Six Ways Dads Can Help Raise Feminist Sons

Dads need to teach boys that men and women should be on the same side, and men should be vocal advocates for women to have the same privileges they do.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” offers a guide for raising our girls to be feminists. It’s a slim but powerful read, and I gained insight from the book and will likely read it many times throughout my life.
While Adichie’s advice can work to help moms raise their daughters and sons as feminist, it’s equally important for dads to be partners in raising feminist sons. Setting an example is powerful, and I’ve seen that since my husband is invested in teaching our son that men should be feminists. The six most powerful moves he’s made to help steer our son that direction are simple but have a major impact on a boy’s view of women.

1 | Don’t accept praise for “women’s work”

My husband stood carrying one of our identical twins in a Moby wrap, patting her bottom and bouncing her to sleep. The people around us swooned, showering him with praise for his hands-on parenting and his willingness to get out of his seat and comfort his child.
I stood less than five feet from him carrying our other twin in a Moby, except I was discreetly breastfeeding at the same time. Not one word of praise found me.
Apparently that’s because I’m the mom, and our boys live in a world where moms are expected to cook meals, change diapers, and calm babies. Dads are bona fide heroes if they join in to help.
My husband could have basked in these kind words and acknowledged all the work he was doing to be super dad. He didn’t. He never does, and he is quick to explain to our son that dads shouldn’t receive praise for doing what moms do every day.
Dads need to explain to boys, and the adults offering these accolades for a man doing “women’s work”, that parenting is parenting. Cooking is cooking. Cleaning is cleaning. None of it is gender specific, and men should not expect or receive special rewards for doing it.
 
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2 | Expose boys to female super heroes

DC hero Wonder Woman, “The Force Awakens'” heroine Rey, and resistance fighter Jyn Urso from “Rogue One” are leading the pack when it comes to strong females on screen. While these characters are beloved examples of empowered women, some male fans complained via social media when writers and directors chose to continue to make movies with female leads, implying that they couldn’t be as rich or engaging as males. Product vendors were even told not to focus on Rey toys because boys wouldn’t want a girl action figure.
To counterattack these hugely ignorant, damaging beliefs, dads should put girl action figures in boys’ hands. Teach them when they are partaking in imaginative play that it is fine for a boy to play a girl’s part. We don’t panic when our girls pretend to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, good guys with admirable skills. Why should we panic when our boys express a desire to use a light saber like Rey or lead the resistance like Jyn?
Grab autobiographies of women and share them with boys. Read through A Mighty Girl with them and teach them about girls and women who are making a difference in the world.

3 | Don’t differentiate between hobbies

Letting the aisles at a store dictate a child’s interest is a mistake. Manufacturers seem to believe boys can’t play with dolls and girls never want to build anything but their wardrobes.
Dads need to present all options to boys when it comes to hobbies, and not let the default response be that girls’ hobbies are different and therefore lesser. Boys can be in ballet. Boys can design clothes. Boys can collect cars and play with blocks. So can girls.

4 | Don’t blame a female for a man’s thoughts or actions

The conversation about how women should dress and act has been around for years. Preventing men from sexually harassing or ogling a woman’s body is often cited as the major reason women should embrace modesty. Though obviously unfair, both men and women parrot this belief, passing on to boys that a woman can be blamed for a man’s thoughts or actions.
Teach boys to deal with their own feelings and actions, and never use a woman’s attire to justify their thoughts or behavior. Teach them to scrutinize their own impulse to treat a woman like an object, rather than assume she wants to be stared at or subjected to cat calls just because she is wearing a pair of shorts or a bikini. Why are they looking for an excuse to view her as less than a person? Why are they demoting her to eye candy?

5 | Encourage coed friendships

It’s great for kids to have friends who are the same gender, but it’s equally important for them to have friends who are the opposite sex. Boys learn from friendships with girls that females aren’t the weaker sex and have great ideas of their own. They may also be less likely to tolerate other males labeling girls as dreaded, different, or cootie carriers.
Dads should also talk about their female friends, female bosses, and important females in their lives. Boys need to understand that reaching out beyond the boys’ club is much better than drawing boundaries and keeping women out.

6 | Teach boys that feminism is not male bashing

People who fear feminism often don’t fully understand the term. They believe it is women desiring a world without men, and using their voices only to tear down males. Not one male or female feminist I know actually feels this way.
Feminism is just the belief that a woman is equal to a man and that she deserves the same rights. It’s simple. In our house full of feminists, we don’t male bash. When my oldest daughter was gifted a shirt that read “girls rule, boys drool” it immediately found its way to the trash. Boys don’t have to drool for girls to rule, or vice versa. We can coexist, equally empowered.
Dads need to teach boys that men and women should be on the same side, and men should be vocal advocates for women to have the same privileges they do. Feminism is not a threat to men, but boys who are scared of empowered women are a threat to us all.

The Toy Gun Debate Can Be Incredibly Confusing For Parents of Boys

If boys biologically have an attraction to aggressive play, should we still just sit back and let them have a field day with toy guns?

We recently visited Legoland for a family vacation and stayed at the new Legoland Hotel. In the evening, the hotel hosts Lego building contests for the kids. To my surprise, many of the boys were running around with guns that they created with Legos. Of all the objects in the world, why did these kids choose to construct guns?
I wondered if this was something they were taught at home or whether there was some instinct in boys that led them to build guns instead of a boat, robot, car, etc. In my home, guns are off limits and my son has never used Legos to make a gun. What was going on here that so many of these boys were running around with Lego guns?
 
