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Fathers are Everything, Not Only Dads

Father’s Day is this weekend. Men can be more than one thing. They can be good fathers. They can also be boys who assaulted girls, without malice, motivated by their own needs, oblivious to the long-term impact of their actions. 

I decided to make the most out of attending my high school reunion, a time that I anticipated would be full of unsatisfying small talk. I wanted to clear the air and try to clean up the past by confronting the men at my school who sexually assaulted me, verbally and physically. Fortunately and unfortunately, the teachers have since retired or moved on. But one of the boys who grabbed my breasts regularly, while in the darkroom during 10th-grade photo class, was there. Maybe I would have kept taking photography if I didn’t have to navigate unwanted hands and harassment. I stopped going to the beach and boogie boarding at 12 when the cat-calling started. I imagine my surfing and photography skills in an alternative universe.

I’d avoided eye contact with him at previous gatherings and assumed he avoided contact with me from shame or discomfort. He towered over me in the dark at the reunion. This time I looked him in the eyes instead of averting his gaze and said, “Hi, can we talk and gestured towards a row of couches away from people.

“Uh oh, am I in trouble?” he asked.

I outlined the groping and asked him what he had thought over the years when recalling his behavior toward me. 

“We never even hooked up”, he said. If a girl is saying, “Stop it and pushing you away”, even if you are dating or hooking up with her, it doesn’t entitle you to her body. He said he didn’t remember it at all and apologized, emphasizing that he has two teenage daughters with big breasts and wouldn’t want them to have this experience. The fact that he had no recollection of these repeated incidents suggests they did not hold a strong positive or negative charge, unlike they did for me, which would lay down permanent neural pathways and create memories.

He admitted that he is uncomfortable imagining such things could happen to his girls, and he asked me, “What should I tell my daughters?” as if they alone can prevent this kind of unwanted attention.

“Why don’t you stop putting it on the girls and educate the teen boys you work with at your summer program? Teach them to attune, respect boundaries and regulate themselves enough to not act out their impulses. And stop focusing on what your daughter is wearing as if that is what is to blame.”

I’m curious if he told his wife about our conversation when he got home. I don’t believe he is a bad man. It was disheartening that he didn’t remember, that grabbing me was apparently so mundane it suggests I wasn’t the only one, or that it was not unusual, and he was unphased by the experience. But maybe jarring his memory will have him parent and partner with more mindfulness and awareness.

Fathers are men who happened to have children. Some intentionally sought the role out, and took it on as a duty, while for others it occurred like a housefire or car accident. Even with 9 months advance warning or a father who actually was around to raise them, it doesn’t mean they are knighted with the ability to skillfully raise a child. Despite almost being 50, many of the men at my reunion reflected on still feeling like they were in their 20s inside. Yet most of them are dads. Unless your path involves deep self-reflection, therapy, examining the shadow of male conditioning, practicing being accountable and feminist studies, actually being a conscious dad is unrealistic. Raising sons that make different choices means modeling and course correcting because left to their own devices social conditioning wins out.

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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