Remember the saying “Father Knows Best”? That is certainly not what I felt growing up! For those of you who don’t know me, I am an author, a coach, a JD and many other things. But most importantly, I am a husband and I am a father of three adult children. Over the years, I have learned that our children are our best teachers and the lessons they teach us are quite often the most difficult ones for us to learn. For it is through our children that our unexamined biases, unfinished business and shadow beliefs bubble up to surface level. Of course, we have the option to push them away, to ignore, evade or perhaps even deny. But these lessons, albeit challenging, are what allow us to evolve as humans.
My 27-year-old son is currently living with me. Through some recent, uncomfortable conversations that I had with him, I began to notice that I was witnessing myself in him, that I was seeing the little boy in me that lived under my father’s roof some 30 plus years ago, and that, at the same time, I was repeating my own father’s behavior toward my son.
I now see how very much my thoughts and behaviors toward my children and wife reflect the relationship I had with my father and how I witnessed him relate with my mother. Suffice it to say, some of this behavior was not becoming of a heart-centered leader. Emotional literacy , a heart based leadership principle, was not one of my dad’s strong suits. Anger was often what he expressed, despite the underlying emotions he might have been experiencing.
If I am honest about what I was feeling deep inside with respect to my son, it was also fear. I was afraid for my son to “get out into the world” and meet it head on, that perhaps he would stumble.
But instead of acknowledging this fear, I allowed it to manifest in anger and impatience – just like my father did many years ago with me. I remember now that in those moments with my father, what I needed was his patience, his calming effect, his understanding, his compassion for my lack of clarity. Suffice to say I didn’t get it, but what is fascinating is that when I recently shared this whole insight with my father, guess what he told me? He confessed that he did not have a healthy relationship with his father and was essentially repeating the only behaviors he knew. In fact, he commended me on the relationship I have with my son!
I share all of this with you because if we are to dismantle unhealthy patriarchy, it is incumbent upon us to examine the unhealthy patriarch that lives within us, that we have subconsciously developed, so that we do not project it onto others. This not only includes the way we interact with our family and loved ones but also with our colleagues.
Healthy patriarchy requires us to get curious about our early childhood influences and how they may show up in our daily lives at home, in public and most certainly in the workplace. As men, are we blindly following a toxic pattern of patriarchy that has been passed down through generations? Do we do or say things simply because they are the things we heard or saw our fathers or other male role models do? Or do we do or say things because we have given thought and consideration to what is right and just and true?
I find pride in saying that I am the Patriarch of my family but that does not mean I lack the humility to change and to evolve to be a better partner, a better father, a better man.
Positive/Healthy Patriarchy: What is it and how do we model it?
Patriarchy currently defined is a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Healthy patriarchy is about the sharing of power. Healthy patriarchy includes women. Healthy patriarchy defies command and control. It is all about collaboration.
Growing up in an Italian American family had me witness both forms of patriarchy. Ultimately, my parents were at their best when they shared power. My southern Italian mother was a force to be reckoned with and, at times, my dad would follow her lead. But unfortunately there were many times that he exuded the “command and control” patriarchy that he had subconsciously absorbed throughout his life.
One of the things I have learned in my own life, as a man, as a father, as a husband and as a leader, is that there are real benefits that I can experience by sharing power. I learn from others, I experience less stress, I don’t have to constantly have all the responsibility, which can be draining, and I can follow…which is true leadership.
When I mull on this a bit more, what becomes obvious is that gender partnership is the answer that creates a win-win for everyone.
How do we do it? What gets in the way?
So how do us guys evolve to practice healthy patriarchy? How can we be better men, partners, leaders with a healthy patriarchal influence? What gets in the way and how do we overcome those obstacles?
Systemically, what lurks in the shadows is the Man Box and its set of unwritten rules that define “unhealthy manhood”. The Man Box refers to the enforcement of a narrowly defined set of traditional rules for being a man. These rules are enforced through shaming and bullying, as well as promises of rewards, the purpose of which is to force conformity to our dominant culture of masculinity and to perpetuate the exploitation, domination, and marginalization of women and others.
One of these rules that drive command and control style patriarchy is “real men make all the decisions”.
In my keynote presentations as well as the workshops that The Better Man Movement team deliver, we always ask the men and women if they could think of one word that flies in the face of this rule and “rewrites” the rule in a way that is positive and without fail, the word that comes up is collaboration.
One other impediment that needs to be addressed, on a personal front is fear. This fear, at its core, is about losing power. But once we acknowledge that is all it is, and realize the benefits of collaboration, of sharing power, we will all reap the awards.
The way forward- Patriarchy with heart
Patriarchy, when based on the 6 heart-based leadership principles, takes on a much healthier form. The quicker we men can learn to incorporate those principles into our lives, the better off we will all be. I’ll leave you with a list of these principles below so you might begin to incorporate them into your life. Wishing you a Happy Fathers’ Day and a happy journey to healthy patriarchy!
Emotional Literacy: The ability to acknowledge our emotions and to respond consciously.
Vulnerability: “Uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” *Credit to Brené Brown
Authenticity: Honesty, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability.
Accountability: Taking responsibility for our words, choices, and impact — whether intended or unintended.
Inclusivity: The practice of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.
Love: Seeing, hearing, valuing, and respecting others for who they are.
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