Have gratitude and validate the vision of a bright future for men by what we have experienced in the past.
My wife saw a notice in a local newspaper about a man named Jack Myers, who was giving a talk on his latest book, The Future of Men, at a bookstore. It was a bit of a drive and I was feeling lazy, but there are so few books on such an important topic that I decided to check out what Mr. Myers had to say. I had a very meaningful experience.
The Future of Men’s main point is that there has been a climate change happening and more and more men are treading water. Just like the other climate change, many men still deny it is happening, or if they know about it, believe that it is no big deal. The sea change is the rise of the power of women in the work place and elsewhere.
The group that came to hear Mr. Myers was small and mostly female. I had hoped to be in the presence of more men who were conversant with the critical issues that Mr. Myers was discussing.
What I wasn’t expecting was the opportunity for me to start talking about some of my work history.
Mr. Myers illuminated how many men are going to need to embrace traditionally female values and skill sets if they are to obtain, and maintain, the kind of jobs they want which includes the kind that pay the bills.
As I listen to Mr. Myers and shared my associations to what he was saying, I came into a deeper realization of the blessings I have experienced due to stumbling into a profession dominated by women. Being a professional social worker, wasn’t great with paying bills, but it was great in so many other ways for this man. It was great because I had so much opportunity to learn from the examples set by women.
I got involved in doing “women’s work” by default. In high school I had difficulty with things science, math or technology. I sucked at languages too. My high school English teacher called me aside after the final exam and said “Dave, somehow you passed. My advise to you is that you seek a job where you have a good secretary. You have good ideas and horrible grammar.” I took this advice to heart. Later, I looked for somewhere I could share ideas with the help of good editors. If you are reading this, it is because I have found good editors at The Good Men Project.
I ended up becoming a social worker. In graduate school the great majority of my fellow students were female. Social Work, like teaching and nursing, have traditionally has been one of the few professions dominated by women. They tend to be the lower paying of the professions, (although this is starting to change with nursing and teaching.)
I started out my career focused on helping families having infants and preschoolers with developmental delays and disabilities. If you do any work related to children, you will most likely be surrounded by mostly female co-workers. When you work with programs providing services to children with special needs you will be working almost exclusively with mothers and step mothers.
For many men the care of young children is women’s work. As a child gets older, men may get more involved. Often, this involvement includes bonding with a child around sports and other hobbies. Children with developmental delays are often more of challenge to engage in that what and men can back off. Women often seem more attuned to the meaning behind sounds that children make. Children with speech and language delays and disorders quite often are better understood by women.
I was blessed by having two sons who were precocious. Gifted and talented children present with their own set of special needs. I worried about being a good dad. I never took care of young children growing up. I was the big brother to two siblings, but I did little to take care of them. That was for girls. My father was loving and supporting in a strong, humble, mostly silent way. He didn’t have to say “I love you son”, because I just knew. He never discussed the art of being a father that I can recall. When my oldest son was born, I knew I was prepared to show him how to put a worm on a fish hook, but he didn’t seem ready to learn that yet.
Working with women who worked with children enriched my fathering again and again. Stimulating the development of a child experiencing developmental delays involves helping parents spot developmental milestones to be on target to support what comes next. Children developing within normal limits often seem to do so in a blur. They go from better head control to rolling over to walking to riding a bike in the blink of an eye. With my kids, I got to savor their early development and my role in supporting it.
I had a fondness for play therapy for children as sad as it could be sometimes. I enjoyed supervising social workers doing play therapy. (I particularly enjoyed supervising a social worker who was doing play therapy with a chid in foster care, that the social worker went on to adopt.) I often reminded interns that they might not think that they were doing much, but just letting a child take the lead in play and following along after them. I would explain that many children have little to no experience with this kind of play with their parents.
Many parents spend their child interaction time teaching and disciplining. Free play is often a time to teach concepts. Often there is not time to affirm the child’s current development.
One day I was discussing this with an intern and my eyes teared up. I did the common guy thing of trying to repress whatever emotion I was having and hoped the intern didn’t notice the tears. I felt good that I got my supervision done without the distraction of paying attention to a vulnerable emotion. After the intern left my office, I took pause to contemplate what the extra eye moisture was about. It occurred to me that I knew how precious and limited the quality time I had to spend with my sons was. Of course, I used that time for moral teaching and general concept education. I didn’t have time just to follow them in their play. The water works started again. I couldn’t wait to get home to play.
Hopefully the future of men will include more respect and support for the nurturing abilities of fathers and for men who want to experience the richness of working with young children.
When I went on to work with men with substance abuse disorders, I discovered that much of what is focused on to help people with substance abuse disorders is teaching and supporting traditional female values and skill sets.
Encouraging men that learning how to be honest, say your sorry, clean up your own mess, reach out for support in coping with vulnerable feelings, knowing when you are experiencing a vulnerable emotion, developing a support network, talking about relationships, are strong female traditions all.
I learned a great deal by observing how female co-workers presented these themes to individuals receiving counseling for substance abuse disorders.
Writing for The Good Men Project has not been easy. I have had to endure criticism about writing like an “armchair anthropologist” with the advice to make personal connections to the subjects I want to write about. Writing for Good Men has become a therapeutic process for me. It has taken me out of my comfort zone. I have had to draw on experiences that I’ve had watching women in the workplace do their jobs. In doing so, I feel a greater connection to my masculinity. I am more open to the thoughts and support of other men.
Men have relied on women to help them with their emotions for centuries. Many relationships are strained by men relying exclusively on their female partner in this regard. Some men have found that sharing their vulnerable emotions is a sleazy way to get a women into bed. More and more men are finding that women can provide good role models as to how men can support and nurture other men, as well as women.
As more and more men embrace traditionally female values, they will reap rewards richer than job security, but that too.
I picked up a pre-signed copy of The Future of Men. After his talk Mr. Myers was open to personalizing his autograph. I am not enough of a bibliophile to care if my book was signed. I was a little worried that I had rambled on a bit too much in response to Mr. Myers presentation. It had been an important event for me, so I sheepishly asked for a personalized autograph to commit the occasion. He wrote:
“To Dave, With all my thanks. You are. . .”
and then an arrow to the book’s title. It meant a lot to me that Mr. Myers felt that I got what he was talking about. It meant more to me to have gratitude that I can validate his vision of a bright future for men, by what I have experienced in the past.
Photo: Getty Images