Acknowledging essence: mothers are women and fathers are men

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a tendency that manifests itself when Father’s Day comes around, and it always leaves me perplexed. Many people post comments on social networking sites expressing their admiration and appreciation not for dad, but for mom. The majority of these people are the children of single mothers who assumed all the responsibility for the raising of their children. These mothers have done the work typically shared between two people, and they have succeeded and moved forward with their children by their sides. I know many of these women and their children, and I can testify that they have done a remarkable job in raising children that feel secure and loved and have good values. These women have undertaken this considerable feat, and no one doubts the dedication they have to their children. However, there is a problem in perception if it it’s thought that a mother can fulfill the roll of mom and dad. The fact that a woman does the amount of work usually split between the two parents does not make her a father. Just as a single father who raises his children by himself will be a great dad, but not a mom, the woman who dedicates herself wholeheartedly to her children is a super mom, but she will never be a dad. This is not to discredit single mothers, but rather to reflect on what constitutes to be a father and then recognize that it is something distinct that only a man can do, just as only a woman can be a mother.

The supposition that a woman can fulfill the roll of a father, a distinctly masculine role, ignores essence and how that affects actions. Men and women are different, from how they respond to the same circumstances to how their brains are wired. In general, women are more strongly associated with qualities like emotional intelligence and consideration; similarly, men are more strongly associated with qualities like competitiveness and a higher propensity for risk-taking. Within these generalizations, there is obviously variation between individuals. For example, not all women are going to have the same level of emotional intelligence, nor are all of them going to focus on consciously developing all of those qualities most associated with femininity. Just so, not all men are going to have the same level of competitiveness, nor are all of them going to focus on consciously developing all of those qualities most associated with masculinity. These variations can also be compared within the sexes. There can be a man that has more emotional intelligence than a woman who has an “average” level of that quality, but that doesn’t make him a woman, just as a woman who is more competitive than the average man is still a woman. The fact that there are variations within and between the sexes doesn’t change that our sex influences how we carry out our actions. A woman’s qualities, be they competitive, considerate, motivated, comforting, affectionate, or self-sufficient, aren’t going to manifest themselves in exactly the same way a man’s would, just as a man’s qualities aren’t going to manifest themselves exactly the way a woman’s would. This is because women have a distinct way of being and acting that, even despite the variations from woman to woman, is salient enough to distinguish them from men.

Whether we like it or not, in terms of interactions there are differences between how women tend to do things and how men tend to do things. In both cases, it is the feminine or masculine essence that creates the differences. For example, a mother can approach her child, who is unusually quiet, to ask and find out what is wrong, and her way of doing this is going to be distinct and influenced by her sex, so much so that if a father tried to approach the child in the same way he wouldn’t be able to do it identically. If a father offers a hug, it will be from wider shoulders; if it’s a pat on the back, it’ll be from bigger hands; if it’s a kiss on the forehead, his facial hair will lightly scratch the child’s cheek, etc. Even when many of these characteristics aren’t manifested in a father, it’s undeniable that there will be differences, common in many men, in his physiology and demeanor, common in many men, that the child will distinguish from those of his or her mother. This is because even when both parents are carrying out the same action, how they do so will always be different. What makes a mother and what makes a father is their essence: not what they do in their interactions with others, but rather how they carry out those interactions, and by extension what they are.

Those feminine and masculine essences that influence interactions come from biological differences between the sexes, and the reality is that fulfilling the role of father is contingent on being a man. Similarly, fulfilling the role of mother is contingent on being female. The definitions of “father” that come up on the internet or in any dictionary read something like this: “a man in relation to his children.” Similarly, a mother is defined as a woman in relation to her children. Being a man and being a woman are things that one is born being, and they are defined naturally when a person is conceived and defined as a member of the masculine or feminine sex. Being a man and being a woman carry traits that cannot be changed according to our actions. A born woman can act like a man all she wants, but that won’t change her physical and biological construction, and the same applies to born men who act like women. A woman can put on a moustache and a tie, dance with her daughter for father-daughter dances, and teach her son how to be a good man, but none of this changes one fiber of her biological sex, nor does it grant her a masculine essence; she is still a woman. In the same way, a man can put on a dress and a pearl necklace, dance with her son for mother-son dances, and teach his daughter how to be a good woman, but none of this changes one fiber of his biological sex, nor does it grant him a feminine essence; he remains a man.