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What The Experts Say

I have to be honest, I am pretty shocked by what the experts say about kids playing with toy guns. Essentially, there are no studies linking toy gun play to future violent behavior. In fact, many experts believe that this type of creative play is necessary – and even helpful – for the growth and development of boys.
In a Today’s Parent article, psychologist Joanne Cummings, Director of Knowledge Mobilization at PREVNet – an organization focused on bullying – explained that during the ages between two and six boys typically gravitate toward active play with aggressive themes involving weapons and fighting. A recent survey found that about 60 to 80 percent of boys play with aggressive toys at home, including guns.
This kind of imaginative play helps boys understand role-playing and empathy. They are learning about power in relationships. The idea is that by “killing the bad guys”, they can have some control over their world. If they are not intentionally trying to harm someone else and if everyone is having fun, then playing in this way can teach boys self-control and self-regulation.
Fantasy play with guns is not necessarily aggressive behavior. It has actually been linked to social and cognitive development. Through imaginary games, children learn how to control impulses, delay gratification, think symbolically, view a situation from a different perspective, read other’s facial cues and body language, and relate to others in the group.
Play also allows children to act out their fears and aspirations. Finally, playing with toy guns shows children the difference between real and pretend violence. Gerald Jones points out that several psychologists he interviewed argue that it would be disadvantageous to shelter our children from this type of play because of the lessons that it teaches regarding fantasy versus reality.
It is common for boys to set up scenarios during playtime that involve killing bad guys and saving the world. It may appear negative and violent to us, but these young boys view it as them trying to keep the world safe from the bad guys. According to anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s theory, when children play with toy guns, they do it within a play frame they have created in which a shooting is not really a shooting. Children do not see their own play through the lens that we do. To children, gun play is just play, while to us it can appear scary and violent. But study after study shows that this behavior is normal for this age group, and does not indicate a problem.

Why This Is So Confusing?

After poring over all this research, I still feel leery about my own child playing with guns. Fortunately, my son is past that time frame in which gun play is typical. I still want to understand what the difference is between other countries’ cultures and American culture, where we have a long history of toy guns and wake up every morning to yet another news story about a tragic shooting. Even if boys biologically have an attraction to aggressive play, should we still just sit back and let them have a field day with toy guns when they could be focusing on other, more positive games?
Although my son never owned a toy gun, including a water gun, I have not completely sheltered him from guns such as in the Lego movie. But even though he has watched that movie about 100 times, he still never imitated the shooting activity. What makes him different? Biology? How he was raised? Maybe he is just an anomaly and part of the approximately 20 percent of boys who do not play with guns.
I asked him what he thought and he simply stated, “I know guns hurt people. Why would I want to play with something that is about hurting people? I have no interest in that.”

What Can Parents Do?

Now that you have the facts and know that if your kids play with toy guns it doesn’t necessarily mean they will grow up to be violent adults, how will you approach gun play? Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to toy guns:

Have An Open Dialogue

Talk to your children about how real guns are used and that they can harm people. It is also important to talk to them about how to resolve conflicts in peaceful ways. They need to understand that gun play is make-believe and that in real life we do not fight and hurt others. Instead, we use our words to explain how feel.

Avoid Buying Toys That Look Like Real Guns

Minimize any confusion between toy guns and real guns by only letting your kids play will toys that look nothing like a real gun, such as a neon colored water pistol. Better yet, if they want to play guns, let them create their own with other objects they already have such as popsicle sticks, toilet paper rolls, or building blocks like Legos.

Set boundaries

If they are going to play aggressive games, let them know when they cross the line and need to stop. They need to learn that the game is over when their friend is no longer having fun or when they are hurting someone else. If their actions get out of hand, we need to step in and break it up.   

Watch Closely

Give your children the freedom to play, but stay nearby and monitor what they are doing. Also, keep tabs on how much of their play time involves guns and other aggressive behavior. If they want to only play with guns and shoot the bad guys, it is a good idea to step in and help them shift gears to another type of activity.

Teach Your Kids Alternative Ways To Release Their Anger

Realize that guns are not the only way for young boys to express their anger and frustration. Direct them to other avenues, such as sports, running around outside, art, punching a pillow, singing or listening to music that matches their mood, and even shouting or imitating powerful animals like a lion. It is also critical that we give them ways to calm themselves down and to feel more balanced. Teach them deep breathing, mindfulness, and yoga to help them transform their anger into positive energy.

Realize This Is Temporary

Finally, for the majority of boys gun play will just be a stage that they will quickly grow out of. Before you know it, they will be reciting football stats like my son is doing now.

Red Flags To Watch For

Most kids outgrow aggressive gun play behavior by age six, and will then shift their attention to sports. But, what if this is not the case? According to Michael Thompson, Ph.D., a small percentage of boys have truly aggressive behavior that is worth being worried about. These boys have issues controlling their impulses and deciphering between fantasy and reality. They may frequently hit, punch, and bully other kids.
One sign to watch out for is if they do not use their imagination, such as repeating violent scenes in movies over and over again or taking one toy and using it to bash another toy repeatedly. If they are always talking about hurting others and killing bad guys, this is also a red flag. Start to address this behavior by asking them questions about who the bad guys are and why they are bothering him.
Finally, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” says to pay attention to how the other children your son is playing with are reacting. If they are wrestling and laughing, that is very different than one boy pinning another one down and the one in the inferior position looking very upset and hurt. If the troubling behavior continues, seek help by talking to your pediatrician or a therapist.

Embracing the Positivity of Boy Power

It’s common to think of boys as more physical and rambunctious than their female counterparts. But are we sending the wrong message when we reign it in?

After millennia of grossly preferring sons to daughters, our society seems increasingly ready to commit to the narrative of raising bold, confident, independent girls. We are passionate about equality and the possibility of an entire sex having the opportunities that have so long been denied.
Where can the future take us if we encourage and pride ourselves on having daughters? What injustices can we right as we overturn a culture that has left girls and women vulnerable and disenfranchised for so long?
 
