Do real men love babies? Everything about these pooping, screaming, totally helpless little people—the babies, that is—challenges a man’s feral instincts and refined sensibilities. Yet, whether we like it or not, babies put to rest the frenzied individualism, the restless search for purpose, and the demand for instant ego gratification so predictable among the male sex. Fatherhood is an invitation to grow up faster than most of us want, and maybe this is a tiny clue as to why for men babies are so scary.
[Note: This essay was first published by Catholic Gentleman and is reprinted with permission.]
Men in the heat of passion, like animals, are usually oblivious to the natural link between sex and babies. But when a child is conceived the curtain is pulled back, if only for a moment, and a man very well might find himself asking: Why did I want to have sex in the first place?
Your wife tells you the big news. It’s the kind of discovery that makes grandmothers, aunts, and mother-in-laws giddy with excitement. But for you it raises even bigger concerns, too, changes that could reshape your whole life. The intersection of babies and masculine identity is about as beautiful and thorny as a rose bush—but who gives a flying goose about rose bushes? Life as you know it is about to end.
Why do men turn to sex—of all things, sex!—to sate our longing for adventure, wholeness, possibility, completion, and immortality? What does it mean that men are sexual beings, different from women? Why are men generally more active and aggressive and eager, and women more passive and receptive and resistant? And why are babies so scary?
WHY ARE BABIES SO SCARY?
Whether or not it’s actually true I leave to the data-crunching sociologists and their stockpiled statistical compendia, but I will share one anecdote: sex for men is very abstract. With no breasts or menstrual cycle or womb, masculine sexuality is not so intimately linked to children the same way it is for women. Like the male body itself, sex for men is impulsive and nomadic, reaching out into a wide range of ambitions. Men love the open road, enterprise, and adventure. Yet everything about babies demands domestic stability, affection, and monotonous repetition—and that’s why babies can be so frightening. Babies threaten the most selfish and primitive masculine instinct to hunt, to look ahead at the next horizon, to leave.
When my son was born, my old life died. I had to get a “real job.” My record collection collected dust, the books on the bottom of my bookshelves were boxed, my cupboards were childproofed, and my cool apartment slowly morphed into a nursery. My wife became his mother. My library became his bedroom. My free time became baby time. My extra cash became the diaper and clothing fund. Even my sleep went the way of the buffalo…
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade fatherhood for a thousand bachelor pads. But now I better understand why babies can be so scary: babies threaten a man’s other ambitions. A guy with a baby is forced to be responsible in a way that his friends do not. He can’t just drop everything and run to the nearest happy hour or sailboat, or risk his life in heroic quests, or get lost in distraction after distraction. He is now responsible for one woman and their children. A father is stuck. Ultimately, this is good for him. But at first the unremitting domesticity—the overwhelming immobility of it all—can be a shock. Why?
DO “REAL” MEN LOVE BABIES?
The difference between men and women is more than the difference between a microwave and an oven. With no possibility of experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or nursing firsthand, men think about and experience sex differently than women. There is no direct tie to the long-term nurturing of children. Nothing about the male body, at least sexually, suggests any pattern beyond the repetitive release of sexual tension. The erection is random, especially during adolescence, and his sexual urges are driven by undefined energies. Men, it has been said, have only one sex organ and one sex act: erection and ejaculation.
For a man, sex is performance. This is not to say that in bed men are insincere or that women are a passive audience, but that a man must carry out, accomplish, perform the conjugal act. If he is too afraid to initiate, if he cannot rise to the occasion, he will never have sex. The rarely acknowledged yet perennial question of his sexual ability and his questionable tie to the future brings a kind of impatience and uncertainty. Even if he begets a child his sexual impatience and unease often remains. Men must defend and define everything else about their sexual ability in other activities—and so beer is brewed, poetry is written, Declarations of Independence are drawn up, wars are fought, and cities are built.
Now, men are more than studs and women are more than wombs and sex is much more than only the perpetuation of genes…yet the gross generalization remains: sexuality for men is a challenge, a quest, a test. The title of this essay is illustrative. Women do not frequently use the category, “real women.” It is men who sit around talking about how a “real man” throws a punch, what time a “real man” wakes up in the morning, how a “real man” listens to classic rock, how a “real man” goes to Latin Mass in a suit and tie, and thus and such.
Manhood is made, not born. Sex for men is not just a pursuit of pleasure: it’s a test of identity. As George Gilder observes, “unless his maleness if affirmed by his culture, he must enact it repeatedly, and perhaps even destructively for himself and society…unlike a woman, a man has no civilized role or agenda inscribed in his body.”
Sitting on the living room floor, John Updike looks over their three children to his wife and sees “Absolute Geography.” Robert Farror Capon says that a mother is geography incarnate:
To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not makehomes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered. She is geography incarnate, with her breasts and her womb, her relative immobility, and her hands reaching up to us the fruitfulness of the earth.
Motherhood is not just a job. Mothers do not “make” homes. To be a mother is to be a home. And what should we defend and cherish most if not our own homes?
Defending. Cherishing. These are masculine words that get close to the heart of what sex and babies are all about, and why they’re so scary.
BABIES: TEST OF MANHOOD
It is unfortunately only too easy to observe how hard it is to get a faithful husband and devoted father out of a human male. It’s no secret that the normalization of birth control, sex out of wedlock, and no-fault divorce has freed men to romp and play and then run away. To make matters worse, political correctness—so ideological and inhumane—has rendered dads unnecessary. Fatherhood is an institution in eclipse.
But with marriage and children, the vagrant impulses of masculine sexuality are harnessed and given direction. The masculine penchant for profligacy and indeterminate copulation is transformed into a solid work ethic and even an intense, focused energy for covenant love and family. The begetting of children is an invitation to turn the pursuit of pleasure into nurturing love.
You do not need to be a father to be a “real” man, but the fact remains that fatherhood is a test of manhood. That’s why babies are so scary: they are more demanding than any business venture, more frightening than any wild beast, and more adventurous than any voyage out at sea.
Gone are the days of abstract theorizing. There’s a diaper that needs to be changed, an errand that must be run, another night where even attempting to sleep is pointless, and an exhausted new mother who would greatly benefit from you getting off the couch. The hours turn into days, the days multiply into weeks, and it slowly dawns on you: this baby is never going away. There is no pause button, no weekend, no moment where the squirming, thirsty, pooping little guy will take five and let you light your tobacco pipe and gather your wits in a smoky shell-shocked haze—no matter: a real man doesn’t pack his suitcase. A real man stays.
Babies are scary. But when he finds out she’s pregnant, a real man doesn’t run and hide. A real man will put aside his selfish concerns and get excited. A real man looks for ways to serve the mother of his child, to protect and to provide for her needs, to encourage and to celebrate her. A real man affirms without resentment the link between sex and children. A real man knows that life begins at conception. A real man does not fly from, but rather embraces wholeheartedly the responsibility of fatherhood. A real man makes sacrifices and knows that love that is not self-giving is no love at all.
The lesson a baby can teach any father—any man, if he would listen—is that in order to keep your life you must give it away. Babies remind us that no man is an island. All of us have needs and the best of us serve other people’s needs. And that’s why real men love babies.
Read it in the Catholic Gentleman