We don’t need fathers to keep quiet. We need them to speak up, and to be more themselves than ever. We need them to be caring, but less careful.
Damn Bowen, This hits home so so so much. Thank you for speaking the truth so powerfully.
We need fathers who can, as Robert Heinlein said of men "change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly." Those skills are not dead, but they require a balance of selfishness (not the right word but the best I have right now) and compassion to get right.
Thanks for this addition to our series, Bowen. I've appreciated your encouragement to live less cautiously. All of this looks different inside a relationship and inside a coparenting arrangement. And I do think that what some see as caution or timidity is often a well-intentioned act of listening or avoiding the trap of entitlement. Even so, I wholeheartedly agree that fathers who take self-denial to extremes or who internalize self-doubt because of social messaging about men need to give themselves a good ice bath of independence.
Because I hope that this series provokes conversation, I want to pose a bit of a challenge to your thesis. Wildness, to me, can be a form of selfishness. I'd love nothing more than to disappear into the Idaho wilderness for three straight months, the way I did as a single person in graduate school. But that would be unfair to my three children. And I'm mindful that how I experience wildness -- in nature, in the form of pushing physical and mental limits -- is nowhere near what my children would find stimulating. My father was wild in all the ways you describe, and many of my childhood memories equate our hunting expeditions or hike with profound suffering, because there was no way I could match his stamina and strength as a 10-year-old or even 13-year-old. And I experienced that as a form of dominance, not a form of love. Our outings always felt like contests, not mentorship. And so I think when men express their own wildness, especially in a mentorship role, they need to do so with the intention of empowering their children, not keeping them in their place, as many fathers have traditionally done with their sons.
There is a reason why Teresa Jordan claims that the history of the West is a history of fathers fighting sons. And there is a reason for the Oedipal cliches. Wildness can take that form just as easily as not.
I think the heart of your narrative, and the part where I join you, is a spirit of reciprocity. Wildness does not exist so the wild man can beat his chest in the wilderness. It exists as a source of wonder, something to be shared, a source of mutual freedom. This has not been how the men in my life have expressed wildness, but it is how I hope to express it myself.
In the spirit of David Deida and 50 Cent, you delivered the truth bombs about fathers, about men, and how we need to be showing up better for those we love.
Powerful piece Bowen. Like you, my father took me into wild places as a child. I can trace all of my love for mountain adventures in adulthood to this early nurturing in nature. I did not view him as wild...instead he seemed fearless and larger than life in those wild settings. Thank you for the essay and for the reading list. I intend to dive into several that are new to me.
Epic. Necessary read for all people.
Still learning. Thank you Bowen. 🙏🏼❤️
I love reading everyone’s reflections on their own dads. Reading this I kept thinking of how lucky I am to have a wild man as my husband and father to my three kids. But now I’m wondering if my own dad’s wildness created the blueprint for my own partnership. My dad was wild but in a cage. And the pressure cooker of that made him explosive and at times abusive, which scared and scarred me. Yet I still remember traipsing through the woods with him and learning about car engines and how to build just about anything I could dream up and sketch out on paper. My own husband is wild and not caged. Well, not AS caged by far. He’s still working on truly liberating himself, but he’s wild in a way that is inspiring and also liberating for me and my conditioning.
Anyway... thanks for this channeling and affirmation!
I definitely did not have a wild father and I think you're right that some wild would be helpful. Yet even just writing that I feel like I'm betraying my own sweet, yet mostly silent, passive-aggressive Dad. So there we have it. Yikes.
I know he loved me with his whole heart and I know he did the best he could. I know how lucky I was to have him as my Dad, yet I can't help but wonder who and what I would be if I had a wild father. The story would look very different.
An excellent article in a fantastic series, thank you Bowen.
You just gave me pause.......sombering sefl reflection. As I get kids ready for school like a robot, I CAN DO BETTER. Thank you!
As a retired father myself, my one wish is that my children see me as the man who was caged for a long time, but never tamed.
The spark of child that now reminds them during their adulting years to never forget and never give in.
Bawdy, irreverent and free. Intelligent, wise and ever-loving.
Play in the system if you must, but never be subsumed by it and never lose sight of who you are.
And don't be afraid.
Thank you for speaking to this.
This is a joy to read, Bowen. At the same time, I feel despondent at not being so eloquent in channelling my own rage against the Machine into such a cogent argument. This will help me to both think and do better.
My dad was very wild. But he was wild AND absent. He raged against the machine, but had no sense of balance.
Brilliant piece. My childhood vacations always felt like a heavy resistance to 'The Machine', travelling through the Australian desert with little more than a paper map, a VHF radio and a sack of water on the roof. My father was in his domain out there. He would make fires, find campsites, do all sorts of mechanical repairs on our Toyota with rudimentary tools, cross rivers, winch the car out of bogs over and over, fight off venomous snakes with sticks, ward off strange bush men with wild threats - you name it. The man appeared a damn savage, yet he was more calculated, composed and content than I'd ever seen him in the so-called real world. His creative streak flourished, his heart swelled, his insane sense of humour was let loose, and so too (though he wouldn't believe in this concept) was his soul.
He's a man that successfully negotiated The Machine, but I think that came at the incredible cost of conformity and inauthenticity. All these years later I still no him better from those memories out in the harsh Aussie bush. And that's probably why as we speak I find myself adrift, with all my loved ones thinking I've lost the plot, and well outside convention. In time I'll probably get stuck in a machine cog once again, but I doubt I'll ever forget to embody the wild man.
Thanks for this article Bowen, amazing stuff.
Almost 35 years ago, before I was a father, I sold my 2000sq ft bi-level I had custom built and moved to the outskirts of the city into a 700 sq ft (on two floors) abandoned mink ranch backing on to a decommissioned gravel pit with my reluctant girlfriend in tow. Fast forward, our two daughters got to experience waking up to deer in our backyard and coyotes howling at night. It’s been a wild ride, sometimes too wild. See, the pit attracts dirt bikes, and one day the incessant noise reached a boiling point in me. Fulled with alcohol, I ran barefoot through the bush intent on tearing of some human limbs. Fortunately there was no encounter and all ended well. Except, I “decided” to have a nap in the bush which initiated a search party and subsequent loss of my glasses. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a liver. It’s sober October and the fall North winds have arrived at our lake Winnipeg. Should be pretty wild!
That was a wild ride, from start to finish. Bloody brilliant!👏✍️
This was quite an amazing blend of of intelligence and insight, all delivered in a muscular prose, which gives me hope that there is still something we might call and "authentic" male experience--so different from the aggrieved, whiny victimization I hear spouted every day by whiny, mostly white guys, their standard bearer being Donald Trump. Being a poet and fiction writer and coming from a working-class background, I struggled for years to figure out just what a "real" man is, finally realizing there was no answer to that question. See my three part post from March 13 on how Trump has manipulated this "man grievance." https://johnsonp.substack.com/p/whatever-happened-to-white-guys