By Rob Okun
How can we in good conscience celebrate Father’s Day in the middle of an epidemic of gun violence almost exclusively perpetuated by men? We can’t.
There’ll be time enough for backyard barbeques once fathers take the lead in establishing “Dads Demand Action to Raise Healthy Boys,” following in the footsteps—a decade late—after “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense,” launched the day following the mass murders at Sandy Hook.
In recent years, a growing number of men have been questioning conventional definitions of manhood and masculinity, so it’s an apt moment—with the scourge of male mass shootings fresh in our minds—for fathers and other men to reinvent Father’s Day. A day more about raising healthy boys and girls than about flipping ‘burgers and ‘dogs on the grill, as fun as that may be.
What a powerful message it would send for fathers and other men to demonstrate the urgency of this moment by establishing a group to raise healthy boys, especially just weeks after two 18-year-old males murdered 31 people in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, among so many other mass shootings.
Think about what it could mean to transform Father’s Day from a commercial holiday to a call to action centered on raising boys. To date, fathers and mentors, uncles and coaches have rarely been organized as a group; we’re an untapped force for good that could also become a new voting bloc. Call us say, soccer dads.
While not all men are fathers; all men are sons—and all of us have a stake in how we raise boys. Clearly, the two 18-year-olds who murdered in Buffalo and Uvalde, were literally dying to be raised as healthy boys and peaceful men. Since virtually all mass shootings are perpetrated by males, isn’t a reshaped Father’s Day an apt holiday to begin asking soul-searching questions as to why?
I have long advocated that Congress enact legislation calling on the CDC to conduct a pilot program at Head Start to assess how we socialize preschool boys—including a comparison with how we socialize girls. Are we cultivating boys’ capacity to nurture, to be compassionate? Or, are we reinforcing the message that violence is an acceptable part of boyhood—and manhood?
An organization like Dads Demand Action could be a powerful lobbying force to ensure the bill gets passed and the study is launched. And if Congress is slow to act, then individual chapters could lobby, state by state, just as is happening with new gun laws.
Education and organizing would likely be among the activities Dads Demand Action undertakes throughout the year, culminating on Father’s Day weekend with hundreds of events around the country showcasing programs that promote raising healthy boys.
Not just fathers, but all men, need to take a hard look at the privilege and entitlement we’ve enjoyed simply because we were born into male-identified bodies. It’s past time to ditch the old model of ‘king-of-the-castle’ for greater rewards across the moat in the vineyards of equality: closer connections with the women and men in our lives; deeper relationships with our children; and discovering increased emotional literacy in our inner lives.
If the vast majority of nonviolent fathers and other men stand mute, then boys will grow up witnessing apoplectic dads threatening coaches at Little League games. Then Sen. Josh Hawley will get to define manhood as coldhearted, tough guy masculinity. We can’t let that happen.
Father’s Day is a time to acknowledge what it takes to raise healthy children; a time to celebrate the precious gift of being a parent. But with so many fathers and men in crisis, isn’t it also a time to consider a moratorium on conventional Father’s Day gift giving?
Instead of spending millions of dollars on Hallmark cards, let’s begin supporting efforts to establish, fund, and launch the waiting-to-be-born Dads Demand Action to Raise Healthy Boys.
This Father’s Day, if you like, sure, fire up the grill and give Dad a new fishing rod. But also, let’s encourage men—fathers, sons, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, nephews—to move off the sidelines as bystanders and onto a field of dreams as change agents cultivating a disease-resistant crop of healthy boys.