Dylan Thomas’ famous poem, written in the late 1940’s and widely regarded to be about his ageing father’s impending death, takes on another meaning in a time where manhood is eroding in gradual creep towards its death. At a time where men (whatever gender that may now be) are derided as the sole source of toxic masculinity, widespread rape culture and where (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) approximately 13% of boys are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, it is more important than ever that both men and women rage against the dying light.
Masculinity, and specifically fatherhood is too quickly denigrated as unnecessary and irrelevant. Not even turning to the obvious biological necessity of men, their purpose in the household and in the lives of children is so ostensibly apparent that it begs the question why we need to discuss it at all. Men’s personalities are complementary in so many ways to their female counterparts. Both personalities are necessary for the optimal upbringing of a child; where the child learns where to use their aggression and where not to use their aggression. Take one parent out of the equation, and the lessons are likely to be lopsided. Take out the man from the home, and the use of aggression fails to be fully taught. Children without fathers are not less aggressive (despite how badly some would want this to be the case) as humans are innately aggressive, but they will not learn how to control and use it.
According to the CDC’s latest statistics, around 1 in four children live without a father in their home. This is not just a biological father, but any form of father. Contrast this to 1960, where around 88% of children lived in a home with both a mother and a father.
The simple fact is that where there is no father present in the household, the children will do worse across multiple lifelong measurements. The National Fatherhood Imitative publishes clear statistics in this regard, and these include that where children who do not have a father in their upbringing are significantly:
More likely to become obese;
More likely to engage in substance abuse;
Less likely to complete formal education;
More likely to commit crime and be imprisoned;
Less likely to raise children in a married family.
Unfortunately, it is the children who were raised without a father that are more likely to progenerate their own children in the same environment; it is an ever-tumbling wheel where the only way to undo the damage is to actively work to instil what it means to be a good man into the minds of our boys AND girls. At a time where masculinity its self is under attack, this isn’t going to be an easy battle.
In order to address this point, I had to familiarise myself with the definition of toxic masculinity. I come from a legal background, and tend to analyse things in an elementary manner, that is I need to be certain of the minimum necessary elements required for a thing/action to fit into a class. Unfortunately, I cannot find a definition for toxic masculinity (universities and the American Psychological Association write widely, but not definitively in this area) and the closest I have been able to get is a rough feeling for what I think it means:
Toxic masculinity is a non-definitive term used to describe common actions or traits of men when participating or engaging in a hierarchy, which are perceived to be unmeritorious or dangerous.
If someone has a clearer definition or concept of what it means, I would be pleased to hear it. From what I can tell, I haven’t been able to find a definition because it is impossible to define, and it can be better characterised as non-scientific description of typical male behaviour.
The presupposition that aggressive male behaviour is unnecessary seems to be a common theme when reading about this. However, when men participate in a hierarchy the use of aggression is necessary and efficient. When men are deprived of the use of aggression, they are left only with their lesser set of skills in subterfuge and passive aggression in order to assert dominance (think of Russell vs Gamby in Vice Principals).
I recall during my middle schooling that for a period of several months, all the boys in my year would play a version of full-contact football with fairly loose rules. All the boys would play this game and after our lunch period, we were relaxed and ready to go back into the classroom. After several months of playing this game, we were unfortunately spotted by a terse older member of staff who required that we desist playing the contact version of the game. A few weeks later, playing the non-contact version of the game we gradually lost interest and the game was fully disbanded. I remember that during the classes after lunch we were rambunctious, bored and full of energy (with no outlet for our pent-up-early-teen anger). Essentially, our game was an efficient outlet for aggression which was labelled by the staff-member as toxic masculinity and forbidden, consequentially we were required to take out our energy in the classroom in ways that did not come naturally to us and which were inefficient and disruptive.
The reason I include the above recollection is to describe what is happening on a near national scale. When we prevent our men from engaging in aggressive hierarchical activities, it isn’t going to stop them from being aggressive, it will merely force them to manifest their aggression in inefficient and actions that don't come to them naturally.
Rage, rage against the dying light.
How do we rage against the dying light of masculinity? There is no clear answer to this question but some of the following might be useful:
Laugh at the idea of toxic masculinity. Don’t include young men playing football in the same class of actions as rape. Strongly encourage the former, and strongly scorn the latter;
Teach children the value of the opposite sex, and that both are highly valuable in the household (if not necessary);
Know what it means to be a good man and what it means to be a bad man.