Boys are people too

Flying home from San Francisco, I was reading USA Today and came upon some thoughts that I want to share with you.

In a Money section article about which CEOs have or have not played golf with Tiger Woods, and at what price, writer Del Jones used much of the article’s space identifying these individuals and the charitable donations or luck of the draw that gained them entrance into the so-called Tiger Club. In an insightful  turn at the end,  Jones writes, “CEOs say that they are in awe of Woods, and not just because he is the best… in interviews, Woods has said that he wakes up every day knowing he can be a better husband, father and person, as well as a better golfer. That’s a mantra that strikes a chord with high achievers.” And then added a quote from Yum Brands CEO David Novak, “He has the discipline around what matters.”
Turning to the Sports section, and being a basketball fan, I found myself deliciously lost in an article about Allen Iverson’s transition to life with the Nuggets. Included in the article were quotes like “A lot of times I deserved all of the criticism because of my own actions – just being young and making dumb mistakes. Not thinking before I reacted; not thinking before I said something; not thinking when I was mad or angry.” Okay, that’s par for the course for most articles about former-bad-boys-turned-mature-players. But then there is this one: “Everything I went through in Philly, those experiences helped me to become a better husband, a better father, a better teammate. It helped me become a better person. I don’t make the mistakes I did.” Add a Tiger-ish quote, “Every day, I pray to get better as a person and a player.”
In yet a third piece in the same issue of USA Today – this time in the Life section – in an article about the TV show Lost, the character Sawyer (played by Josh Holloway) is described as a man “whose ruthlessness is tempered by glimpses of humanity in his feelings for Kate and efforts to defend his fellow castaways.” His “charm” is described as being due to the actor’s “complex portrayal of a man who doesn’t want others to see his more humane side.”
Is there some formula about doing interviews with and writing articles for USA Today? Do the airplane and hotel consumers (who I think are largely the USA Today readers, but I could be wrong) crave these messages about men and humanity? Or are we finally seeing a shift in our culture where men – including the strong, athletic, jock-ish or even ruthless types – can increasingly talk about their humanity without seeming what, for some, may feel uncomfortably feminine? Or where it’s even more attractive or brave of them to do so?
I know I need to hear this. I need to believe that men – and women, too – want to be good partners, parents and community members. I want to believe that we are increasingly turning toward a focus on our values – on being honest with each other, on our integrity, on finding a way to live peacefully together, and to raise children in ways that support their inherent kindness and goodness.
I was at a talk several years ago where (American feminist icon) Gloria Steinem praised the changes in our society when it comes to raising girls, in the sense that girls and young women today have a wider range of opportunities than in previous generations. What she urged us to do, too, is to pay attention to how we raise boys, and to do a better job of raising them as human beings. Many men feel unable to express their basic humanity – through a range of emotions (women are, too, particularly around anger, but we can discuss another day). It seems acceptable, maybe even comfortable or familiar, for men to express anger or disappointment, and certainly happiness, but what about pride (especially in one’s children or one’s partner)? What about sadness, affection, frustration? Why do so many dads have a hard time telling their sons that they love them? And vice versa – what keeps sons from getting past however their dads raised them, and deciding they are going to tell their dads that they love them anyway? Is it fear that their dads won’t say it back? Is it just “not how things are done”?
A guy once told me that he wanted to be dependable for me. He wanted me to feel like I could count on him, like he was my “rock”. In so doing, he was trying to be strong in the typical ways that men try to be strong. The irony is that it seems to me to be easier to trust someone, and to find them dependable and like someone I want to count on, when I can also count on them to be exactly who they are, and to express and experience a range of human emotions. I’m not asking for a guy who breaks down and cries at every single meal and constantly reveals father issues a la every single movie Tom Cruise has ever been in… I’m just saying that it’s nice to know that your partner is a human being just like you, and going through the same kinds of things. Then they seem more real.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this… any of this… and that includes you, Ed the Gent. Maybe you can educate us on the proper ways for emotion-blunted men to connect with their dads. I say this with affection, of course. And gratitude for your presence in our ever-growing MSP community. As we feel for the rest of you amazing readers and commenters (you know who you are…).

[Image from this site.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at