059 Men, Women, and Children

Two years ago Dr.Tom Goble urged me to read John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting what You Want in Your Relationships (NY: HarperCollins Publishers, c. 1992). I kept waiting for the book to come out in paperback, but (further prodded by various students’ praise it) I paid the price and now join in the applause!

Gray begins the work by saying that, over the years, 90% of 25,000 seminar participants agreed with the descriptions set forth herein. Basically, the title contains its thesis: men and women come from different planets! So “When you remember that your partner is as different from you as someone from another planet, you can relax and cooperate with the differences instead of resisting or trying to change them” (p. 5).

Unfortunately, once we find each other, we forget our origins! So tensions mount and couples strain to stay together. They forget that men tend to be “Mr. Fix-Its” and women tend to form “Home-Improvement Committees.” Women most often complain that “men don’t listen” (p. 15). If a man doesn’t totally ignore her, he typically “listens for a few beats, assesses what is bothering her, and then proudly puts on his Mr. Fix-It cap and offers her a solution to make her feel better. He is confused when she doesn’t appreciate this gesture of love. . . . . She wants empathy, but he thinks she wants solutions” (p. 15).

On the other hand, “The most frequently expressed complaint men have about women is that women are always trying to change them. When a woman loves a man she feels responsible to assist him in growing and tries to help him improve the way he does things. She forms a home-improvement committee, and he becomes her primary focus” (p. 15). Yet, women must learn, Gray contends, that “The secret of empowering a man is never to try to change him or improve him” (p. 145).

Such differences create problems, for “Martians pride themselves in doing things all by themselves. Autonomy is a symbol of efficiency, power, and competence” (p. 17). A man’s deepest fear is that he is not good enough or that he is incompetent” (p. 56). Men neither offer nor welcome advice. So long as he’s able, a man deals with problems by himself, seldom discussing “his problems unless he needs expert advice” (p. 17). Men interpret advice–and even the discussion of problems–as a negative critique of their competence. Consequently, when dealing with important issues, men retreat to “caves” in order to sort out things and make decisions.

Women, however, like to talk and share tasks and cooperatively devise solutions. Indeed, Gray declares, “On Venus, everyone studies psychology and has at least a master’s degree in counseling” (p. 19). Thus women freely discuss “problems” to build rapport and work toward an ultimate consensus. When stressed, women instinctively want to talk and are mystified when men fail to “share” their own inner anxieties and struggles.

Men and women also differ in their basic motivations. “Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed” (p. 43). But “women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished” (p. 43). Early in a romantic relationship, women intuitively discern how deeply men are drawn to women who need them–especially as a hero, a chivalrous warrior. “Deep inside every man there is a hero or a knight in shining armor. More than anything, he wants to succeed in serving and protecting the woman he loves” (p. 138). Though a man needs to get “love, his greatest need is to give love” (p. 46). But that does not mean he wants a clinging vine or a limp rag! Still more: “Ironically, men are primarily motivated by being needed, but are turned off by neediness” (p. 53).

Basic to many problems between the sexes, men and women speak profoundly “different languages.” Coming from different planets, early on they often sense this and rely on translators and struggle to interpret what’s actually being said in conversation. In time, however, they forget and begin to assume a common mother-tongue. Women tend to use poetic license, tossing off hasty generalizations; men take words literally, often wanting to see factual bases for statements.

Thus men need to learn that women talk about their feelings whereas men do not. Men must learn that they simply need to listen as an act of sharing in their women’s heart-talk. A woman, however, needs to know that a man’s silence has nothing to do with her–it’s simply his disinterest in sharing his feelings. He deals with these alone in his “cave.” Importantly, women must stay away from the “cave;” any efforts to push in will be resisted.

Men, generally fail to differentiate between “empathy” (which is the woman’s concern) with “sympathy” (which is seems like pity for weaknesses). Genuinely caring women, who bond with each other by “sharing” feelings, sometimes think they need a man who similarly shares his feelings. Empathy is the woman’s goal, but the man senses sympathy, which deeply offends him. In fact, what a woman actually needs is a man who supports her openness and vulnerability, not a man who acts like a woman.

Beyond setting forth ways to increase sexual understanding, Gray offers suggestions as to how to improve relationships. We need to learn how to “score points with the opposite sex.” Men, especially, need to learn that men count every gift, ever helpful act, as equal. Thus it is the number of gifts, not their magnificence, that ultimately counts. A dozen helpful deeds counts more than an expensive diamond!

When communication falters, Gray urges us to use the “Love Letter Technique”–writing down our deepest feelings and hopes and then granting our mate time and space to read and process our words. Though suggesting ways to argue, he fundamentally urges us to avoid arguments if at all possible. “Fighting fair” may be a utopian apparition!

Women especially need to know that “If you want to G-E-T then you have to A-S-K” (p. 245). But you have to ask right! Even the right words matter! Be direct; be brief. Say “will” and “would,” not “can” and “could.” Men hear “could” as a questioning of their ability. “On Venus their motto is “Love is never having to ask!” but “on Mars if you want support you simply have to ask for it. Men are not instinctively motivated to offer their support; they need to be asked” (p. 246).

