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"...covers exercise, health, diet, nutrition, self- improvement, stress management, myths, foods that can jump- start the immune system, mind fitness, personal relationships, and more."
What does it mean to be a man? If the man in question lives in America at a point in time near the end of the twentieth century, then that query has never been harder to answer. The purpose of The Complete Guide to Men's Health and Well-Being is to provide the most thorough and current information on every aspect of a man's health, from diet and exercise to emotional health. But looming behind the detailed information found here is a simple yet elusive question: What does it mean to be a man?
The answer to this deceptively simple question has never been more evasive than it is today. Men's roles have changed enormously in the last few decades, and will no doubt continue to evolve in ways that are impossible to predict. Forecasting and evaluating the state of American manhood has in fact become something of a growth industry; a scholarly journal called the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that there are some thirty books about men and masculinity either on the shelves or on their way there. Whether these titles are the result of market research or a more heartfelt effort on the part of the authors to understand the changeable state of American men is unclear, but they do indicate that men are today reexamining their lives as never before.
While everyone's life has changed radically in the last fifty years, the alterations to the fabric of men's lives in this country hasn't been fully examined—especially by men themselves. We know that there has been enormous upheaval in nearly every aspect of our lives, yet we don't understand how it has affected our emotions and the way in which we viewour place in the world. We need only think back to the lives our fathers led in the forties, fifties and early sixties—and then contrast them to the lives of our friends, our families, and ourselves today—to see the epochal shifts that have occurred in the roles men play in our society.
The most fundamental change has been to the structure of the family. "Family" in those prior decades almost always meant a father and a mother, most often with Dad as the primary breadwinner and Mom acting as homemaker and principle child-rearer. Men and women were thought to inhabit "separate spheres" in which males looked outward to face the challenges of the world while women turned inward, toward the family. That trend began in the nineteenth century and still exists today, though it's far from the norm for most families.
A family today might have a mom that goes off to work every morning and a dad who stays home with the kids. That dad might also be telecommuting via fax and modem to an office, or he may run some sort of business out of the home. Aside from the movies, there are very few "Mr. Moms" whose sole responsibility is running the household while their wives bring home the bacon; in the nineties—unlike the fifties—it generally takes two incomes to provide for all of the needs of a family.
The most typical arrangement today is one in which both parents work either full or part time, and share many more of the responsibilities of raising the kids and making a home. Permanent changes in the American economy—and more importantly, fundamental changes in the role of women in our society—ensure that the world of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" will be forever relegated to "Nick at Night."
Some perceive this sea-change as bad, but a more positive view points to the new freedoms that men now enjoy. Most of today's fathers, for example, take a much more active role in the early life of their children, to the great benefit of all involved. Being a dad today requires more than changing the odd diaper or playing catch, and there's no greater example of that than childbirth itself. