Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Letter to a Co-Worker: RE: Men are Horrible!

In my off-the-ranch job, I was talking with a divorced co-worker. She was complaining about her ex-husband, ex-boyfriends and men in general. She summed it up with the comment, "Men are horrible!"

I did not answer her immediately, but came up with this response:

Fidencia,

Yesterday, you said that, these days, men are horrible. That took me aback a little, but on reflection, I think you are right.

In humanity's early days, people lived in family and small tribal groups. This was especially important, when we lived as hunter-gathers because we had to follow the food. When we first became agrarian, we stopped migrating and lived in families and larger tribal groups, seldom more than a hundred or so as a maximum. This period of humanity lasted until the last few hundred years.

In these family and tribal groups, work was divided primarily along sexual lines: there was man's work and there was woman's work. The assignment of tasks varied between tribal groups. As the tribal groups got larger, we specialized: some families wove baskets, others threw pots, others made footwear, and so forth. These specialized skills were refined and passed from father to son and from mother to daughter. Children learned how to relate in a family by how their parents related to each other, again father to son and mother to daughter. Learning was continuous, as sons worked alongside their father and daughters worked alongside their mother.

Along came the Industrial Revolution and adults began to work outside of the home. However, because child labor was the norm, sons still worked with their fathers and daughters with their mothers. As the Industrial Revolution moved into full gear, women and children were relegated to the home while fathers worked in the factories. This created a new social animal, the part-time father. About this time, history begins to decry the existence of idle youth, mostly boys, in the cities getting into trouble. Gangs formed and the leader of the gang became a substitute father. The situation did not last long, because at fourteen or sixteen, these boys started working in the factories alongside their fathers, again. Formal education was used to consume the idle time of children.

In the 1930's, a major drought hit the United States, forcing many farm families to move to the cities to earn the money to feed and clothe themselves. World War II tore most fathers away from their families. Because military pay for draftees and lower enlisted ranks was very meager, soldiers' wives were forced to find work to feed the family. During this time, boys, without an interactive father figure in their lives, did not learn how men and women related in a healthy family.

Many soldiers never came home from the War; others came home in boxes. The rest came home changed. The training used to make soldiers of them badly disrupted, and often destroyed, the skills needed to relate in a normal family. Many came home with post-traumatic stress disorder, although no such diagnosis existed at the time. The wives had changed, also. Husbands and wives could not relate to each other along the lines of the old rules. This led to the rise of divorce in the 1950's. Many children of the Baby Boom never lived in a normal household, as defined by pre-War standards. Long commutes between work and home relegated fathers to being absentees while the children were awake.

Many families now centered around the mother. The father became superfluous. This taught boys that they were an adjunct to this "new" family, not a central part. Their behavior in the family was not important, because they were not important. Boys, now, did not have to grow up and accept traditional family responsibilities where the good of the family mattered above self.

The crucial center for education of children is the family. It is where they learn what it means to be an adult, how to relate to the opposite sex, how to care for one another, and how to nurture. More crucially, the family is where boys learn to be fathers and husbands and girls learn to be wives and mothers. It is said that a girl really needs her mother when growing up. I believe that a boy needs his father just as much. And both need a loving pair of parents to teach them what it means to be a family. Anything less is just a weak substitute. Many children do just fine with the substitute, but the substitutes provide weak lessons. These are lessons in living that schools cannot teach.

To get back to the original thought, I believe that many men whose fathers were absent, or at best, were part-time fathers, never learned how to be a husband or to be a father to their own children. Girls learned that only the mother and her decisions matter. Many learned the wrong lessons, because their mother and father were always fighting and arguing, instead of talking out issues and working out solutions.

To heal our society is a daunting task. First, the affected people, now adults, must recognize that there is a problem. Instead, they see "Leave it to Beaver" as hopelessly naive. Then, through therapy of various sorts, they need to unlearn the wrong beliefs and behaviors and then learn new ones. The first crucial lesson these adults need to learn is that every word they say, and every move they make and every action they do not take, teaches their children a lesson. There is no "grace period" for parents between birth and the time the child leaves the "nest."

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