When people insist that a woman can fulfill the roll of father because of her actions, it sounds like a negation of the things determined by genetics and biology. People are born being either men or women just they are born being Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, or black. Recently, the case of Rachel Dolezal, president of the National Association of Colored People, came to the public’s attention because it was revealed that she, a woman who took great pride in being black, was discovered to be of Caucasian origin. Through cosmetic treatments Rachel had altered her originally Caucasian appearance in order for it to appear like that of a black woman. As much as Rachel did change her appearance and testimony in order to identify as a black woman, the reality is that she is still a Caucasian woman, one with an altered appearance, but a white woman nonetheless. This is because both race and sex are things defined by genetics and biology: you are either born Caucasian or black (or a combination of races/ethnicities), and you are born either man or woman. However, unlike sex, the distinctions between races don’t carry with them roles equivalent to father and mother that are by definition contingent on being a member of a specific race; a Hispanic can occupy the same roles as a Caucasian, a black person, or an Asian person can and vice versa. This is because race doesn’t predispose anyone to a certain role. On the other hand, men and women are conditioned by their biology to the role they assume in the conception and gestation of a child, just as they are predisposed to subconscious behaviors like their responses to fear. Since the ability to be a father and fulfill the role of father is by definition contingent on being a man and the ability to be mother and fulfill that role is contingent on being a woman, it is sex that determines the ability of each individual to fulfill the role of father or mother.

Sex is an influence and a constant that remains despite even the habits and customs most profoundly ingrained in our lives. In actuality, it is not just habits and actions that distinguish between a father and a mother. In certain cultures and societies, according to custom the father is the only provider in the majority of cases; however, in certain cases it does happen that the mother has to provide for her children, be it because of divorce, separation, the death of the father, or simply the choice of the couple. In these cases, the woman adopts a role and carries out a function strongly associated with men and fathers, but this doesn’t make her a father. If we’re going to establish that a woman who provides for her children is a father, by consequence a man who takes complete charge of cooking for his children is a mother. No one suggests that because it isn’t like that; a man can adopt roles and carry out functions strongly associated with women and mothers, but this doesn’t change his sex and by extension does not give him the ability to be a mother. This is why in societies where it is more common and accepted that the roles be reversed, where the mother is the one who works outside the home and the father is the one who stays home, the fathers who stay at home are called stay at home fathers, not mothers. Mothers across different cultures can have different habits and carry out different functions, but what unites them is their sex, which defines them as mothers and maternal figures for their children. Similarly, fathers across different cultures can have different habits and carry out different functions, but the constant that makes them fathers and never mothers is their sex and the influence it carries. There isn’t a universal cultural tendency that consistently defines what it means to be a mother and what it means to be a father. What is constant in its ability to define the ability to be mother or father is one’s sex. Here and in China, now and two thousand years ago, a father has been a man, and a mother has been a woman.

Just like being a mother, being a father depends inevitably on the sex of the person because from it stems the essence that influences the way he or she carries out their actions. There isn’t a universal and conclusive manual or a set of rules that dictates how men do this, just as there isn’t one that says how women carry out their interactions in way that is distinct and influenced by her sex. The only notable constant is one’s sex, and this is because only a person of the same sex can fill the role of father or mother. A mom and a dad can carry out the same actions, but how they do them will be different; this difference comes in great part from how their sex influences their characteristics, actions, interactions, and more. There is nothing wrong with this, nor does it signal a failing in either of the sexes, but rather it demonstrates that each sex provides a touch and an essence unique to the mother or the father and to the love and attention their children receive. Moreover, the fact that a woman can’t carry out her interactions the same way a man would and that a man can’t carry out his interactions the same way that a woman would signals the complementarity of the sexes: woman has a special touch, man has a special touch, and together they form and provide a more complete unit. If the mother or father of a child isn’t present, it isn’t the end of the world, but it also doesn’t mean that the parent who isn’t present can be substituted by the other. As such, in the interest of the truth, it is important to recognize that being a father is something distinct that only a man can do, just as only a woman can be a mother. Thinking that a mother can be the same as a father, as well as thinking that a father can be the same as a mother, would practically be cheating ourselves. It would be negating that woman has a special touch and essence and that man has that, too. Recognizing that only men can be fathers and only women can be mothers is to recognize and value the fact that each has a special design and particular gifts that they give to their children. It is that, along with the love and effort given, that is celebrated on Mother’s Day and on Father’s day respectively. If you are child of a single mother and wish to celebrate her on Father’s Day because she did the work typically shared by two people all on her own, do so by recognizing her for how she has given you all that she has to this day and for all that she is: an exemplary mother. Recognize that a woman’s value doesn’t come from how much she can do things that typically men do, but rather it comes from how she does whatever she does in a way that no man can: like a woman, with a feminine, unique, and irreplicable touch. The inverse also applies to men. Recognizing this doesn’t discredit either single mothers or fathers, but rather it lays out in front of us the reality that holds that being a father constitutes something distinct that only a man can do, just as being a mother is something that only a woman can do. It lays in front of us this reality so that we can reflect on the unique and special value of woman and man and of their respective abilities to be mothers or fathers. Moreover, it propels us to reflect on how this influences our lives in ways so profound.

 

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