You Do Not Define Your Identity

Our identities depend on our relationships with other people. We are not autonomous individuals, contra the founding premise of most libertarianism.

From the moment we come out of the womb, we have obligations toward our parents. We don’t choose our name. We didn’t even choose to be born.

We are not autonomous. We do not get to choose our own identities.

When I got married, I became a husband with certain responsibilities and duties. This identity depends upon my wife. I don’t get to say I’m somebody else’s husband, just because I feel like it.

I am not autonomous.

When my first child was born, I became a father. This came with certain responsibilities, and it again changed my identity. My daughter now had a say in who I was.

I am not autonomous. You are not autonomous. It is literally impossible. Even if you manage to live by yourself as a hermit, with no contact with other humans for the rest of your life, you do not get to define your own identity.

The fact that you are a hermit only has any meaning because other people exist. You carry the shadow of your family wherever you go, stretching back generations.

This truth is one of the main themes of the movie The Incredibles. People with powers can no longer be superheroes because society has rejected them. They are not able to define their own identity.

Helen Parr’s new identity is that of a loving housewife. But that identity depends on her husband Bob, and it starts to crumble when she suspects he is having an affair. She does not get to define her own identity.

Buddy wants to be Mr. Incredible’s sidekick. But he doesn’t get to just choose that for himself. He doesn’t get to define his own identity. Near the end of the movie, he attempts to craft his own identity as a superhero, but that fails.

Violet doesn’t get confident until she realizes her own identity as a member of the Parr family, a family where everyone has superpowers. Once she accepts her place in this tangled web of relationships, everything starts to click.

Identity is not self-assigned. This is a truth that the transgender movement affirms when it demands everyone use the proper pronouns when addressing them. And why it’s such a sin to “deadname” someone.

Because despite the rhetoric, they do not get to autonomously define who they really are in relationship to other people. They can never be content just “living their truth.” They must have others affirm that truth as well, or else the identity they have crafted for themselves is fiction. Just like Buddy.

I don’t get to just say I’m Russian now, just because I feel like it. I also don’t get to just say I’m no longer American. The IRS, for example, might disagree.

We are not autonomous.

What does this have to do with fatherhood?

You must accept your duties as a father. You are not your own. You have been altered and changed forever because someone calls you “daddy.” Fundamentally.

You will also shape your children’s identities, whether you want to or not. You don’t have a choice. They don’t have a choice. They are stamped with your name and your image.

So shape them well.

Give them a clear identity to aspire to. What does it mean to be a member of this family? What does it mean to be a woman or a man?

You better show them. You better tell them. If you don’t, someone else will.

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