A must read article in Scientific America Mind (May/June 2014) by Paul Raeburn provides hard data on the influence of fathers on their teenagers. One such finding, “researchers have revealed a robust association between father absence – both physical and psychological – and accelerated reproductive development and sexual risk-taking in daughters” reinforces the notion that having a Dad involved in a daughter’s life is essential for their having a balanced and mature attitude about their sexuality. Girls who grew up with a high-quality father- who spent more time as a high investing father – showed the lowest level of risky sexual behavior. There is more good stuff in the article and it also discusses Dad’s and sons. The takeaway is that we have undervalued the role of father’s in our children’s development and if there is a single mom raising kids they must find others that can help fill the role of the absent father.
It is not surprising that men are uncertain about what masculinity is all about when they are exposed to so many mixed messages. On one extreme we are told that gender neutrality is the marching order of the day and that society would be better off if men would develop their feminine side – whatever that means. On the other hand we are getting messages in advertising and other media about expressing manliness in the stereotypical characteristics of manliness that are totally out of sync. with societal norms and expectations. A recent ad for a watch in a popular car magazine -whose primary demographic is probably men- with the headline, “How to Tell Time Like a Man” used the following verbiage to describe their watch. “Your watch…..It should look like a power tool and not a piece of bling. Wearing it shouldn’t make you think twice about swinging a hammer or changing a tire. A real man’s timepiece needs to be ready for anything.” The ad goes on, “call me old fashioned , but I want my boots to be leather, my tires to be deep tread monsters, and my steak thick and rare. Inspiration for a man’s watch should come from things like fast cars, firefighters and power tools. And if you want to talk beauty, then let’s discuss a 428 cubic inch V8.”
This ad is not a parody or tongue in cheek. The company that placed is convinced that the descriptors of masculinity that they used to entice men to buy this watch will resonate with men. No wonder we are confused about our manliness. After all, the reality is that is often difficult while wearing our leather boots to change a diaper and swing a power tool at the same time.
To see into the future, look at 8th grade. If an 8th grader gets As and Bs in school that student will likely earn a college degree. If that same student gets only Bs and Cs college completion is unlikely. That is one of the stunning conclusions from authors Thoma DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann in their report on gender mobility, and college attainment. The implication of their findings are astonishing when correlated with the data that girls do better than boys in school by 8th grade and continue to widen their lead over boys in educational success. Over a life time recent data reveals that a college graduate will earn over $800,000 more than a high school graduate. The educational gender gap suggests that women may become the primary drivers of the US economy. What are the implications for defining one’s masculinity if this prediction becomes reality?
An excellent article by Leonard Pitts, recently published in the Miami Herald reflected on just named most valuable NBA player Kevin Durant’s comments about his mother’s extraordinary efforts that led to him being the man he is today. When it came to remarks about his father, who deserted the family when he was an infant, his words were expectedly brief characterized as an up and down road with the support his father had given “from afar.” Pitts’ point is that the absence of fathers matters. He goes on to say that we have evolved a society wherein we pretend the opposite is true. The disappearance of fathers is now nearly the norm. Almost one in four American children lives in a household without their biological dads. For black kids it’s a little better than half. Pitts describes the new morality that says it’s okay for a man to wander away from his child because he is immature, selfish and young. For a woman her clock is ticking and she really doesn’t need a man for anything more than sperm. If we tell ourselves this new ethic is not a problem, that the disappearance of a father leaves no scar, we are ignoring the statistics showing an increase in poverty, drug use, educational failure and incarceration that correlates with the absence of a father.
It’s time for an honest discussion about the role of men in our current social/cultural climate.