Thursday, September 20, 2007

Raise the Bar

Recently, while perusing an internet news site a headline caught my eye. The article was entitled “Will Science Render Men Obsolete?”. Hmm. Had to read that one. Basically it was a report of a team of scientists who successfully turned adult stem cells taken from bone marrow into sperm cells. The research was focused on finding a solution to infertility – a noble goal to be sure. This article however seemed to be focused more on a hypothetical situation the gist of which was that a woman could get pregnant using sperm made from stem cells taken from another woman. No man, no mess. Ah…no thanks.

This touched a bit of a nerve with me. While it’s possible that this procedure may be used in some specific, isolated instances I don’t for a second believe that it will ever result in male obsolescence. My opinion has been reinforced by a later article reporting on research which determined the 237 reasons why men and women have sex. The top three reasons for men: I was attracted to the person, It feels good, and I wanted to experience physical pleasure. No brainer. Now the part that made me do the happy dance…top three for women… I was attracted to the person, I wanted to experience physical pleasure, and It feels good! No man, no mess…NO FUN! I never doubted that we do have our uses nor do I have any doubt women will be keeping us around at least a little while longer. No, the article didn’t touch a nerve because I’m worried that science will render men obsolete. It’s because of the general attitude toward men that resulted in the question even being raised at all.

Think about the stereotyped images on television that we’re bombarded with regularly. Unbathed beer swilling couch potatoes in boxer shorts. The standard TV sitcom format of fat buffoonish lizard-brained caveman married to a beautiful, intelligent wife who rolls her eyes and shakes her head as he spends the better part of a half hour making an ass out everyone with a Y chromosome. Angry, destructive, abusive, psychotic stalkers in made-for-TV movies on for-women-only cable networks. Commercials with dazed and confused fathers left to “babysit” their out of control children who proceed to destroy the house with more efficiency than a Makeover Home Edition crew all because the wife went (gasp!) SHOPPING. Murderers, rapists, scam artists, deadbeat dads, unfaithful husbands and boyfriends, players, womanizers, slimy salesmen and smarmy losers in pick-up bars. Useless, helpless, clueless, tactless, brainless, heartless, scum, scum, scum one and all.

Of course at the other end of the examples of manhood spectrum we find…The Romantic Hero. The ultimate guy. The man’s man. The woman’s man. Confident, handsome, rugged, compassionate. He can comfort a crying child, make passionate love to a beautiful woman, be a leader of men, fight for what’s right, and defeat the forces of evil. He may have flaws, wear scars, receive wounds, he may lose a battle, but he never gives up and he never loses the war. He says the right thing, does the right thing, has all the right, um…equipment…and skills for every endeavor. He is the shining example, he is the pinnacle of manhood, he is the ideal, he is…a FREAKIN’FANTASY. The helpless idiot psycho slob is our nightmare, an example of man at his worst and the inspiration for articles about science rendering men obsolete. The romantic hero on the other hand is the guy all the guys want to be and all the ladies want to be with.

The truth is that here in the real world, between those two extremes, somewhere in the middle between the scum and the hero, lies…us. The regular honest guys who work hard, play hard and just try to do the best we can. We love our wives. We love our kids. We help our friends. We have our share of stupid moments (alright, sometimes more than our share) but we really do have brains and we actually put them to use a fair amount of the time. Not every guy is DaVinci or Einstein or the guys that figured out how to get to the moon but a lot of us can do better than walking and chewing gum at the same time. We are capable of remembering our anniversary or your birthday without prompting. We get that it’s “parenting” and not “babysitting” and we relish time spent with our kids. And yes, though our parenting style may be different from our spouse’s we manage just fine and have the same number of healthy, uninjured kids when she gets back from shopping as there were when she left. We shoulder our responsibilities and hopefully, somewhere along the way, have fun and enjoy our lives.

We can all think of examples from our past where we were at our absolute best, and our absolute worst. It’s a sliding scale, that space between scum and hero, and the place we occupy on that scale can change in a heartbeat. Most of us spend the majority of our time, our normal day to day life, somewhere in the middle. But each and every one of us has the ability to move from one extreme to the other. The law of entropy states that things in order have a natural tendency to fall to disorder when left without interference. It requires very little effort to slide down the scale and you don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner in Physics to know that to push something uphill requires work. Motivation to do that work comes in many forms. For me the push to keep attacking that hill comes in no small measure from being a husband and father. More specifically, a father of daughters. Certainly it would be just as important if I had sons, but I don’t. I have daughters and that’s where my experience and focus lay.

Psychology would have us believe that girls grow up to subconsciously marry a man just like their fathers for better or worse. I’ve known women that have done just that – for better or worse. Others may go out of their way, for whatever reason, to find someone as UNlike their father as possible. Whichever direction they go, I believe (generally speaking of course) that their father/father figure is the one responsible for setting the example (good or bad) for how they see men in the future. She grows up watching the interaction between him and her mother and learns what a relationship is “supposed” to look like. He also plays a huge role in developing or damaging her self-esteem to the point that it will carry forward into her adult life.

