(Editorial from the June 21, 2020, issue of The Sentinel)

Just under 25 years ago I became a father for the first time, the proud parent of a baby girl. Like most new fathers, it was both an exciting joyful time and a time of apprehension and anxiety. How would I measure up as a dad? Would I be a good teacher and provider, a good co-parent for my daughter? How would I protect this little baby girl as she grew from a child to a young woman in a world that was not always safe for women?

Four years later, my son was born and the same feelings rose to the surface. I thought about my own relationship with my dad, some of the ways I had wished we were closer, wished that I would know him more intimately. How would I relate to my own son and share with him a healthier version of masculinity than I had grown up with?
Looking back on this Father’s Day I can tell you I have made my share of mistakes along the way raising my two children. There are things I know now that I wish I knew when this parenting journey began, but there are some things I think are worth sharing from my journey so far…

First, I think it is important that as we become parents we consider the values we want to teach our children and how we will model them in our own lives as they observe our behavior. I wanted both of my children to know that there were injustices in this world and that it was important for them to use their voice to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people, to speak up and take action when others are at risk for violence or when others are treated as less than. Their mother and I knew that if we had any chance of encouraging them to do this in their lives they would need to see it as something we both prioritized in ours.

Second, I think it is exceedingly important for men to model for both their sons and their daughters what constitutes manhood and how “what it means to be a man” does not fit into the constrictive box that our culture promotes as manhood. The representation of masculinity in our media, sports, and these days even our government, spins a confusing and often harmful message of what it means to be a man.

It was important to me that my son knew there was a counter story to what he would hear in the media, from some of his peers, and even some of the adult males he would encounter as coaches, teachers, and leaders. I made sure I interrupted that message and helped him to know there was a whole lot more to being a man than being tough and fearless and making sure you get respect, and that it was OK to be vulnerable, have emotional language, and find ways to peacefully resolve conflicts and differences.

For decades, those working to prevent intimate partner violence have recognized the need to address the narrow definition of masculinity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies “harmful norms around masculinity and femininity” as a risk factor for child maltreatment, teen dating violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, youth violence and bullying.

These “harmful norms around masculinity” involve a definition of masculinity based on power over others, violence, sex, status, and aggression. This definition of what is considered a “man” forces men into a narrowly defined box of behavioral choices. Working to engage men and boys in the prevention of domestic violence means building a more inclusive definition of masculinity. The CDC highlights how trusted male adults and peers are important influencers of what adolescents and young adults think and expect and ultimately how they behave.

My call to men on this Father’s Day is to take PCADV’s #HearMeOut challenge; to step up and help recast what it means to be a man in our communities first by striving for healthier, co-equal partnerships in our homes. Secondly by becoming leaders in our communities, standing up and promoting a healthy, less violent version of masculinity that makes our communities safer for both men and women.

I do not believe that most men are out there intentionally acting in ways that support violence toward women, but I do believe many men have not been challenged on the construction of masculinity in our culture and its relationship to sexual violence, rape culture, and the victimization of women.

Men need to challenge other men to look at the ways we hold up the values and beliefs that are at the base of this harmful message, challenging the actions that often get overlooked or dismissed as part of our culture’s “boys will be boys” mentality. The ways that we often fail to recognize how our privilege shields us from the consequences and trauma of living in a rape culture, and the times that our silence is a complicit voice of support for these values. Teaching men to hold up healthier definitions of masculinity while also encouraging them to use their strength to challenge and lead others in a deeper understanding of this issue engages us as active bystanders and visible allies in promoting a healthier version of masculinity for all in this community.

We have a responsibility to create the next generation of manhood and to stand up for what is right to keep our communities safe. The #HearMeOut challenge is about empowering and encouraging men to become leaders for other men, to model healthy relationships and to interrupt behaviors and attitudes that make it seem like violence is acceptable.

Find resources to support further engagement at https://www.acalltomen.org/ and https://www.pcadv.org/get-involved/engaging-men/

Jason E Brode is Executive Director of Diakon Youth Services Central Region and also a co-facilitator of DVSCP’s AMEND – batterers’ intervention program.