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Interview by Michael Cromartie

Soft Patriarchs

A conversation with Brad Wilcox.

W. Bradford Wilcox, whose assumption-busting book Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands has just been published by the University of Chicago Press, is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, a rising star in his field, and a devout Catholic. He and his wife have adopted three children from Guatemala: he isn't writing about family life from the standpoint of a detached observer. Michael Cromartie spoke with Wilcox early this summer in Washington, D.C.

You say, "Married men with children who are affiliated with conservative Protestant churches are in some ways traditional family patriarchs … but theirs is a very soft patriarchy. These family men are consistently the most active and emotionally engaged group of fathers and the most emotionally engaged group of husbands in this entire study." How does conservative Protestantism domesticate men and make them more responsive to the aspirations and needs of their wives and children?

It domesticates men by making them more attentive to the ideals and aspirations of their wives and children, and it does this by providing men with a clear message of familial responsibility, a clear sense of their own status in the family, and equally important, a male ethos where they can encounter other men who are committed to family life. Let's face it—the church is one of the few institutions in the United States where men encounter other men who are interested in talking about fatherhood and marriage—and interested also in practicing what they hear preached. You don't often find it at work; you don't find it in the sports stadium; you don't find it in the local tavern. But in church what you will find is a message and ethos that is family-focused and gives men the motivation to attend to their families. When you look at measures of paternal involvement—things like reading to your children, volunteering for a Boy Scouts group, coaching sports, and so on—active conservative Protestant ...

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