11/6/14

Questioning the Term Patriarch, Becoming a Don



I take some pride in... representing myself exactly how I would like to have my son remember me to his kids.
Robert Downey Jr.
Hopefully, we live in changing times, where our gender or race or ethnicity shouldn’t determine what opportunities, privileges, and limitations are imposed on us. So any social movement that challenges inequality and intolerance should be challenged and brought down. So why is it that every time I hear about bringing down the patriarchy, I end up with feeling angry, self-doubt, demeaned, and dehumanized? And till today I didn’t really understand why.

I know that you are probably thinking it’s just a guy being defensive based on cultural and social programing defending his position of privilege within a society. If you haven’t read any of my other comments on feminism and gender equality, that might be a simple quick assumption. I thought it stemmed from a feeling that the word Patriarchy placed the burden solely on men’s shoulders and it promoted division between men and women. In my eyes, blaming the current state of affairs on the patriarchy promoted the idea that gender inequality was caused exclusively by men, and men didn’t suffer within it. But after reading a post by fellow writer this morning I realized that my anger didn’t come from being a man, but from being a father.

Many people use the word Patriarchy to define a system where men hold power and women are largely excluded from it and repressed by it. This is probably the most acceptable definition within the debate. But for me, and apparently several others, that is not how I view the word Patriarchy. Sexism and gender inequality is real, but for many years Patriarchy held another meaning. It literally means ruling father, a government where leaders behaved like fathers to the people, and society becomes an extended family.

I had the blessing of growing up within a strong Patriarchy, but not the kind ranted against. I grew up in a Patriarchy that taught me respect, honor, and accountability to my family and my community. My Grandfather led his businesses, his community, and the family the same way, by example, expecting everyone to do their best, and offering compassion to those in need. In his eyes, everyone was equally deserving of respect, no matter what social position they held.

Don Edwin owned several businesses in the town, but his pride was his little Café/Bar, where he could sit down and talk with everyone. I saw him serve lunch to homeless man, offering him the same dignity as when he sat down for coffee with the town’s mayor. I saw him walk up to someone and discretely lend money because he found out they couldn’t pay their bills or so their kids could go off to college. I saw him give work to people ex-cons and ex-drug addicts, people no one else would hire. I saw him help a couple his waitresses get out of abusive relationships. In that coffee shop I saw more people helped and more charity than in any missionary service.

You would think that growing with such a man would have made my life easy. Not really. It meant I had really big shoes to fill. I was Don Edwin’s grandson, and that meant constantly needed to prove I was worthy of the position. That’s what so many men suffering from entitlement don’t get, you can’t inherit respect.

You might easily dismiss this view of Patriarchy as simply defined by being a leader. The reality is that leading this way involves love; to a family or community. It’s about treating those with respect, leading by example, and serving as support to those around you. It’s about striving to be wise enough, experienced enough, tempered enough, and compassionate enough that you earn people’s respect, becoming a role model for those around you. This kind of leader is slowly disappearing, as we struggle to find even a few proper male role models within society is so eager to question any man’s intentions and even capability as a human, simply because of his gender.

To this day I strive to become even half the man he was. And every day I pray when my time comes to take the mantle of Patriarch, I am able to fill those shoes.

The interesting twist to this story is that when my grandfather passed away, the position of authority fell upon my mother, Doña Edna. You know how you call a Patriarchy with a woman leading it? A Matriarchy.

She was just as impressive as her father.