I used to love being male. I didn’t need a great job; I just needed to be the primary breadwinner in the household and all the benefits of prior male-dominated generations were bestowed upon me. Pure magic, it was. As long as I brought home the financial bacon, not much else mattered. I could lose my hair, gain 50 lbs., shower occasionally, shave infrequently, and sit on the couch and watch sports for hours, all the while “my woman” cleaned house, prepared meals, raised the kids, dieted constantly, and did everything imaginable, even unhealthy things, to look beautiful for me.
Ah, the good old days. Most of us were the poor man’s equivalent of Donald Trump, who had no chance of “attracting” his beautiful wives but for his money regardless of the size of his hands. Remember the old cartoon of a 60+ year old couple at the beach, each with identical physical profiles from the side — sagging backsides and protruding bellies — and the husband says, “You aren’t going out like that, are you?” Well, there’s your thousand words worth in one cartoon.
Not anymore. On behalf of all over-40 males, I want to apologize to millennial males — we totally screwed up a good thing. No thanks to us, you have had no choice — you had to step up your games. The tectonic inter-continental shelves of male and female socialization, once frozen in perpetual gridlock, have shifted, permanently, with women in the workplace. Of course, those of us from the 50s, 60s, and 70s may still be riding the wave, but even our days are numbered. Women have a habit of talking to each other. How dare they?
Oh sure, we brag about our conquests in life and competing in the business world, but the glass ceiling exists to protect us from competition from females, not just to keep women in their place. And why? Power and control, yes, but fragile egos play an equal part, too. Men are simply not as challenged by losing to a man as they are to losing to a female. This fear threatens us at a primal level. As the great protectors and hunter gatherers, what are we if we aren’t the dominant sex?
The truth is few old-school males want to answer that question. Instead, many of us cling to our wallets, our Emperor’s clothes, to maintain our exalted positions in relationships. We may not admit it, but our attitude and actions speak louder than words. I recall a bumper sticker from the early days of the recent recession when Democrats and Republicans were fighting over tax breaks for the most wealthy to stimulate the economy. The sticker said, “I am a job creator, kiss my butt.” Sound vaguely familiar, guys? Feel free to nod in private. Am I being overly harsh? Absolutely. The burden of being the primary breadwinner is underappreciated, and has exacted a heavy physical toll on generations of husbands and fathers health-wise and families in general. Just ask any single parent today. Life is hard — every day is a battle to survive financially. So let me be the first to say, unequivocally, that spouses and partners deserve to be loved, honored and appreciated for this, the scariest of burdens of them all — to be the only one between your family having a roof over their heads or being on the street.
But the point isn’t how we organize as couples and partners. After all, every partner in a relationship brings qualities to the table and one or the other or both may be the breadwinner. My point is simply that we need to organize in an emotionally healthy and respectful way, one where each partner’s contributions are respected and honored without one partner lording over the other. This lesson doesn’t come easily to men of my generation and older — before you blame men, however, our mothers set the example just as much as our fathers. Progress is slow, of course, glaciers are melting faster. But thanks to the positive, transformative role models of Millennials, yes, Millennials, I am learning to contribute in ways that my father and my grandfather never did.
I used to love being male. Now I kiddingly say that I am not sure it isn’t a birth defect. However, fear not, guys, not all is lost. There is a silver lining to women in the workplace. My annual check-up last year was performed by a female physician. As I turned my head and coughed, I thought to myself, “I’m not telling my wife about this.” I can hardly wait until my next appointment.
Hey, once a male, always a male. Okay, I still love being male!