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Ola Obisanya is my Dad Goal
In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, Ted Lasso is one of the best sitcoms of all time. If you’re not familiar with the show, it features a college football coach from Kansas (played by Jason Sudeikis) who becomes the head coach of a premier league football team (or as we call it soccer) in the UK. Ted knows nothing about soccer, which is a nice entry point for people completely apathetic towards sports such as myself. The show features very little actual soccer (another selling point for me), rather personal growth and developing relationships takes center stage.
A recent episode focused on one of the players, Sam Obisanya. Sam is a twenty-two-year-old player from Nigeria. Sam is a kind, optimistic young man. He is pursuing a passion project of opening a high-end Nigerian restaurant in Richmond, England, so that other African immigrants can have a taste of home while they live abroad. Sam is busy trying to get his new restaurant in top shape because his father, Ola, is coming to visit, and Sam is dying to impress the man he idolizes. At the same time the British Home Secretary is turning away Nigerian refugees who are sailing to the island. Sam tweets a hopeful, optimistic tweet at the secretary, and she responds with “Shut up and dribble,” a phrase that has long been used in the real world to minimize the experience and beliefs of black athletes. After the twitter spat, Sam’s restaurant was vandalized. Glass is broken, mirrors are shattered, and “Shut up and dribble” is spray painted on the wall. Sam has to head to football practice where he is angry. He lashes out at his teammates. Sam’s usual optimism and hope are gone, replaced by anger, fear, and so much pain.
Then Ola walks in.
All Sam’s father has to do is say his name, and Sam melts. He runs to his father and buries his face in Ola’s massive chest. The hate and fear are gone, replaced by sobs of grief, sobs of comfort.
I want to be that kind of dad.
I want to be the kind of dad whose sons trust him so deeply; they can unload the weight of world on me knowing that I can hold it up for them while they catch their breath. I want to be the kind of dad that is present and caring enough so it feels like I can show up at just the right moment to save the day, even though I was there all along. I want to be the type of dad whose children can display authentic emotions, both good and bad, to relieve them of the stress of always having to put up a public face. I want to be like Ola.
To be a good dad, we need to be emotionally available, and teach our boys the same
I want to be the kind of dad that can provide everything my children need to make them feel safe, loved, and at peace. Sadly, I cannot provide that for my newest family member, Noah. Mostly because I lack functioning mammary glands. I seem to be doing ok with the other two, but always room for improvement! Especially if its my goal to keep the loving and supportive relationship going into my children’s adulthood. The first big trick to maintaining those long term relationships is teaching our kids that those healthy relationships are good and desirable. Unfortunately, in our culture, a lot of men don’t want that sort of relationship, with their fathers or anyone else! Some men look at the sight of a grown man crying into his father’s chest and see it as weak, pathetic, and disgusting. They probably learned those attitudes from the ones that should be supporting and loving them. So the first thing we need to do is recalibrate what masculinity is.
I’m going to spend most of my time talking about the masculine perspective. I don’t want to minimize other identity struggles such as feminine or non-binary experiences. Those are valid, but I honestly lack the experience and knowledge to speak to them effectively.
The problem with Masculinity: toxic and fragile
Did you know that “Masculinity Influencer” is a thing? Not just a thing, but a thing that some men have made millions, MILLIONS, of dollars doing. This blows my mind. We tend to live in cultural bubbles, so most of this went under my radar until the Andrew Tate saga came up in my news feed. Tate was a former kickboxing champion who went on to champion the “ultra masculine, ultra luxurious lifestyle.” A masculinity influencer. He gave advice on how to be more attractive, how to denigrate women so they would like you, and generally just flaunted his excessive lifestyle. That is until he was arrested for rape and human trafficking. Tate seems like a ridiculous parody of machismo scum, but you have to understand, he has 4.5 million followers. Those are a lot of young and impressionable men who have been drawn to that awful way of viewing the world.
Andrew Tate espoused what many would call toxic masculinity. “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”[i] Masculinity isn’t inherent bad, but when you define your masculinity by your aggression and your sexuality, it hurts yourself and others. Additionally, fragile masculinity can be very hurtful as well. Fragile masculinity is when men allow their fear of not looking masculine control their actions. Objectively, this would be pretty funny if it wasn’t something that brought on a lot of struggle and pain for men. There are Facebook groups called “Is it gay to…” and is full of examples of men denying themselves out of fear of not looking manly enough (no more pink bubble gum, no drinking from a water fountain because it looks sexually vulnerable, no watching movies that aren’t about war…) From my perspective, this seems really silly, but to some guys the need to always look tough is a constant burden on their psyche.
Why we need Masculinity
God doesn’t particularly care about our gender identity. Paul put it best when he said “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) God doesn’t care if we are a man or a woman. God doesn’t care if we make the money, raise the kids, bench 300 lbs, bake a cake, go hunting, go swimming, sing a song, dance a lot, or any other activity our culture has over gendered. God just doesn’t care. You are not better or worse in God’s eyes for doing or not doing those things. Even though God loves us for who we are, we need to figure out who are to feel comfortable and at peace. For some of us, that quest for self includes finding healthy ways to express our masculinity.
The Bible is full of this tension concerning healthy v unhealthy masculinity. Esau was the big manly hunter while Jacob liked to dwell in the tents with the women. King David was known as the warrior, but his biggest contributions to the Bible were his songs and laments. Cain was hyper competitive while Able wasn’t in the story long enough to establish a personality because Cain was so hyper competitive.
One of the first things we need to do to establish healthy masculinity is to examine ourselves and emotional response.[ii] For generations, our culture has trained men that they can only have one emotion: anger. So we use that emotion to substitute our true feelings whenever we can. Scared=Angry, Hurt=Angry, Confused=Angry[iii], Hungry=Angry. In the scene from Ted Lasso, Ola’s presence helped Sam realize his anger was a cover for genuine emotion. We all need help recognizing fear, pain, confusion, and grief. They are scary things, and we need help coming to terms with feeling them.
Probably the most important thing we can do to create positive masculinity is to show our young men how to love. The episode of Ted Lasso ends with Sam’s teammates cleaning up his restaurant and Ola dragging Sam into the kitchen to make a meal for everyone. Ola loves to cook. In the ending montage you see the joy in Ola’s face and same responds to that joy. Growing up, I remember my father showing me how much he loved to cook too (a trait I inherited). He also loves baseball (a trait I did not inherit. Praise Jesus) My father’s love of the Bible and the Church was also instilled in me, but more important than showing me what to love, he showed me that loving something brings joy. There is a cultural struggle going on. Sometimes toxic masculinity seems a lot cooler than healthy masculinity. If you lift up men like Joe Rogan and try to give a counter healthy example of say Mr. Rogers, healthy masculinity lacks the sparkle and shine of the other. But by consistently showing our young men what we love, and that we love them, we can build a relationship worthy of being in a Bill Lawrence sitcom.