Monday, August 20, 2007


I’ll confess I associate male dominance (i.e., over women) with arrogance (as with a master over slaves, a controlling parent over children, an expert self-important professor over undergraduates, and the ivory tower tenured over college dropouts). And I connect certain language acts with the kind of arrogance I relate to male dominance.

Yesterday, my son and I watched the film Goodwill Hunting together. Tomorrow, I accompany him to his new college to leave him to start his first semester in higher education. Lot’s of feminist, rhetoric, translation lessons for us, father and son. My son looks a little like Will (i.e., Matt Damon’s character in the film) and, like Will, is the one of all his buddies who’s going to college and, like Will again, is one who has a rare gifting that a college professor has noticed and has offered him money (i.e., a scholarship) for. But my son and I are aware of the risks of ignoring the reality of fiction, the necessities of narrative (and not just someone’s propositional truth). After all, Matt Damon and co-writer Ben Affleck are, in real life, college dropout success stories, largely because of their writing about, but not necessarily developed by, higher education. (Damon was an English major at Harvard, no less; I think Affleck dropped out of community college. I keep hearing Harvey Graff talking about the “literacy myth,” and wonder if I, an academic in English studies, have believed it for my son.) It's tough for me to leave my son. What will he become?


MMcCracken said...

He will become a fine young man, after a few years of struggling against the idea that his parents do, in fact, know exactly what they are talking about. He may not realize it until later in his life, but you gave him a wonderful gift by accompanying him to college--an emotional and psychological journey too few fathers are willing to go on and a journey too few mothers are willing to let fathers and sons do together. I know, as a feminist, I should be posting about the importance of the mother (or primary care-giving partner) in the transition from high school to college, but I'm struck by importance a father (or male role model) plays in showing young men how to be men.

As for the literacy myth, all academics, even those of us familiar with Graff, at some point bought into the myth lock, stock, and barrel. Not only did the myth get us into our BA programs, but I'm convinced the myth is the only reason a majority of us enrolled in the PhD. Aren't we all seeking some affirmation from a piece of paper? Are we not still buying into the myth with our solitary writing endeavors shared only with one another because we took the initiative to form a group of fellow dissertators?

Thank you for posting about your journey, for sharing your experience with others rather than pretending that raising your child to leave you is an easy process and transition. I have no doubts that you and partner have provided your son with the skills and examples necessary to traverse life. Sure, he's going to make mistakes, but I think he'll find--much as I did--that when he needs you, he'll call....even if it is 2:00am and he's had to clean up a friend who was nursing homesickness with a bottle of vodka (a story for another time).

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, M., for the kind, and thoughtful comments. There is no myth to the value of encouragement from a colleague and friend. And I share your belief, as a feminist, that men have much to say to one another about the equal importance of learning from women and men. (I literally just left my son at his new campus, where he'd visited twice before with his mom, who paved the way for more good beginnings.) Thank you for sharing the allusion to someone's meaningful story, of mistakes, of learning to care for others, of profoundly important lessons.