The Cranky Guy at the Head of the Table: A Philosophy of Fatherhood

Sometimes I hate being the disciplinarian to my son. Nobody likes to be the grumpy guy that’s always saying “no.” But somebody has to do it, and that somebody should be the father.

The amazing thing about children is that they instinctively understand boundaries and norms, even as they test them. Even after receiving a stern rebuke and maybe a time-out or two, my son still loves me. More importantly, he doesn’t fear me.

This is the way I want it to be.

I don’t want my son, or any of my future children, to ever be afraid of me.

I want them to be afraid of disappointing me.


A large part of my parenting philosophy involves combining the stern with the tender. Once whatever disciplinary action is over, I act like it never happened. I never want my boy to think I’m angry at him per se, only at what he’s done.

And here’s another important part of my philosophy: I do not believe in corporal punishment.

All children need structure, but boys especially. I want my son to be self-sufficient. I don’t want him freaking out over every skinned knee and banged elbow. When he hurts himself, I act calm. If it’s minor, I tell him he’s a tough guy and that the hurt goes away by itself. If it’s major, I calmly tell him the same as I tend to his wound. Afterwards, he gets back on his feet and goes back to being his playful, risk-taking self.

Does this reinforce cultural stereotypes about gender and masculinity?

Your damn right it does.

The role of fathers has been minimized to the point of extinction, at least in our popular culture and the halls of academia. Dads are buffoons and clownish man-children whose sole use as a parent lies in being a sperm donor with a wallet.

Or worse, men are portrayed as deadbeats and shiftless losers, absentee fathers who do nothing but mess up their children’s lives. As we see in black America, internalizing and living down to this expectation has been an utter disaster. Single motherhood is celebrated at the expense of the nuclear family; these women do the best they can, but their children, the boys especially, do far worse than those with two parents. These kids need fathers.

Don’t worry though, whitey: we’re catching up really fast.

Away from pop culture and in the real world, however, most fathers, black and white, kick ass at what they do. Men aren’t perfect–neither are women–but all of that corny Father Knows Best stuff is in large part true. Western society–the patriarchy, if you want to call it that–has up until recently done a masterful job of controlling men’s more savage urges and directing them towards family and fatherhood.

That’s right. Men willfully embraced monogamy and the nuclear family, giving up or at least restraining or propensity for violence and womanizing in an uneasy though ultimately fulfilling alliance with domesticity. Men and women are complimentary, and each does certain things better than the other. It is pure fact to say that mothers are more nurturing and comforting than fathers.

But when shit goes down, dads need to be ready to throw some punches, fire some guns, and run towards the danger.

Why? You’re not going to like this, but here it goes: To protect women, children, the elderly, and the weak.

Men want to be protectors, warriors, superheroes, Jedi Knights. It’s what we fantasize about as kids, saving damsels in distress and all of that. Not because we think less of women, but because we love them.

This is where fatherhood comes in.


Our manly instincts are being bred out of us. “For the greater good,” we’re told. The greater good looks a lot to me, though, like Cologne, Germany, New Year’s Eve 2015.

Is this what people really want?

I want my son to be 100% unabashedly male. To have that protective instinct. And in order to do so, I need to provide the example.

I don’t swear around him, I don’t yell at my wife, and I never lay a hand on her; the only time he sees me touch his mother is for a hug and a kiss. And I strive to be consistent and fair.

It’s also why fitness is so important to me. My dad was, and remains, in great shape. It helped me view him as strong and in control, vigorous and vital, and someone to emulate. I try to be the same for my son. It’s not fair to knock the overweight because or sedentary lives make fitness far more difficult than at any time in human history, and I’ve been there myself, But I strongly urge all fathers to get in shape, if not for yourself, then for your children (check out This Dad Does and Vigor and Spirit for some great insights on how to do this).

I want my son to avoid the cage of safety so many of us in my generation were given, told it was a gift when it’s really just a trap. Sometimes doing this means being the hard-ass of the family, the cranky guy that sits at the head of the table and who doesn’t laugh when my son decides a food fight is just the thing this meal needs.

But I’m also the guy who wrestles, plays blocks with him, goes to church with him, reads to him, and takes him to the lake or the playground for some old-school hell-raising.

I do it not only for him, but for my wife, my future children, my grandchildren.

I do it for your children and grandchildren.

Fatherhood is serious business, and we’re all in it together. I’m so glad to see so many guys of my generation taking it so seriously.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade

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