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Girl power vs. boy power

The girl revolution is exhilarating, positive, necessary. I am as strong an advocate as any individual can be.
But as human nature so often ensures, one collective action often triggers an unintended and unfortunate reaction. As much as it may make us uncomfortable to contemplate, I believe we may be setting our sons up for grave disappointment.
From TED Talks to The New York Times to parenting articles and conversations with our playgroups, we’re left with the gray area of our boys. Whereas “girl power” often evokes feelings of empowerment and positivity, “boy power” is often reserved for describing negative and destructive forces.
We are continually told we must be vigilant to prevent our boys from being bullies. We are reminded that stereotypical boy behavior perpetuates rape culture and prevents our sons from being emotionally intelligent, competent human beings. In a complete 180-degree role reversal, being a well-raised boy is now largely framed by how he can best support the opposite sex.
I’m not saying that these aren’t conversations we need to be having. I’m also not saying this isn’t bringing about positive change. What I am saying is that the pervasiveness with which these topics seem to permeate every element of boyhood also creates a great deal of negativity and even shame surrounding the business of raising our sons.
Despite the growing body of evidence that girls are outperforming boys in our education systems, graduating from college at higher rates than their male counterparts, and more likely to possess the preferred leadership styles of the 21st-century world, we still aren’t openly able to speak about how our boys might be experiencing vulnerabilities.

An ineffable concoction

Parents contend with two dominating mentalities on boys: Boys are either by nature dirty and destructive little hellions, or they can grow into sensitive, emotionally intelligent, nurturing members of society – should they be raised in the correct enlightened environment.
I have three children, two of whom are boys. Without question, having sons has been the most humbling experience of my parenting journey.
The truth is, it can be overwhelming to contend with mentalities which place boys as either hopeless causes or perpetual improvement projects. So often you’ll hear intimidation, concern, and even fear when an adult discusses the prospect of having sons.
In wrestling with these issues, the truth I always come back to is this: My boys, just like all humans, are ineffable concoctions of genetics, temperaments, hormones, and life experiences. Deny the role of any of the aforementioned ingredients and you miss part of the beauty of being human. To hold that any one theory encapsulates a perfect understanding of raising boys is, in my mind, absolute folly.
My sons possess traits stereotypical of boys. They are boisterous, energetic, physical, and yes, at times aggressive.
They possess traits stereotypical of girls. They are sensitive, emotional, and frequently gravitate toward things that are “lovely” or “beautiful.”
They are different from one another. One is cautious; the other literally thanks God for danger when he prays. One is affectionate; the other only embraces when he is sick or in need of reassurance. One son is happiest playing in the dirt; the other feels most comfortable wearing a sweater vest and tie.
There are times when I have been faced with what is, in my mind, the undeniable interplay of their maleness and their interests. Despite growing up with virtually no screen time and being exposed to a spectrum of activities and experiences, they still, more often than not, prefer boy things.
There are times when I’m left wondering. Though I continually reinforce gentle play, both boys take great delight in destroying things, making noise, and causing a commotion. Modern parenting calls for an unequivocal tapering of this behavior.
At one point, I agreed with that, but now I cannot help but wonder if we are condemning physicality for its association with men the way we formerly looked down on displays of emotion because of its association with women. We’re told to avoid the “boys will be boys” mentality, but are we forgetting that boys will be kids?
At times, I see the heartbreaking vulnerability of being a boy. Being surrounded by a culture of toxic masculinity limits their interests and emotions. They also wrestle with and perhaps even underplay parts of who they are because it’s being misaligned with undesirable “boy power.”

Raising sons with positive boy power

Throughout all this, I see more and more that my job as their parent is to raise my sons up to be the best versions of themselves. I must help them build within their hearts a positive image of themselves – including positive associations with “boy power.”
Boys must be comfortable in their bodies and feel good about being boys. They must learn that they can make this world a more just place because they are inherently agents of good, not bad. They must genuinely support and encourage their female counterparts, all while seeing the uniqueness and value of their individual consciences and their maleness.
Boys growing up in the 21st century still need to hear they can be heroes. They possess the endurance, strength, compassion, and abilities that will compliment all the incredible things our society is encouraging in our girls. Yes, our sons can still slay the dragon, solve the riddle, and save the day, all the while having true partners in our daughters.
Ultimately, I hope our boys can listen to their consciences and live their lives as only they were created to live. To thrive in a world in which every boy and girl sees within themselves a power to bring about good would be a beautiful thing.
This article was previously published on thingsiteachmychildren.com.

Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just About to Light Myself on Fire Inside This Walmart

When you are evaluating store trips, you have to grade the experience on a huge curve when you have small children with you.

Sometimes, after I drop off my four-year-old at preschool in the morning, the other two kids and I make a quick stop at the grocery store. Sometimes we go to Publix and sometimes we go to Walmart, depending on how much self-hate I’m harboring on a given day. These trips usually go pretty okay. Well, relatively okay, I guess.

When you are evaluating store trips, you have to grade the experience on a huge curve when you have small children with you. For example, if you’re going to the grocery store by yourself, the outing is okay as long as you don’t…I’m not even sure how to finish this sentence. Get murdered? Mistakenly respond “you too” when the cashier gives you your receipt and says, “Thank you. Come again”?

However, when you have small kids with you, an okay grocery store visit is pretty easy to define. The trip is okay if no one falls out of the cart, throws a tantrum on the floor, knocks over more than a few cans or boxes, breaks any glass containers, poops, or eats plastic. But if any one of those things happens, it can still be okay.

Anyway, this trip to Walmart was, by the above-outlined criteria, sufficiently okay. However, a random shopper just had to ruin it for all of us (and by all of us, I am most certainly including all of you).

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While I was schlepping a case of water bottles onto the bottom of the cart, a lady came down the aisle behind us. I had to move our cart to the side so she could maneuver around it. As she passed by she took a look at the baby in her car seat on the top of the cart and the two-year-old seated in the cart basket, smiled broadly, and said, “Oh, you’re giving Mommy a break, huh?”

Oh boy. Did she ever step in it. Maybe she caught me on a bad day but did I ever let her have it.

