I’ve had a hard time reading fiction for some time now, because I’m finding violence, anger, tragedy are not the prescriptions I need. Perhaps it was ever so, but it does seem to me that there is a trend in literature – both books and literary magazines – toward the edgy, toward stories that disturb and unsettle. And in my recent samplings, particularly stories that portray men as violent and brutish toward women and children.
Yes, I do live in the real world, and I spent enough of my social work years working in child welfare services to know there is truth in the stories I’m reading. And I did come of age in the late 60s, and dove into the second wave of feminism, the gospel of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and the struggle for gender equality. But the lens through which I viewed feminism was not one coloured by hatred of men, but one that saw and railed against gender inequities in our patriarchal society.
Most significantly though, and it’s taken me many years to acknowledge, I never perceived individual men as the enemy, but rather as victims as well in a society in which they were expected to be as stereotypically “male” as women were expected to be “ladies” and know their place.
I won’t claim that I was “lucky” to grow up in an extended family of kind and encouraging men, because I think every child deserves those parents, and uncles and aunts. But nevertheless I am grateful for them. Probably more grateful than I’ve been at any point in my life because of the deaths in 2013 of the last two of my eight uncles on my dad’s side of the family. (Fortunately, the one sister in that family, my Aunt Bonnie, continues to be a loving presence although I haven’t seen her in many years)
These men were first generation Canadians, the children of German immigrants but none of them the stereotypical cold, strict, unyielding German Mann. Neither was my grandfather, who died when I was only five years old, but who I remember as having the same warm presences as his sons.
My uncles were hardworking, honest men, involved with their families, and full of laughter and kindness. My dad was a gentle, loving father who never hesitated to show his pride in his daughters’ achievements. Ironically, my mother, although we never doubted her love, was more stern, and like many mothers of her generation believed that to compliment a child would, God forbid, create a swelled head, a conceited child. Her two brothers were also caring men, although one was tormented by a mental illness that sadly was not diagnosed until he was well into his 70s and whose anger and frustration were born by his family.
I married a man who, though in many ways quite unlike my dad, has the same gentleness, the kindness, and aversion to violence. I am proud, and never hesitant to say that the three children we raised have grown into a young woman and two young men with those characteristics that I cherish. Nature or nurture? Some of both. While there are some men in my own fiction who are unfaithful, cruel, “broken”, they are not main characters, and I struggle in every store to find redemption. And I continue to look for stories with a grain of hope.
So to the men in my life: uncles, beloved husband, my precious sons, I will say that I think not only literature but societal attitudes often give you the short end of the stick. Stay gentle and loving. You are the men that all of us strive to raise.
To my Uncle Bill and my Uncle Cyril whose loss I’ve felt deeply this past year, you remain in my heart with all of your brothers.