Brad Meltzer epitomizes the characteristics of the modern, 21st century man.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The President’s Shadow and The Fifth Assassin, as well as a line of illustrated children’s books telling the true stories of our nation’s greatest heroes. Brad is also known for his contributions to film and television, as the creator of Decoded and his new show, Lost History. Recently Brad was the keynote speaker at the annual Dad 2.0 Summit, hosted by Dove Men+Care in Washington, D.C, where the parenting and fatherhood influencers from the country gather to connect and to discuss the changing voice and perception of fatherhood today.
Q: Who were your male role models growing up and how did they influence your life decisions?
A: Let’s start with the first good man in my life—my father. It turns out that both my dad and my grandfather were struck by lightning—what are the odds of that, right? Now, my grandfather hit my father when he was a kid. But my father, he was determined never to be the kind of father he had growing up. So I have him to thank for how I turned out and how I raise my own kids. I was a kid who loved to read and draw—instead of the stereotypical boy things like sports—and I was the first one in my family to go to college. When I go into bookstores now, my son will walk up to the staff and say, “Brad Meltzer is my favorite author.” And they’ll look at me and say, “We know he’s your son.”
My other grandfather, Ben Rubin, loved Batman. He used to tell a story that I couldn’t get enough of about Batman and Robin in the Batmobile, having chased the villians, who were driving a white van, to the edge of a cliff. “What happened next?” I would ask. “And then they got ’em,” he answered. I think one day he told me that story 500 times in a row, because I made him. And that’s my definition of a hero—someone who does something solely for someone else. So in honor of my grandfather, I named the character in my first book Ben, and Ben is also my son’s middle name.
Q: The roles of men–as both husbands and fathers–have shifted dramatically in the last 50 years. What do you see as the most significant changes?
A: Your question speaks directly to this conference, which is a dream, manifested in reality. I find it both wild and incredibly heartening that we are now teaching fathers nurturing the way we force-fed it to mothers years ago. But here’s the thing about men. I’ve written comics for DC—Superman and Batman. And my favorite character in all the stories is Clark Kent. Because we’re all Clark Kent. Every guy is an everyday superhero to his kids, his family. We don’t need to leap over buildings or wear a cape to prove ourselves. And look at the way our values have shifted. I mean, President Obama wants to eat dinner with his daughters, so he makes that a priority. And men everywhere are more focused on taking better care of themselves, as well as taking a more nurturing role in their families. This new concept of the male hero also plays into my own work. I got tired of kids watching reality TV and thinking those guys were heroes. So I wrote a picture book series for kids, featuring both male and female American heroes. We’ve got Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But we’ve also got Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Lucille Ball. I loved using Lucy especially, because with her, it was never about her looks and always about her talent–in contrast to the way we force feed girls ideas about the perfect body type today. My publisher wanted another thriller, but I wanted to leave a legacy for my kids. I wanted to write the stories about what we’re all capable of on our very best days. I also wanted to encourage more sensitivity in my own kids, because being sensitive is part of who I am, and I know there are tons of sensitive boys out there who don’t fit the stereotypes of traditional, toxic masculinity. So I wrote the books I wished I had when I was a kid. And the response has been that these books are inspiring and empowering, and people from all over have thanked me for writing them. And you know what’s been the best thing of all? That all these parents are writing to me saying, “Dear Brad, My daughter is dressing up for Halloween as Amelia Earhart instead of a princess thanks to your books.” I couldn’t ask for a better reward than that.
Q: Aside from your books and other media offerings, what are some helpful resources for fathers as they navigate being a man and being a dad in the 21st century?
A: There are lots of parenting books and articles that dads can read, but here’s my number one piece of advice: Find out what your kids love–ask them what they love–and then pour yourself into it. If they love lego, get down on the floor and build with them. If they love sports, get out and play with them and coach if you’re able. If they love comics, buy a stack and read with them. Because the bottom line is, kids don’t need stuff. They need love. And as parents, we need to teach our children to love themselves for who they are, and that it’s OK to be different, that in fact, it’s better to be different, to think, act, and look different, because that difference, that uniqueness, will be the source of their strength in everything they do.
In keeping with Brad’s comments, here are some statistics from studies conducted by Dove Men+Care that shed some light on the changing shape of modern masculinity.
Dove Men+Care understands that masculinity has changed to incorporate care, but the caring side of masculinity is often overlooked
- Only 7% of men around the world can relate to depictions of masculinity they see in society today
- 86% of men agree that the concept of masculinity has changed since their father’s generation
However, men do strongly believe in evolved masculinity and expressing care, especially for their family
- 96% of men said it is important to be a caring father
- 75% of men today say this change in masculinity has had a positive impact on society
- 96% of men feel responsible for teaching their son that he can be caring as well as strong
- 94% of men feel it’s important to set a good example for the next generation of boys
- 88% of men agree they should encourage the next generation of boys to be more comfortable expressing their feelings
Men today know their caring actions are an indication of real strength, but the world around him has failed to catch up and reflect the care that makes him stronger
- 65% of men feel modern masculinity is not accurately portrayed in music videos
- 55% of men feel modern masculinity is not accurately portrayed in TV advertising
- 48% of men feel modern masculinity is not accurately portrayed on social networking sites
- 45% of men feel modern masculinity is not accurately portrayed in sports
Dove Men+Care understands that male strength today is measured by more than traditional notions of power, affluence or physical strength
- 91% of men feel it is more important to possess emotional strength versus wealth or physical strength
Caring for himself and others make the modern man stronger
- More than 9 in 10 men agree that caring makes a man stronger
- 91% of men feel taking care of their family’s needs makes him feel strong
For a refreshing perspective on modern masculinity, watch the video below, “Real Heroes Care.”
Photo courtesy of Brad Meltzer