too with girls. As I’ve mentioned before, the conspiracy requires women to think and behave in certain ways towards men, and this conditioning starts EARLY (think about the myths to which you are alluding the next time you call your precious little daughter a “princess”). I don’t refer to gay fatherhood, single dads, the way fatherhood shifts social dynamics with one’s partner or other men, and a whole host of other important topics: but they’re all there to be further explored. We’ll see how fatherhood feeds into the conspiracy in two books. The first is Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas. The second is Better Dads, Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Boys to Become Men of Character by Rick Johnson.
One more thing before we get going. Possibly more than any other chapter in this book, you may want to know about my “experience” with fatherhood. To be honest, I don’t really think this is important in identifying the way the conspiracy works. However, I get this question A LOT, even when I’m just talking about masculinity in general: “have you got children?” It’s as if I am not qualified to speak about masculinity unless I have children, as if that is a qualifier for “authentic masculinity.” Of course, this is a shining example of how the conspiracy works and why fatherhood is one of its fundamental elements: if you have children, you “count” and get to hold the talking stick. As it happens, I have three children. If that means you give me the benefit of the doubt, great. But I’d much rather you questioned why that is an important thing for you to know. And now I am left with the uneasy tension of knowing that, like many times before, I have mobilized the conspiracy in my favor by telling you that I have children, and harnessing the small but noticeable amount of power this entails.