Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Generation of Men

I’ve been thinking about this new generation of men, those born in the mid-70s and later. They’re different from their fathers and grandfathers. They’re more educated, they know wine, they expect their wives to contribute financially, and they’re hands-on dads. They walk their children to school, attend parent conferences and participate in doctor visits. They cook and clean and take their turns at staying home with a sick child. All good.
However, with all good things, there comes a price. One can only do so much. Sometimes the price is the disappearance of a do-it-yourself competence. More often than not, today’s young men call Triple A to change a blowout or Angie’s List to mend a fence, build a deck, install a skylight.
  My father was old school. He didn’t cook and he didn’t clean. He knew nothing about wine and he never walked us to school, nor did he stay home with us when we were ill. What he did was navigate our road trips, take us sailing, wait up if we came in late and sentence us to weed pulling when he deemed our infractions serious.
He also supported our family and paid our bills. Whatever money my mother earned was hers. He kept up the yard, painted the house, fixed the cars, checked our tires, put up Christmas lights, solved all plumbing and electrical issues and authorized final decisions. His voice wasn’t loud, but it was mighty. In the early years, he held three jobs while earning his degree, a credit, he was quick to point out, to the GI bill. He was the father of daughters, “an incredible piece of luck,” he would say. With the wisdom of Solomon, he administered a gentle justice. There was no doubt in our family that discipline prevailed.
Growing up in a family where father knew best was a gift I didn’t appreciate until I became a parent. The security of having an intact family, of knowing that wouldn’t change, the comfort of being a phone call away from the sane and deliberate response of a man who weighed his words carefully, and with discipline and integrity gave his children a balance, a basic optimism, a belief that, no matter what, the world would eventually right itself.
His insight was priceless and completely different from my mother’s. It was a masculine insight and it, inevitably, awed us into behaviors that have carried us through the hard places. My father died 16 years ago, yet there isn't a day I don't remember his words, words like, "You won't learn anything by listening to yourself talk," or "An education is never wasted. The years will pass anyway. You may as well have something at the end of the journey."
There’s nothing wrong with knowing wine and it’s commendable and convenient for both parents to share roles. But, sometimes, it’s nice to have someone around who can contribute what you can’t.