Early on in my journey into fatherhood, my daughter Blythe, then 3 years old, needed surgery to repair a hole in her heart. I was present as she went under anaesthetic and when she came around after the operation. Shortly after she came out of hospital she told a group of friends that her heart used to be broken but her daddy had fixed it.
The realization that Blythe saw me as her hero, the man who could fix anything, was an epiphany for me. I began to ask myself the question; was I the man and dad she and her brother Luke needed me to be? Being their father has been my inspiration to discover and embrace what it means to be a real man and a real dad.
My struggle with what it means to be a man, however, started long before in my relationship with my own father and the impact that had on my life. We had the sort of distant and vaguely aggressive relationship most men of my generation had with their fathers. My first step to becoming a real dad was to look in the mirror and recognise that I was flawed and needed to do a lot of work on myself. The journey that followed has been an intentional and often difficult process of personal growth and healing.
Today, the organisation that grew from this — Father a Nation or FAN — helps men to look within to discover their true masculinity and equips them to be authentic men, great fathers and strong role models to their children. The masculine soul is driven by three core desires:
- the first is the need for a battle to fight;
- the second is the need for adventure; and
- the third is the urge to protect.
When men are whole and grounded in their masculinity, these three drivers are a powerful force for good.
Imagine a world in which every man is using his strength to fight for what is right and stand against what is wrong. A world in which men refuse to live in a small story, content to just sit in front of TV and watch life go by, but rather embrace purpose and positive adventure. And finally a world in which every man does everything he can to love and protect the woman and children in his life.
It would be a very different world from the one we live in today.
What we see in reality is a world in which men are wounded in their masculinity and have a distorted notion of what it means to be a man. Sadly men are responsible for almost all that is wrong in society. Men are behaving badly on a massive scale. There are 15 times more men in prison than women, gender-based violence and fatherlessness is at insanely high levels. Good male role models are in short supply.
The encouraging truth though is that because men broke it, men can fix it. The problem is not masculinity: the problem is wounded masculinity and distorted concepts of manhood. Wounded men become men who wound: we fight the wrong battles, set out on frivolous adventures, and all for our ego, or pride or lust.
Recently, I gave a talk at the education department in Gauteng where the audience was all men, mainly teachers. I spoke quite strongly about “norms” and issues of sexual abuse, and said that if you do sexually harass or rape women, you’ve lost the right to call yourself a man. It's just not OK to force yourself on anyone.
One man in the audience put up his hand, and said, “But what do you do when the penis talks?” It was profoundly disturbing. It put on blatant display the ugly lack of control and the sense of entitlement among many men that leads them to believe and say, “You know, when I need it, I need it—and it’s my right to have it.”
We — as men — have got to change these crude and destructive beliefs. That’s my personal passion and the purpose behind Father a Nation. We need to raise the standard of what it means to be a man. It's not about being macho, pumped-up on testosterone, and having great biceps.
Real men take responsibility, they reject passivity, and they stand for what is right and against what is wrong. A real man never, ever takes what is not his. Churchill put it plainly when he said “a man does what he must”, in spite of personal consequences, obstacles or danger, and that is the basis of all human morality.
True masculinity is a profoundly beautiful gift to society. We as men need to stand up and restore to the world what we’ve stolen from it with our false and distorted parody of masculinity. We need to and we can.
Craig Wilkinson is the founder of Father A Nation (FAN), an NPO that restores and equips men to be great fathers.