Because I’m Male: Notes on Gender Roles and My Father

This post was going to be about something else, but the reason for writing it felt wrong. It felt wrong because it was reactionary, which is not wrong in itself, but I also had a difficult time trying to articulate my points without being too mean-spirited. One of the many lessons bell hooks has taught me was that simply stating truth is not enough; the truth must be stated with love. My first piece, while it was (hopefully) going to be stated with love, its root began elsewhere, not to say from hate, just elsewhere. Then I thought of my father.

I thought of my father because he loves me and my siblings. I know he does because not only does he state it, but the he’s cared and nurtured us for some thirty plus years. It continues to this day, and frankly I do not see it stopping. I am grateful for it. I am happy for it. The worst thing he has done over the last few years is force me and my grown-ass siblings to answer his semi-annual “was I good father” question. It’s a question my sister easily deflects because she was always his favorite, but a question I begrudgingly answer last Father’s Day – a week after he had asked…via an mp3 file. Maybe it wasn’t so difficult to answer, but I didn’t want to answer. I think the answer is evident, but I realize he’s generally concerned about his parenting; though I would/could never say this to his face, he was good father. A lot of fathers are good fathers. A lot are not. Mine was better than good, if solely because he never placed limits nor expectations on me as a male.

There is not one time in my youth, nor by adulthood that I can recall my father saying “be a man” or anything of that sort. In fact, I can recall him crying during a toast in my honor after I graduated from college. A great friend of my joked aloud “you’re about to cry Mr. Dowell” to which my father quipped “I’m man enough to cry.” This is my father. This is reason I am who I am. I recall him checking me as a kid when I questioned the athletic ability of women. He simply said “some of them are better than you.” He was and is right. This is the man who took me to USC Women basketball games to meet Cheryl Miller, who was then SC’s basketball coach, and Lisa Leslie. I still remember waiting after the game to get Ms. Leslie’s to sign the little whiteboard they had given out at the game. Later, with him, I saw Tina Thompson play. I learned about Title IV as a middle schooler, but more importantly the idea that gender, class, race, nor sexuality was an indicator of one’s worth or potential. Mind you, those of you who know me, know some of these lessons did not sink in until high school and other until college, but when they sank, they sank deep. They only sank deep because I was primed from an earlier by a father who understood the complexity and intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality, however, he may not have known this (though I think a man whose favorite writer is Octavia Butler does).

Because of him, I do not justify my actions by prefacing them because “I am a man”, “I am a woman”, “I am heterosexual” nor anything of that sort. The reason people who are similar by appearance or what have you tend to do the similar things is not inherent to that commonality. It is a product of socialization and culture. Culture is learned behavior. “Being a ______” is no reason for actions nor beliefs. It may have informed, but at the end of the day, it’s just a construct, and I am thankful that my great father planted that seed in my youth.


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