“Um, yeah, that’s it,” I said in my really sarcastic voice, rolling my eyes for added emphasis. “It’s 10 o’clock in the morning on a weekday, but neither Mommy nor I work so I decided to take a break from finalizing my fantasy football roster to take the little scoundrels to the store with me so she could kick back for thirty minutes and put cucumber slices on her eyes or whatever.

“Better yet, she actually had some bathroom floors to scrub as well as cooking all our meals for the week because I don’t know how to use the kitchen. Actually, I don’t even know where our kitchen is. Do you happen to know? Is it somewhere near my man cave? Whatever. It doesn’t matter really. When we get out of here in like seven minutes (because these kids are driving me crazy and I don’t really do babysitting) Mommy will have to deal with them and figure out how to finish up the floor scrubbing and the cooking. Because I’ll be back in the man cave, you know, doing man stuff like making deals on the phone and talking loudly.

“But hey, it’s what Mommy signed up for, after all. When she married a man’s man like me, she knew she was going to be doing all the childcare, housecleaning, cooking, and laundry because, I mean, she is the woman. It’s only fair. I can’t be bothered with all that. Plus, even if I did try to help out, I wouldn’t be good at it because she probably has really high standards for cleaning and playing with the kids or whatever. Let’s face it, guys aren’t meant to do that stuff.

“And, of course, it’s completely impossible that a woman might be a full-time working professional; it’s not like she could be working at a hospital or something at 10 o’clock in the morning on a weekday. That’s crazy talk. Women doing jobs? That’s a good one.

“But you know what’s even funnier than that? The thought of a grown man taking care of his children while his wife is at work winning bread. Next you’ll be telling me that I’ll be washing dishes and folding laundry and cleaning freaking toilets! Good try, lady. I’m not doing any of those things because I’m a man and men do men stuff, like driving hard bargains and taking no prisoners. You can bet that’s exactly what I’ll be doing once I pawn off these insufferable kids.

“Yeah, I’m glad you stopped to comment because you’ve reminded me that Mommy’s break time is long past over. Let’s go kids, whatever your names are, let’s get out of here.”

What, you don’t think that’s how it went? Fine. You’re right.

What really happened is I smiled back at her and didn’t say a word as she walked away. And then I got a little sad for all of us. Women, men, and children. So that’s why I’m standing here in Walmart with a pack of matches in my hand. There’s only one thing left to do. Nothing to see here.

“Sir,” a concerned looking Walmart employee says to me, “are you about to light yourself on fire?”

“Yes, that’s the plan,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll grab the fire extinguisher. This actually happens a lot around here.”

This article was previously published on Explorationsofambiguity.com

Manopause: So What Exactly Can You Do About It?

You’re being asked to get off the youth train and board the over-the-hill express. Now what?

Men of a Certain Age
Volume 3 (of 3)

What are we aging men to do about our changing bodies, minds, and spirits once we recognize we’re being asked to get off the youth train and board the over-the-hill express?

Some research has shown that a change in diet can be the most effective tool for adjusting to the lower output of testosterone. This, along with a change in your exercise regime, can help counter some of the depression.

It may be time to transition from the high impact cardio and muscle building type of workouts that were so beneficial to building strength and stamina when you were younger to practices that emphasize vitality and flexibility such as meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and yoga. You may not want to drop the high impact stuff altogether, but you should moderate and begin to add restorative processes to your routine.

The difference is that the high impact types of exercise can be depleting. Every weight lifter knows that to bulk up muscle you provide your body with lots of protein and then proceed to tear the muscle fibers through anaerobic repetitive exercises using resistance. It also is known that you need to space out these workouts to allow your body to heal. The muscle rejuvenates itself by producing new muscle fiber in the micro-ruptures within the muscle. That’s why you feel sore.

Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi have the benefit of exercising joints, muscles, tendons, and bones in a way that is not depleting of your life energy (Prana, Chi, or Qi), but restorative. This, again, represents an opportunity to let go of our attachment to the exterior appearance of things – face it bro, it’s a losing battle – and a turn toward the inner, energetic nature of being.

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An interesting consequence of embracing these more inwardly enhancing practices (as opposed to concentrating on physical practices that enhance our outward appearance) is that they enhance our vitality, strengthen and shape our bodies, and make our outward appearance more supple, radiant, and beautiful.

When your body is no longer metabolizing fat the same way it used to, you need to change your diet. The high-protein, high-fat diet of an athlete like Michael Phelps – 12,000 calories a day when he was in his prime – won’t work for you when you spend your day in front of a computer.

Recommendations to cut calories and increase fiber are wise to heed, as are changes in the types of proteins you take in: less meat, because it takes more effort to digest, and more plant-based proteins. You should also think about things like cutting down on coffee and other stimulants, which can lead to the depletion of the adrenal glands.

Menopause in women is much more dramatic in its physical and hormonal changes. Psychological intensity is relative. It’s really a fool’s game to try to compare the two or draw a direct correlation between them. I think the best men can do is to try and understand that big changes are afoot, and to have some compassion for yourself and others who are experiencing them. It’s time to adapt to your new emerging reality.

Just as menopause can be a second spring for women, men too, can – actually, they must – reinvent themselves in order to grow and thrive. For all that is lost, something is also gained. We are releasing a time of life that is passing away. We should now recognize the opportunity that is being presented to us.

The first step is recognizing that we are suffering. What is our delusion? What is separating us from seeing reality clearly? Suffering comes from our disconnections with reality. We need to be aware of others’ perceptions of who we are without being imprisoned by them.

Suffering arises, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – a sort of enlightenment how-to manual from second century India – from our attachment to the fluctuations of the mind. Our minds wander and spin, generating thoughts like so many waves on the surface of a pond. If we attach our attention to the waves, be they images of who we think we are or wish to be, or something that someone said to us that offended our sense of self, we are buffeted about, constant victims of the emotional swirl that these attachments generate.

When we still the mind, not attaching ourselves to the desires, images, and ideas that arise there, the surface of the water calms. When the water is calm, placid, and clear, it is then that we can see into the depths of the pool to learn what is really there. In other words: You don’t have to believe everything you think.