This book reads easily. It seems on the surface just another example of a “pop-psych” best-seller, yet its message is vital. Many of my students have commented that reading it helped them a great deal, for they’ve simply never understood the deeply seated differences between men and women.

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One of the most disquieting, and profound, books I’ve read in some time is David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (NY: HarperPerennial, c. 1995). He is the president of the Institute for American Values and has been widely published. In his judgment, the demographic data show that “The United States is becoming an increasingly fatherless society” which “is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society” (p. 1).

It underlies more frequently-featured problems such as divorce, illegitimacy, domestic violence, and unsafe neighborhoods. Honestly assessed, historical evidence reveals that “in all societies, child well-being and societal success hinge largely upon a high level of paternal investment: the willingness of adult males to devote energy and resources to the care of their offspring” (p. 3). Stating his thesis, Blankenhorn declares: “If this book could be distilled into one sentence, it would be this: A good society celebrates the ideal of a man who puts his family first” (p. 5).

At issue is the very basis of civil society, civilization. To socialize men, to draw males into lasting commitments to women and children, has proven to be one of our species most daunting tasks. In “the condition of meer nature,” Thomas Hobbes theorized, children know only a mother’s rule. Consequently, “where there are no Matrimoniall lawes, it cannot be known who is the Father, unless it be declared by the Mother.”

In Blankenhorn’s judgment, “In this passage, Hobbes brilliantly adumbrates the fundamental social bases of fatherhood. For men, marriage is the precondition, the enabling context, for fatherhood as a social role. Why? Because marriage fosters paternal certainty, thus permitting the emergence of what anthropologists call the legitimacy principle” (p. 181). Thus fatherhood undergirds civil society. If you want anarchy, abolish fatherhood.

To address the issue, Blankenhorn sets forth explanations for today’s fatherlessness. The Industrial Revolution, the decline of “patriarchy,” alternative “family” models, have all contributed to the phenomenon. “In sum, over the past two hundred years, fatherhood has lost, in full or in part, each of its four traditional roles: irreplaceable caregiver, moral educator, head of family, and family breadwinner” (p. 16).

That loss now shows societal import. Violence has escalated. The data show that “Boys raised by traditionally masculine fathers generally do not commit crimes. Fatherless boys commit crimes” (p. 30). Street gangs terrorize fatherless neighborhoods. Single women, far more than wives, suffer (by a four-to-one ratio) violence at the hands of boyfriends and estranged spouses.

Children too are at risk without fathers. Unrelated males–far more than actual fathers– abuse children. So “the escalating risk of childhood sexual abuse in our society stems primarily from the growing absence of married fathers and the growing presence of stepfathers, boyfriends, and other unrelated or transient males” (p. 40). Children are safest with their dads!

For a generation we’ve popularized the notion that a “new model” can replace the traditional father. Blankenhorn sets forth characters in the contemporary “cultural script,” discussing, in successive chapters: “The Unnecessary Father,” “The Old Father,” “The New Father,” “The Deadbeat Dad,” “The Visiting Father,” “The Sperm Father,” and “The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy.”

“The Unnecessary Father” figures prominently in the vision of today’s cultural elite. Families don’t need an on-site dad. The 1992 Murphy Brown episode, Blankenhorn holds, profoundly revealed the nation’s bias, blessing unmarried moms. The year before, unmarried mothers gave birth to 30% of the nation’s children, marking an 82% increase of illegitimacy in a decade. For 20 years, the media (especially TV) has sought to ridicule fathers, unfailingly making them appear (if they even appear) as foolish and unnecessary for a happy home.

That’s because the “Old Father” represents all the opinion-makers detest. The ’50’s dad is regularly pilloried by both pundits and “family scholars” for his antiquated ways. The fashionable current “critique of paternity clearly recalls Jean-Paul Sartre’s view: ‘There is no good father, that’s the rule. Don’t lay the blame on men but on the bond of paternity, which is rotten'” (p. 90).

The only positive father portrayed by today’s cultural elite is “The New Father.” He’s the media star–tender, committed to fully sharing all in a “gender-neutral, companionate” arrangement, which may or may not be marriage. In actuality, the “New Father” is hard to find. He’s a vaporish figure, no better for children than an absent father. But he’s featured in all the slick propaganda of entrenched “experts.”

Like it or not, kids need moms and dads who are sexually distinct females and males. It’s also important that dads feel fulfilled as traditional protectors and providers. Fathering and “breadwinning” go together. A man’s competitive instincts demand an outlet, and breadwinning meets that need. When the state (as in welfare programs) or a woman (in radical feminist rhetoric) takes over the breadwinning function, men feel unneeded and turn irresponsible. In fact, today’s “feminization of poverty stems largely, in Michael Novak’s phrase, from the masculinization of irresponsibility: the refusal of fathers to provide economically for their children” (p. 115).

