There I was, sitting in the middle of a good-sized amphitheater, guest guru for a large Seattle group of singles assembled for a local television show. The young host had me on the hot seat. I was the central focus for questions from the audience. All was going smoothly, when from the back row came a plaintive cry: “My wife died last month, and there’s no one to do my laundry!” The 50ish man was close to tears. I was mute, paralyzed by the suddenness of his outburst. The host quickly jumped in with some nondescript response, and I eventually regained my composure and my voice. But the plane trip home was, for this single maven, a meditation on male dependency/neediness — an issue that hadn’t fully registered in my psyche until that bereft widower framed it.
The truth is that men need to learn undependence as much as — or maybe more than — women. They’ve been brainwashed for generations into believing that emotions are solely female terrain, that it just isn’t manly to have your eyes well up with tears. Be a man. Suck it up. Bear quietly with whatever hurts. The result? The deepest feelings get stuffed back into the male psyche, where they fester. They don’t go away because they’re never brought out into the open and expressed. Disuse only makes them more powerful when they finally do burst out.
The result is that men look to women to express what they’re feeling. We become their emotional backboard. They feel the same emotions; I’m convinced of that. But they risk being seen as less than manly if they dare put them on display. As an advice columnist, I myself have felt society’s disapproval when I say the truth that “sometimes men make better mothers.” I’m forced to tiptoe very carefully into those words, knowing angry pushback is sure to come. And it does, every time. (More than one reader has accused Susan Deitz of secretly being a man!)
But as always, the younger generation is showing a better way. Today’s young father not only is welcome in the nursery but is encouraged by his wife to be part of domestic life. The father of today seems totally comfortable pushing his child’s stroller and taking part in the loving duties of hands-on fathering. Chances are the mother also has her duties in the wider world. And frankly, that seems so much healthier for everyone involved.
The youngish man of today is moving (slowly but steadily) toward undependence, a huge step forward for everyone. Women’s fuller expression has undoubtedly moved men in the same direction, liberating them from the “macho” absurdity and encouraging the full range of emotions. Male flexibility — making the bed and preparing meals and doing the laundry — is a necessity, considering most women no longer make the home their universe. That huge shift is prodding men to look beyond “the little wife” for emotional support — a boon for both sexes, but more so for the gender that for generations had been (among many other things) emotional backboard unlimited. Suddenly, the housekeeper had other things on her mind, pushing the man to build his own support system.
That (gentle) push toward undependence has led to a new way of relating among younger couples. (Dare I call it unisex?) The strength of this new family structure is its flexibility; partners can switch roles comfortably with each other, a particularly heartening indication that men — in years past the more compartmentalized gender — are moving into undependence (aka wholeness). Happily, I rest my case.
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