writes in Newsweek
about the growing phenomenon of men seeking eternal youth--not so much in sports cars or girlfriends who could be their daughters--but in things that are often much less dramatic or spectacular . . . things such as, well, Dave and Buster's--the Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups. Will--partly through an examination of this book
by Penn State historian, Gary Cross--seeks to trace the emergence and subsequent worsening of this trend by looking at the changes in parenting (particularly in what we call fatherhood) beginning in the post-War years of the 20th century.
It's probably not a coincidence that in the post-War years, American fathers began to be chastised to become more "huggable" (i.e., more like mothers) and to treat their children with the respect "due to a business associate" (i.e., the respect due to an equal). For this was also a time when more women and mothers began entering the workforce and, as a consequence, such hugging was probably needed as moms either were not there to offer them or were likely often too tired to note the need and supply the demand when they were. If women picked up some of the slack for men, then it was only natural for them to expect that men would pick up some of theirs. The trouble is that slack of this kind is only rarely picked up by substitutes in a way that is satisfactory. Obviously, wonderful fathers have always demonstrated love and affection for their children--but a father's love is and must be different from a mother's love. Not inferior, mind you. But different. You can tell a child that a father is just like a mom for the job of offering the oft needed hug of forgiveness and acceptance--but don't be surprised if you meet skepticism and resistance. In this we can probably account for the other piece of advice then offered to dads--treat your children as equals. If they aren't to be mothered or fathered, are children really to be expected to continue in their designated role? If they are expected to pick up some of that slack too--consoling themselves, teaching themselves, designing their own expectations, and increasingly, fending for themselves--then I suppose they really are due the respect of a business associate. Of course, this makes a house a lot more like a corporation than a home . . . but there we are.
All of these things cause men, according to Will, to begin to feel marginalized in their own homes and uncertain as to what, exactly, their roles as fathers ought to be. Perhaps even the title of the 1945 magazine from which Will extracts this bit of "advice" for fathers is telling: Parents
. "Parents" is gender-neutral. And the advice it usually offers (even to this day) might just as easily be passed along to a nanny or to a day-care worker.
Across the board, Will sees a lowering of expectations for men. The inevitable result is also a kind of sad raising of expectations for women and for children. We sell this by claiming it as liberation and enlightenment: Women today are now free to work! Kids today are so "independent!" But the reality very often falls short of the sales pitch. Is it really a wonder that so many boys now want to grow up to be boys in an age when so many real boys are expected to act like men?
Thanks to Kate for passing this along.