Ironically, though the cultural elite celebrate the “New Father” who doesn’t need to be the breadwinner so long as he relishes “co-ed mothering” in the home, they savagely denounce the “Dead Beat Dad” who shrugs off his breadwinning role by failing to pay child-support payments once he’s gone. The same folks who celebrate the “unnecessary father” also insist his child-support checks are absolutely essential. Yet it’s a fantasy to think payments, even if perfectly collected, could meet even the financial needs, much less the deeper personal needs of children.

Children whose parents have divorced almost always live with their mothers. Fathers who love their kids become “Visiting Fathers,” a role Blankenhorn finds inadequate on almost every score. Even the “visits” scar the kids, for they’re reminded of what they’ve lost rather than what’s now-and-then present. Divorce, however much it frees adults from burdensome bonds, harms children. Di- vorce apologists, who claim it simply establishes a “different” form of family, simply ignore the facts which show how profoundly divorce harms children.

Even worse, one assumes, is “The Sperm Father,” who may well be the wave of the future, as more and more unmarried women choose to bear children. “A society of Sperm Fathers,” Blankenhorn says, “is a society of fourteen-year-old girls with babies and fourteen-year-old boys with guns” (p. 184). Even more alarmingly, increasing numbers of single women now seek artificial insemination, wanting children without the hassle of husbands. “Accordingly,” when one evaluates the contemporary explosion of illegitimacy, it seems clear that “the root concern is no longer fatherless children. What matters is how the adults feel about themselves” (p. 177).

Blankenhorn’s treatment of “The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy” also deserves careful consideration. It is sheer wishful thinking to imagine stepfathers can step in an fill a father’s place. Remarriage, while satisfying adults, often disturbs children and rarely decreases their lifetime risks. In sum: there’s no substitute for “The Good Family Man,” who needs to be restored to a place of honor in America. This is the man who serves his wife and children, putting them first, who wields proper authority in rearing children, joining his wife in providing necessary ingredients for them to absorb and utilize as they mature. “Ponder the three words,” says Blankenhorn. “Good: moral values. Family: purposes larger than the self. Man: a norm of masculinity” (p. 202).

In-depth interviews with men in various cities across the nation led Blankenhorn to compile a portrait of a Good Family Man, a list of virtues which mothers also set forth: he cares and takes responsibility for his family; provides for them; sets a good example, living according to a high moral code. It’s clear that moms instinctively attend to the current needs of their kids whereas dads tend to consider future character development, often testing kids’ limits and skills; moms generally love unconditionally, always standing ready to embrace and comfort, but dads love more conditionally, challenging and reproving as necessary to shape young people into mature adults.

Neither mothers nor fathers are superior to the other. Both are needed. And what’s needed today, Blankenhorn insists, is “A Father for Every Child.” To attain that end, he suggests ways, both legal and moral, to reverse contemporary cultural currents. I don’t know if his proposals will bear fruit, but they at least provide important ideas to consider. What he does in this book, in my judgment, is to persuasively show how much we suffer as a people simply because America has become increasingly Fatherless.

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Will Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, and Thomas Naylor, professor emeritus of economics at Duke, have recently published The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c. 1995), a book worth pondering if we’re concerned about college students and young people in general. One study concludes: “‘Never before has one generation of American teen-agers been less healthy, less cared-for or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age'” (p. 13).

Symptoms of this should shock us. Drunkenness (an issue the authors recurrently address) especially blemishes today’s campuses. Sexual promiscuity and STDs scar youthful hedonists. Materialism and meaninglessness abound. Community bonds and student-faculty ties seem non-existent–75% of university graduates say they never had a professor who knew their name!.

Frankly, “What is missing in most colleges and universities is a well-defined sense of direction for administrators and faculty alike that goes beyond vague platitudes about teaching, research, and good citizenship. Why does the institution exist in the first place? Who are its constituents? What is it trying to accomplish?” (p. 58). The failure to answer such questions suggests the failure of today’s universities!

Much of the problem is simply bigness! Small schools, just by virtue of limitations and face-to-face contacts, better deal with the deep needs ot today’s collegians. As John Henry Newman said, “‘A University is, according to the usual designation, an Alma Mater, knowing her children one-by-one, not a foundry or a mint, or a treadmill'” (P. 144). Students need direction, supervision, moral examples! University professors glibly escape responsibility, pretending to believe that students should be abandoned to “think for themselves,” thus delivering them to the totalitarianism of peer pressure.

The authors plead for radical restructuring of university life. Undergraduates rather than professors should get primary attention. Professors should teach, not research and engage in grantsmanship. Monies invested in high-tech, and highly expensive, frills (e.g. PCs in every dorm room) should be given programs which clearly address authentic needs. A “curricular counterrevolution” should bring back to the learning experience a common core of basic studies. Campus organizations, religious groups, need encouraging.

This is a fine diagnosis of today’s university culture. On the whole it is a disturbing portrait. Yet, having taught in Nazarene colleges for more than three decades, what struck me is this: what Willimon and Naylor long for is basically evident (despite large shortfalls) on Christian college campuses! Reading such treatises should strengthen our resolve to maintain our traditions!