Why this column? Why now?
Do men even read columns about being fathers? Well no, not often. But it’s not our fault. First off, men barely have time to keep up with what NBA player is accused of raping what teenager, much less sit down with a cup a coffee and digest a stirring article by a bevy of academic and medical experts on 7th grade ADHD issues.
Plus the Wall Street Journal is sitting there looming, and any management-to-be type knows if he can’t quote from the center column of that day’s Journal, it’s best to remain hidden in the bathroom stall all morning.
“Frank didn’t know about the center column today!”
“Really, so what’s he been reading, parenting books?”
“I don’t know but when we can find him, we’re shipping him off to Duluth.”
Then there’s the whole issue of the advice thing. Does any man—besides someone too deeply in touch with his feminine side—seek relationship help from another man? Men have no problem writing into Men’s Health complaining their arms don’t look like they’re in the Special Forces, or they’ll write and ask the Car Guy if the Dodge Ram or Ford F10 has more towing power, but these are relatively new occurrences and it’s clear those men have exhausted every potential solution before submitting to the humiliation of seeking guidance.
True, men might ask another guy how to hit a hanging curve ball. Or they might recruit a neighbor who has a blowtorch if installing a garbage disposal. And they might call a fireman to learn how to put out a fire ignited by a blowtorch. But most guy-to-guy things deal with sports, smart phones, and business deals and are typically discussed over a beer, in a golf cart, or in a gym. And men do not refer to this as seeking advice. This is called guy talk. Women have never learned the difference.
But there are times when even most men feel so helpless, they actually seek advice. Like when men buy a diamond ring, we talk to our very closest friends to see if:
A. They’ve done this before?
B. How much did they spend?
C. Who’d did they buy it from?
D. Was it worth it?
But spending money is an extreme measure. Men will walk over hot coals, we will ask for directions, we will even willingly “share our feelings” with other men if it means we can save money.
But money issues aside, rarely do we men actually seek advice from other men on family matters. Even if our 13-year-old daughter has just declared her love for a drug-trafficking gangster and wants to meet up with him in Omaha, the only thing we would acknowledge to our running buddies is that teenage girls are weird.
The fact is, the whole fatherhood thing has thrown many men for a loop. The feminists have made their case. Fine, wear the damn pants, make the money…but that isn’t happening. It’s men who are working 60 hours a week and when they get home, little frightened eyeballs peer out at them wondering who is this big scary beast that just invaded their nice little room. Men are not only working harder than ever at the office, they’re staggering home trying to be homework dads, PTA dads, diaper-changing dads, soccer dads, answer dads, cooking-dinner dads and so on. And it isn’t the moms who go to bed in fear they won’t measure up financially to the clarion call of proms, college, cars and insurance. It’s dads who are wondering if they can afford Christmas this year. The fact is, dads need all the advice, all the encouragement, all the information we can get about being fathers, but where do we go? Our wives? Please. They’re in the other room praying we know what we’re doing. There’s no Oprah show for men, nothing but fitness magazines for questions, meaning that frankly we’re on our own.
So no matter what the drama is at home, being men we act like everything is under control. We read the center column of the Journal and glance at the sports page and quickly tune into MSNBC to see how the latest horror with our 401k is playing out, then we race to the airport praying our 15-year-old really is building model airplanes with all that glue.
So think about this: the guy in the plane seat next to you—the business contact you’re on your way to see, the guy you strike up a conversation with in the health club—think about what a different world it would be if you could look over at those guys and say, “Hey, tell me about your kids.”
It would be a different world. That’s what this is column is all about.