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Lamenting the demise of manliness in America

Updated: November 14, 2011 6:02PM



Whatever happened to men? That’s a common question today, being asked by social commentators, parents and single women everywhere. They are lamenting young men’s shrinking status in academia, the workplace and, maybe especially, marriage.

Young women as a group now outperform young men, sometimes significantly, in college, in employment rates and even in terms of average earnings in major cities.

Social commentators like Bill Bennett point out that, in 1970, some 80 percent of American men ages 25 to 29 were married, and that, in 2007, only 40 percent of men in that age group were wed. Many others are living in their parents’ basements, undoubtedly playing video games for hours on end.

Now I’m quick to note this is not all their fault. I’ve long bemoaned, for starters, how men in general and fathers in particular now are the butt of jokes in our popular culture. While I am by no means letting young men off the hook here, it’s simply the case that too often today’s males are living up to the low expectations the culture has for them.

In any event, weighing in on the debate with a new book is Bennett, former education secretary and current radio talk-show host.

The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood (Thomas Nelson, $34.99) is filled with accounts of what it means to be a man in six distinct areas: in war, at work, in play, in the political world, with women and children, and in prayer and reflection.

From the ancient, such as The Campaigns of Alexander the Great as told by Roman historian Arrian; to later pieces, such as The Influence of a Father by John Stuart Mill, and to accounts of modern-day dads loving their families well, it’s a compilation of portraits in manliness.

One essay in particular stands out to me. David Gelernter, the renowned Yale computer-sciences professor who was injured in an attack by the Unabomber, talks about how he is bringing up his own sons against the culture. He writes that “a man’s role in respect to women is to protect, to help, to support, to cherish as opposed to consume. We are a consumer society and the number one consumption is that of women.”

Amen to that!

I talked with Bennett. (Full disclosure: He provided a blurb for my own book, It Takes a Parent.) He told me he actually is encouraged that more and more people, including some feminists, are admitting and facing the problem of the demise of manliness. That’s a start. He also shared that the answer has to come from the culture of the home, since our larger culture does not seem to want to shift much here. At least not yet.

This means families need to teach young men what it means to be responsible, to work hard and to be prepared to someday get married and care for a wife and children. (Even if more and more of those wives can and do provide for themselves.)

I would argue that we also might teach our daughters to respect men. Real men, not the men concocted for treacly romantic comedies. And to respect themselves enough to wait for that man in every sense of that word.

Oftentimes, single moms can raise their sons to be good men. In fact, they simply have to, Bennett told me. And one of the ways they can do this is by surrounding them with good men and role models to the best of their ability.

A case in point is Bennett himself. He and his brother, celebrity attorney Robert Bennett, were raised in difficult circumstances, by a divorced mom.

Bennett said this extensive collection of essays is meant to encourage and to help us “remember what men are and what they can be.”

It does just that. But to me, it’s still a sad commentary on our culture that we so need the reminder.

Scripps Howard News Service



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