The gift of Manopause – the dreaded midlife crisis – is the opportunity to let go of the transient jangle of youth. You have spent the first half of your life learning who you are. Now you can take that knowledge and be your full self. It is an opportunity to humble yourself to the reality of your limitations – which define us as surely as the banks of the pool define its depth and size –and be grateful for them. It is also an opportunity to let go of those things that are temporary and embrace what is more lasting.

Know thyself is the inscription on the doorway of the temple of Apollo, the god of light, music, and knowledge. Life is giving you the opportunity to know yourself. Embrace it.

Check out Volume 1 (“Manopause: Yep, It’s a Thing. Sorry, Dude.”) and Volume 2 (“The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Manopause”) of this three-part series.

The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Manopause

it is high time men of a certain age come to terms with their new status as “elder statesmen” and drop the game.

Men of a Certain Age
Volume 2 (of 3)

 
Aging piles on changes that need to be met with gradual (and sometimes dramatic) changes in our approach to life. We need to begin the process of letting go of youthful ideas and pursuits. We need to turn inward to examine our life choices. We need to change our diets to reflect different metabolic needs. We need to change our exercise regimes to be more restorative and less depleting.
What is demanded of us, then, is a redefinition of ourselves within the context of our personal lives, and our culture. More problematically, aging forces us to redefine ourselves to ourselves. We need to do the painful work of dispelling our own delusions about who we are. The funny (read tragic) part is that we are often the last to know.
Men are fierce protectors of our egos, which do not allow us to see or show weakness or admit the diminution of our skills or status. What might be painfully obvious to everyone around us we often refuse to admit to ourselves. This is the emotional and psychological impact of Manopause.
I had this revelation when I was being playful… okay, I was flirting, with a young woman who works the counter at the local coffee shop. She, I realized (because I am incredibly astute and emotionally aware) did not find me at all attractive. This should not come as a surprise to a 47-year-old man. She is at least half my age, and much closer in age to my teenage son than to me. It occurred to me that when I was her age, perhaps 23, people my age seemed ancient!
I’m sure young women in service jobs, or any job, have oodles of stories to tell about gross older men being inappropriate with them – not that I was being disrespectful or insinuating that our interaction should be anything other than the transactional process of buying a cup of coffee. The disconnect I experienced, though, was one of imagining myself as the handsome young man of my 20s, who might have turned her head back in the day. But the dude she saw in front of her looked like her dad.
Some older gents never lose that flirtatious side. At some point, it can become cute again, as long as it doesn’t stray into lasciviousness. I have seen younger women accept it and even play into it. This must be standard for waitresses, who make their bread and butter on tips and know how to deal with all types of weird male behavior.
For the most part, I think it is high time men of a certain age come to terms with their new status as “elder statesmen” and drop the game. We are in a new era of feminine awareness and empowerment, and men have to wake up and contribute to the rising consciousness. These are our sisters and our daughters. Respect them for the autonomous beings they are, with their own ideas and agency.
That is not to say there isn’t a place for gendered roles and the biologically hardwired signals that we send and receive as sexual beings. We just need to be conscious of our biologically triggered thoughts, feelings, and emotions and be mindful of how to handle them when we experience them.
Our society victimizes young men (and consequently women of all ages) by teaching us to disconnect our bodies from our emotions: “Man-up! Don’t be a pussy!” As a result, we decouple our own emotional sensitivity from the feelings and agency of others, especially women, who become viewed as objects of desire and conquest, without the burden of attaching a mind and a spirit to those bodies.
This is a violent process; it abuses not only women but the male psyche as well. Men are discouraged from connecting with ourselves emotionally and, at the same time, encouraged to appraise the female bodies around us as parts and pieces, like fruit in a market. This is the legacy of our cultural evolution, the vestiges of deep biological and sociological programming rearing its ugly head.
We need not be slaves to our biology or our history. We have minds as well as bodies, and we need to use our minds to make choices about how we present and represent ourselves. The things that we’ve become, the ways we identify ourselves in the world, start to matter less. The solid ground of meaning has shifted beneath our feet. We also start to take on things, that require a different set of skills.
My best buddy and I have been processing these emerging truths together. He recently said to me, “I’ve become overwhelmed with what I’ve taken on and overwhelmed with what I’m losing, with what I’m letting go of. I’ve taken on some huge responsibilities – a family, a mortgage, a place in an institution where a lot of people depend on me. To make room for these things, other things have to give way, things I really care about such as friendships, creativity, spontaneity.”
When you’re young, the universe pours energy into you. You’re a vessel of potential. As you age, you need to work, hard, just to maintain what you have. At some point, it slips away anyway. The trick is to train for longevity – to prepare yourself to still have some vigor, flexibility, and, hopefully, also a little bit of money when you’re 80.
The hardest part of this transition is coming to terms with the fact that you have limitations. You have to accept that you don’t have unlimited energy anymore. Instead, you need to attune yourself to the energy you have to work with.
By the time we’re 40, most of us have come to an understanding of who we are, psychologically, sexually, physically, and emotionally. We have some understanding of our place in society. We may not be happy with it, but we are no longer pubescent teens discovering these things about ourselves for the first time.
Men have fragile egos. (Big secret REVEALED!) The male ego balances precariously on a delicate structure of our imagined status (where we think we belong in the social pecking order) and our actual status, which is an ever shifting social construct. Status is dependent on what others think, believe, feel, and understand about us.
A man may believe himself to be strong, good looking, and powerful and have those images of himself reinforced in a certain social milieu – let’s say at the gym, for example. That same man, put into a different context where different traits are valued more highly – say at a mathematics conference at M.I.T. – may find himself in the uncomfortable position of not getting the attention he’s used to. His status is dependent on each social situation in which he finds himself.
As we age, it becomes difficult to maintain strength and good looks due to our body’s natural aging processes. Men who spent a good deal of time and energy investing in those aspects of youth that bring one power, prowess, and status may have to work that much harder to redefine themselves when nature starts to take it away.
So basically, aging sucks. But it’s better than the alternative.
Check out Volume 1 (“Manopause: Yep, It’s a Thing. Sorry, Dude.”) and stay tuned for Volume 3, in which I leave you feeling enlightened and enjoying a deep sense of spiritual harmony that will last til the end of your days.