I’m not addressing abuse here. That’s, of course, a very serious, traumatic topic that needs attention and discussion. But not here, not right now. What I’m talking about is much more subtle. Something that happens in normal homes with loving parents and that won’t devastate lives but can certainly affect them for a long time. The homes where common courtesies like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are ignored (“Hey, get me a beer!”). Where there is no respect shown (“That’s stupid”, “You’re stupid”, “Why don’t you just shut up?”). Where consideration isn’t given. The parent(s) who favor(s) (intentionally or not) one child over another. The parent(s) who still hold to the ridiculous male-dominated view that they have to have a SON and once they do the daughters are secondary. The father who prizes physical beauty and constantly harps on his daughter and for that matter, his wife about their weight or other physical attributes (“You have such a pretty face honey, if only you would lose weight”). The parent(s) for which less than perfect is unacceptable and who fail to praise honest effort (“You got a ‘B’ in math? Well, you’ll just have to study more and try harder”). These are not hypothetical. I have known real people – good, well intentioned people – that fit into all of these examples. All these things make marks. Over time they contribute to a script that will be followed later in life. A script that will affect relationships with lovers, husbands, children.

I take my responsibilities to my daughters very seriously. That’s what motivates me to push myself higher up that ladder. To show them that they don’t have to settle for the examples they see on TV and all around them. Am I always successful? Of course not. I do the best that I can but yes, sometimes I do backslide. Sometimes I even fall into the examples that I mentioned. I’m human and I hope that when they’re adults and parents they’ll understand if they don’t already. Their mother and I love each other very much. Neither they, nor anyone else that knows us can question that. They have that as an example. But in our house they also have examples of other things that are every bit as important for making a relationship work. Courtesy, consideration, and respect. Can you do it with love alone? Maybe but without those other things it’s really difficult to make it up that hill.

Someday my girls will fall in love and marry. Before they do I want to know that they are happy with and confident in themselves. That they have self-esteem and a respect for themselves. That, as Stephen Covey says, I and their mother have “communicated their worth and potential so clearly that they will unquestioningly see it in themselves”.

I want them to know that they do not have to settle. They do not have to tolerate a relationship without courtesy, consideration, and mutual respect. Nor does he. I want them to know that it is their responsibility to themselves to raise their expectations and to accept nothing less in a relationship than they deserve. I want them to know that they have the ability to raise the bar.

I’m not the only guy that’s insulted by the portrayal of men in the media and popular culture. I’m not the only guy trying to get to the top of that hill. I’m not the only guy that has realized that was he does and says to his kids today affects who they are tomorrow. That gives me hope for my girls, because some of those guys have sons.

I don’t think science will make us obsolete quite yet. There’s that whole giving physical pleasure to women thing. But we’ve got other important work to do too.


Caitlin said... so thoroughly blessed. And I have the best standard of all to compare men to. Thank you. I love you.

Godwhacker said...

Thanks for the excellent post, it is very well written. There was an episode of "Will and Grace" where the side-kick characters Jack and Karen were watching television. Unable to find anything to watch, they flipped through the channels, repeating "fat guy, skinny wife - fat guy, skinny wife". Afterwards I noticed just how many of the shows fit that motif.

Have you ever read The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand? It's her book on the philosophy of aesthetics and it deals with a lot of the things you talk about here.

With writing this good, I'll definitely be back.


Bruce, a work in progress said...

Caitlin, what can I say? You, your sisters, and your mother are my reason. Thank you for being wonderful. I love you too.

Bruce, a work in progress said...


I loved Will & Grace. I do remember that episode. That was one of those "See! What have I been saying?!!!" moments.

I haven't read that but I will definitely check it out. I've always considered myself an old movie buff but I have to admit that I haven't seen "The Fountainhead". You're right, that is indeed a powerful speach (if not so powerfully delivered). I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't read Ayn Rand. You've single-handedly increased my reading list considerably.

Thank you very much for the compliment. I hope I can maintain the momentum. I'll be visiting yours regularly as well.


Leslie Kelly said...

Beautifully said. Thanks for being such a great Dad.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm and here I thought the 3 reasons for having sex were:

1.To shut HIM up
2.To put HIM asleep
3.To make HIM stop begging


Great article I must say! Well written!

Bruce, a work in progress said...

Leslie. I don't need to write a response, you already know what I'm thinking. Thank you.

Bruce, a work in progress said...


Those were probably on the list somewhere, just not in the top three. Frankly, I was surprised to hear there were 237 reasons. Seems a tad excessive.

Thanks for the kind words!

Sweating Through fog said...

Beautiful post. As the father of two wonderful daughters, I can definitely relate.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

STTF, thank you very much. And thank you very much for stumbling on over here. I just stopped by your blog to take a look. I'll come back when I have more time to read more thoroughly. We dads of daughters need to stick together.