ASU professor Neal Lester rethinks conventional wisdom on the role of fathers

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This Father’s Day, Neal Lester hopes to shake up the way people think.

Arizona State University English professor and founding director of Project Humanities was invited to deliver a Father’s Day address at Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday. The subject: a “good enough” paternity.

“Too often we talk about what good parenting is, but there is no manual for it,” Lester said.

Lester said the purpose of the Father’s Day conference is to challenge people’s beliefs about what it means to be a father, in the hope that those who listen to Sunday will understand that fatherhood is a social construct, not some thing defined by biology.

“I’m trying to challenge this notion that there is something gendered with fatherhood,” Lester said. “Whoever you are as a person is who you are as a father. “

Although the speech takes place inside a church he attends, Lester wants the speech to be universal for believers and non-believers alike, breaking with traditional church values. In this way, he plans to divide the speech into three sections led by popular music to make the topic current and relevant.

Sections will include songs such as “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” by Barbra Streisand. Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”, Temptations “Papa Was a Rollin ‘Stone” and more. Lester uses the songs to address issues of toxic masculinity, break with gender norms in religion and relationships, listen to and accept his children and the expectations of fatherhood.

One of the main points of Lester’s talk concerns toxic positivity. He said society defends the superhuman qualities and stereotypes of father figures, especially black men. Ideas like “dad knows best,” “deadbeat dad,” and “dad of the year” put father figures into narrow categories, and Lester hopes to show people that what matters most is to be the best you can be in the situation you are given.

“It’s about who we are as people,” Lester said.

Lester hopes to challenge church convention and open the conversation about fatherhood to all genders, identities and backgrounds. He does not intend to cite any writing.

The conference will take place at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast live through the church Facebook Live.

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