Manopause: Yep, It's a Thing. Sorry, Dude.

If you’re male and between the ages of 40 and 55, you are going through changes. You are in a phase of life called manopause. Yes, this is a thing.

Men of a Certain Age
Volume I (of 3)

 

If you’re male and between the ages of 40 and 55, you are going through changes. You are in a phase of life called manopause. Yes, this is a thing. While not analogous, really, to what women go through in menopause, it is not without it’s true and genuine struggles.

Don’t go whining about it to your female friends. You’re not likely to get much sympathy. Women experiencing menopause go through hormonal changes that have emotional, psychological, and physical effects. This is a natural process and has even been called a “Second Spring” because it is the transition into a new phase of life untethered from the menstrual and reproductive cycles, which has defined women’s lives since puberty.

Another more widely recognized name for this phenomenon in men is Midlife Crisis. Finally, an explanation for why dad got a red Porsche and a girlfriend young enough to be your sister. This is real, people, and no laughing matter. Men really do go through profound changes in the middle years. Aside from cheap jokes and expensive therapists, there are not a lot of resources out there to help the common guy struggle through it.

Let’s look at what is going on physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually. Then we can examine ways to deal with the impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. We can also consider the changes we need to make to emerge from this transformation as better, more complete people.

Just as there are seasons in a year, there are archetypal stages of life. Birth and youth correspond to the sprouting of seeds in the spring – the tenuous grasp of new, green life taking root in fertile soil.

The summer corresponds to the flowering of youth, the growth of strong and vigorous young men and women, who mature and bear fruit in their time. It is a bountiful time full of joy and plenty and great productivity when your power is at its peak and your family is growing.

Then comes the harvest. The kids leave the nest and start their own families, and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is also a time when the leaves fall from the trees and the grasses of youth wither.

This is, generally, the time of manopause, although it is different for each individual based on his circumstances. Winter follows, a time of turning inward and of introspection. It is the time when we prepare to die and return to the source. 

When we hit our middle years, we are confronted with the reality that the juiciness of youth has started to fade. We may not want to face or admit to the loss of our youthful prowess, but we don’t really have a choice.

Actually, we do have some choices: botox, viagra, plastic surgery, hair transplants, stomach stapling, crazy diets, and fitness regimes. These are really just ways to delay the inevitable. There’s something a little grotesque in the pursuit of some of these tactics, isn’t there? Haven’t we all seen the aging star who went one nose job too far? Or the man down the road trying to comb too little hair over too big a bald spot?

Diet changes along with mental and physical fitness practices are the best ways to adapt to the many changes men face at this time of life. With the proliferation of crazy ways people try to monetize health, though, it is hard to know who to trust and what types of changes make sense for you in your individual circumstance.

How can we know what we need to do unless we know what we’re facing?

The physical changes

Here are some interesting facts about testosterone levels and what they mean for men in their 40s and 50s. “Male pattern baldness has been linked to high levels of testosterone. The pharmacological treatments out there to counter the problem of male pattern baldness can lead to adverse side effects.”

The effects mentioned are indeed adverse. Since male pattern baldness can be tied to higher levels of testosterone in the body (here’s to all you virile baldies out there!), it’s not surprising that the drugs which counteract the loss of hair are also ones that reduce testosterone levels. This can lead to a host of unwanted side effects such as “swelling in the hands or feet, swelling or tenderness in the breasts, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, depression, confusion, cold sweats, and sexual dysfunction.”

This can lead to a host of unwanted side effects, such as “swelling in the hands or feet, swelling or tenderness in the breasts, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, depression, confusion, cold sweats, and sexual dysfunction.”

Hooboy, I’d rather be bald.

Loss of hair, though, is only one of the outer and more visible signs of Manopause. Men experience changes in their sexuality also, which, as we all know, is an important part of life. Much humor (and horror) can be found in the tales of middle-aged men and women trying to figure out how much is enough. All the physical, mental, and emotional changes intersect within our sexuality: lower testosterone, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido in ourselves or in our partners. These are real (and embarrassing) challenges that we need to muddle through.

Some of the other joys of Manopause

Think of some of the ignominious insults life assaults on our already fragile egos. While women get a second spring, we get a second puberty. Hair sprouts out of our noses and our ears in unsightly tufts. Our bodies no longer rebound the way they used to. Some men experience the onset of moobs – man boobs. We don’t lose the competitive instinct, only the ability to perform at our accustomed level. Nothing is more perilous to life and limb than a bunch of middle-aged men trying to get a ball.

Our metabolism changes. You don’t need as much protein or calories as you used to when you were 25 and building muscle and could metabolize that pulled-pork sandwich with fries and three pints of IPA. Yet the pulled pork still tastes just as good, and now, with the extra pounds, the IPA doesn’t have the same effect as it did back then.

Our bellies swell and our pecs sag. Intellect and acuity of mind slowly fade. You can still remember what years Jordan won the league MVP, but you can’t find your damn keys.

I think the hardest thing to accept about this life transition is that much of what we base our identities on as men have to do with our strength, our virility, our good looks, or our prowess. These all begin to fade as our bodies age. For men whose identities are defined by these traits – the same men who found it easy to attract mates when younger – this change can be particularly jarring.

What can be done about it? Stay tuned for “The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Manopause”.

I'm Living in the Now (Thanks to My Shoulder Hair)

I was Adonis who still looked young and fresh! And then I turned 40.

