How to repurpose power and harmony in relationships.
On one of my recent visits to see my parents, my Mother and I were taking a morning walk through the cool and heavy fog of San Francisco’s Bay. These long hikes together were a long tradition between us, during the earlier years of my life, we would share new concepts, discuss life’s challenges, and speak intimate truths on these hikes. During this particular hike, she unwittingly solved a major issue that had caused strife between the genders since the days of modern civilization. She showed me the way for us to end the patriarchy.
What is the Patriarchy?
Wikipedia defines it as “a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property” Merriam Webster concurs with “a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family.” The urban dictionary has a less than pleasant definition: “the bogeyman that feminists blame for women’s problems.”
Regardless of your definition, the Patriarchy is a long-standing hot topic because of its effects on today’s society and the negative impact on women’s issues, minorities, people of non-traditional sexual orientation and gender identity. This is most evident with our President who proudly displays sexist views of women, biases against transgenders, and prejudices towards minorities. However, it is incorrect to blindly conflate Men and the Patriarchy as the same thing.
My Mom might have a solution.
Here’s how it happened. As we walked, she told me that she had a desire to help me monetarily with my book launch. She wanted to participate, maybe pay for an editor or a website, or somehow contribute. Unfortunately, in the same breath, she told me, that my father had nixed her idea because of his personal reasons that are not important to the story. I saw in my mom’s face her pained, defeated expression.
My father has always been the breadwinner of our family. He is a brilliant businessman, retired young, expanded the family’s funds for the last 30 years by beating the market, and continues to control the purse strings. Historically, if my Mom wanted something outside their normal budget, she had to ask him. It was just the way things were. I am not denigrating their system because it’s worked well for them for over 50 years AND I saw, in this specific instance, how it was limiting my mother. She felt shut-down and powerless.
With her permission, I offered my Mom some advice. I recommended that she go back to my Dad and let him feel the negative impact of his decision. I told her to be raw, vulnerable, and direct with her request that she did want to invest, that the money belonged to both of them, and it was important to her. About a week later, I received a call from both of them, and with mutual glee, they told me that they wanted to help me with the book. I could hear my Mom’s smile across the telephone line.
I saw in this process a significant and vital point. My Mom, with a single conversation, broke the Patriarchal system in their relationship. The truth released the bind that he had on their mutual funds and through her passion and courage allowed them to find a mutually agreeable situation. It just took her willingness to speak the truth.
I suspect the first argument your critical mind might have while reading this article would be: “Great for your family… now, what happens in ALL the OTHER situations where the man in charge isn’t interested in listening? How do we change things then?”
My answer is simply this.
You practice patience, perseverance, and determination for your voice to be heard by those in power.
Throughout the last century, we have been witness to many significant shifts in society. For example, at the turn of the 21st century, who would have believed that gay marriage would be legal in the United States? However, in June 2015, the supreme court ruled the state’s right to limit it. Martin Luther King had a dream in 1963 of equal rights for all people. Two years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensuring African Americans right to vote.
I am not suggesting that people in disempowered positions can have their circumstances shifted overnight. It can take time, years, a generation or a century. However, I do believe that each person taking one small step, speaking one vulnerable truth can impact our society.
In my nuclear family, I am the breadwinner for my household. Blessed with my father’s business skills and my mother’s empathetic powers, I have built a successful career as a business consultant and life coach. I have taken on my father’s role of making the money, investing it, holding the savings, paying the taxes, and creating budgets for myself and my wife Morgan to follow. We are in frequent dialogue about our successes and challenges and where we want to put our funds. Monthly, I pull from Quicken our family’s spending so we can look at the numbers together.
However, in my conversations, I started to sense a recurring theme from Morgan. I heard, underneath the words, her belief that it is only me that is “making the money,” and there is a sense of guilt for her “spending it.” I clearly saw in this dynamic a strong pull, for both of us, to co-create another patriarchal system like my parents. I can be THE MAN who produces; she can be THE WOMAN who takes care of the home, like some relic of the Mad Men era. She can feel comfortable in the well-grooved treads of what we both know, and I can get the positive affirmation for producing and “carrying” her and our kids. It was a very attractive trap.
Luckily, I side-stepped it because I know the truth. The truth is that Morgan is not the one only consuming the money but actually co-manifesting it alongside me. She is the one who guides me along my journey, passionately encouraging me to write the book, taking care of my body through nutrition and food, and filling my soul with her companionship and love. I know, without a doubt, that my power to produce is based on the firm foundation of our relationship.
I know this, so I remind her. And remind her. And remind her because it’s very hard for her to confront that she is not part of a patriarchal system but an egalitarian one.
I break these habits selfishly because while I love and respect my Father, I have decided to follow my own path. I want to be able to create the system in my family that works best for me, and that is one where there isn’t an uneven power structure, we hold the responsibility together and create the exact life we want. It takes a significant amount of conversation, deliberateness, and determination to break the molds but in the end, it is worth it.
The deepest secret and one of my greatest joys is that my two step-daughters will see a new system that breaks the traditional patriarchy. By observing two powerful people living life on their own terms, they can have a new paradigm to follow. It takes one truth, and from there, a whole new world can be created and who knows what can be created. I’m excited to find out.
Ways to Integrate these concepts into your life
For the “Patriarch”
- Softly admit to yourself the power imbalance between you and your partner.
- Investigate the origins of this dynamic in your life starting with your family of origin.
- Admit to yourself the benefits that you receive from it.
- Acknowledge the impact it has on others.
- Communicate your discovery to your partner. Describe your new vision of how you would like to change it.
- Work together to come up with a plan to achieve that vision.
For the Non-Patriarch
- Feel the feelings of the power imbalance between you and your partner.
- See if this experience is new to you in this relationship or has it existed previously with other partners or in your parents.
- Deeply investigate if this dynamic provides any benefits to you personally. Be bold with this inquiry as it is highly likely there are some advantages.
- Continue to follow the threads of this research and see if you can observe how you have co-created this situation.
- When ready, bring the results of your inquiry to your partner. Let them know the impact of it, admit your part in the creation of it, and share a vision of how you’d like to uplevel this dynamic.
- Work together to come up with a plan to achieve that vision.