“Daddy? When are you going to die?”
My four-year-old is conversing with me while comfortably perched atop the toilet. Of all three of my kids, she is the only one who needs a cheerleader in the bathroom. She talks in-between grunts (and splashes). Her face flushes red occasionally and her eyes water as she anticipates my answer to her question. I make it a rule to never engage her while she is going #2, but her inquiry is too intriguing to ignore this time.
It’s also slightly offensive.
I look at myself in the mirror above the bathroom sink, wondering what about my outward appearance sparked her sense of wonder.
I recently turned 40.
The whole year I was 39 I listened to and watched the people around me smirking and warning about the destructive, crippling nature of turning the big four-O. I laughed it off, I mean, I felt terrific! The end of my 30s and not a scratch on me! Ok, so my blood pressure was a little high, but that had nothing to do with me, hypertension runs in the family. And, yes, there was that issue in my knee whenever I jogged over a half mile, an excruciating pain forcing me to stop mid-stride and limp home, but that discomfort subsided after a few days of rest (and ice). Other than that, I felt like my 30s were chock-full of energy, vitality. I was Adonis who still looked young and fresh!  
And then I turned 40.  
I started to see hair in strange places.
And I’m not talking about ear and nose hair, either.
I’m talking about shoulder hair.
In little patchy clumps all over the outer side of my upper arms and near the nape of my neck. I mean, really? What was I supposed to do with that? Should I pluck it or leave it alone? Should I shave it? Wax it? Braid it? I wondered if my wife would be attracted to my shoulder hair. Is that even a thing? I searched ‘shoulder hair attraction’ on-line; it was definitely not a thing.
I mean, if my whole body was hairy I might be able to get away with my shoulder shag, but my minimal body hair growth through the first 39 years of my life had made my shoulder ‘fleece’ stand out like a queen without a king.
Now, my reflection stares back at me from the mirror as my daughter waits patiently for my answer to her question.
When am I going to die?  
Now I start to panic. If you want to know the truth. I can’t believe I made it this far. As a high school senior they asked: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? That only put me at 38! I was never asked to look beyond that! I’m 40 for god’s sake! I mean, what’s next? 50? 60? . . .  80!? And then what? What am I going to do if I make it to 80? How much shoulder hair will have accumulated by then? Will I have to start combing it? Massaging it with mineral oil? Will I have to wear shirts all the time? Shirts to bed? Shirts in the shower? Shirts in the public pool? In the ocean!?!?
More importantly, a man can only expect to live until they are 70-something, right!? I mean, 40 years down and what do I have to show for it? What have I done with my life? How have I made the world a better, more livable place? Am I having any impact at all?
What if I die tomorrow!? I wonder how many people would want to come to my funeral? Would anyone show up? I can hear them now:
Who died?
Dan Rose, you say?
Is that the skinny guy who wears a shirt in the pool?
Eh, just send a card and some flowers.
“Daddy?”
My daughter stands up, her face enters the reflection beside mine. She looks exactly like her mom. That’s what people always say.
Right now, through the looking glass, the way she’s standing, with her head slightly tilted and her eyes wide open, our faces bear a striking resemblance. She looks like me. A younger me.
We all grow up so fast.
“I need a wipe, Daddy,” she says with a half smile.
I smile back and our faces look so similar it’s eerie.
After I finish helping her, she hugs my leg, closing her eyes and squeezing tight for a few seconds.
Kids are the greatest huggers.
It comes to me after she runs from the bathroom, when it’s just me, alone, standing in front of the mirror holding the dirty wet wipe out in front of me like some soiled scepter.
The rules are simple.
It doesn’t matter what happens tomorrow.
It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday.    
There is only now.
I drop the wipe into the trash and turn away from my reflection, stepping out into the hallway. Giggles rise up from the living room like echoes from a dream. With nothing on the schedule for the rest of the day I think I have a few tea parties to attend to this afternoon.
I hope to earn a few more of those hugs, too.

When it Comes to Raising Boys, Emotionally Intelligent is the New Strong

Flex those empathy muscles.

After a refreshingly honest conversation over coffee with one of my oldest friends about how complicated relationships can be, he sent me this article, “The Secret to a Happy Marriage May be an Emotionally Intelligent Husband.

His caption to this message was, “We’re fucked.”

I totally get his concern. At the risk of stereotyping and generalizing (which as a rule I try not to do), the male species is not notorious for their ability to effectively communicate their feelings. It’s really no fault of their own. Up until recently the powerful cultural messages being sent to our boys was to stifle their emotions in an effort to courageously support their families.

We’re now beginning to understand the ramifications of sending such a powerful message to the patriarchs of our society.

So, even though my friend’s grim projections that the future of solid relationships is dependent on emotional intelligence from both parties, I took heart and maintained hope. As a mom of two young boys, I have no choice.

When my three-year-old whines and cries or yells with frustration, as his mother I can’t with good conscience ignore or invalidate his emotions. Of course there are times when I dismiss him, scold him, or lose my patience. But I always regret it. The times when I really listen to him and coach him through an emotional situation, we both feel more connected and his behavior becomes more manageable.

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Whether it’s with his smiles and hugs or his tears and disappointment, he is trying to communicate with me. He wants to know he is being heard and understood. He’s trying to figure out his place among the people around him. He’s human. The desire and ability to connect with other humans isn’t a male or female characteristic. It’s a human characteristic.

One of the most important building blocks for developing this characteristic is empathy. Empathy gives us the perspective to be able to treat others with kindness and compassion. It’s a golden rule. But this golden rule and the ability to empathize with others can’t be built on a crumbling foundation of misunderstood and misguided emotions.

When we fail to acknowledge, teach, and manage the emotions of our kids, girls or boys, we deprive them of truly understanding what it means to be empathetic. Behavioral psychologists have found that psychopaths (and others who suffer from mental illness and victimize people) lack the neurological capability to express empathy. While neglecting to make emotional intelligence a priority is not a direct path to social struggles as an adult (there are other factors to consider), it’s a slippery slope that can be avoided.

I hope our generation of parents will be the ones to change the way we think about the emotional development of boys. I hope we continue to see more messages that tell them emotional strength is just as (if not more) important than physical strength. If being honest with their feelings keeps couples out of divorce court citing “irreconcilable differences,” I can’t think of a more powerful demonstration of strength and manliness a father can send his children.

While our culture seems to be divided right now as to how a man should present himself, articles like the one in Business Insider give me hope. It means that people are paying attention. When people pay attention, things start to change.

I’ll continue to pay attention. No one is perfect and sometimes circumstances dictate how we approach something more than our good parenting sense does. But I’ll continue working to tip my balance in the direction of emotional intelligence. It’s definitely not the easy way. But often the right way and the easy way are two very different things.

And no one ever said parenting was easy.

Our Kind, Responsible Babysitter is a Dude (Yes, They Do That)

And he’s awesome.

I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I mention my babysitter is a dude. Some friends wonder out loud, “You’re comfortable leaving your kids with a guy?”

If you google “male babysitter,” the top results are variations on “Would you hire a male sitter?”  Meanwhile, the first page of results when you google “female sitter” features a Reddit thread titled,  “I was molested by my female babysitter.” The writer specified that the sitter was female, presumably to counter the assumption that the perpetrator was male.

Most of the sex abuse stories we see in the media feature a male perpetrator (e.g. the Penn State and St. George scandals). If we look at statistics, however, well-meaning friends should be more concerned when leaving their kids with grandparents than with a male sitter. According to the National Statistics on Child Abuse, ninety percent of child abusers are either a parent or another relative.

My toddler flings herself into Sam’s leg while my five-year-old dives into a pile of cushions, yelling, “SAM! LOOK AT ME!”

I’m at the bathroom mirror, applying mascara, explaining to Sam that the chicken nuggets are in the oven, the bedtime routine is the same as usual, and to start the process by 7:30. Sam is used to watching me put on my makeup while I give him instructions we both know he could do without. He’s been with us for three years.

I probably never would have met Sam if it hadn’t been for my younger daughter’s blow-out diaper. I’d volunteered my older daughter, who was two at the time, for a research study at our local university. Minutes into the psychology experiment, I realized my newborn urgently needed a diaper change.

Sam was working on the study for a course credit. He led me down a maze of hallways to the ladies room when I realized the moisture I felt was not perspiration but poop.

“I’ve got a major diaper situation.” I glanced toward the baby’s butt, which prompted Sam to do the same. A flicker of understanding flashed across his face and he immediately switched gears. He ducked through a doorway and gestured for me to follow. Here was a long table in a deserted classroom, perfect for tackling a Class One Blow-out.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.

I handed him a crumpled grocery bag and without hesitation, he held it open as I filled it with nearly the entire package of wipes required to remedy the situation. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t leave the building without getting his digits. Though he’d never babysat before, he said he was interested. I figured a person can learn everything they need to know to keep kids safe for a few hours, but no one can teach you how to be a decent human being. It turns out, Sam is more than decent.

He’s conscientious

He always makes sure our house is tidier than we left it. (Of course, that isn’t saying much, considering our home normally looks like it was burglarized by a baby chimp.) On Sam’s watch, every dolly, block, and stuffed animal are put away. The books that littered the floor are stacked neatly on the end table, spines facing out. The sink is empty while clean dishes drip dry on the rack.

He’s an excellent communicator

When you ask him how things went, he never says “fine.” He gives a detailed account of what sounds the kids made, when they made them, and how long he waited before going in to check on them.

When it comes to texting, Sam is so quick to reply to inquiries about his availability that I begin to worry about him on the rare occasion he doesn’t reply within a couple of hours. Meanwhile, he has never once initiated a message to me while I was out, which I love. Unless it’s an emergency, I don’t want to hear from the sitter when I’m out (and that includes texting cute pictures of my kids). I totally trust Sam to use his discretion when I’m not around, and I’m thankful that he does.

I adore watching him play with our girls

It reminds me of the way my uncle used to play with me, before he had a wife and kids of his own. My kids will never have an uncle like that, but they have Sam. He is an expert fort-builder, a masterful constructor of towers, and he enters their imaginary world with gusto.

As far as I know, Sam’s phone is not part of that world. I realize I can’t be totally sure what my sitters do when I’m not around. But my girls take after me which means they talk. A lot. Therefore, I know which sitter taught them the sexy choreography to “All The Single Ladies.” I know which sitter lets them pull up their favorite songs on YouTube. I know which sitter shows them videos of her dancing and doing acrobatics. None of these sitters are Sam.

He asks great questions

I love that Sam never asks me questions when I’m out but I love the questions that he asks when I come home. He remembers his older brother wailing on him when they were boys, but he wants to know how much fighting he should allow between our girls before he intervenes. (A lot.)  He’s concerned that our older daughter sometimes hangs back when he’s playing with our younger daughter. (She’s just an introvert.) He wonders how he should handle their excessive silliness and occasional defiance. (Use your discretion. And congratulations! They’re very comfortable with you.) He’s noticed the Jewish children’s books in our house. He wonders if we are raising our kids Jewish and what that looks like. (We have a long chat. Long enough that my husband rolls his eyes and says, “Let Sam go home, sweetie.”)

For our anniversary last year, Sam stayed overnight while my husband and I escaped to a bed and breakfast. The girls couldn’t wait. Neither could my husband and I. For twenty blissful, child-free hours, we ate, slept, read, and talked without interruptions, including texts from Sam.

“I should text him to make sure everything is ok,” I said over breakfast, sipping my hot coffee sitting down instead of sneaking a sip in-between requests for “more milk, another piece of toast, a napkin.” What a luxury.

“Everything is fine,” my husband assured me.

I resisted the urge to text.

Indeed, everything was fine and I shouldn’t have worried. One thing I am worried about, though, is who will replace Sam when he goes to law school this fall.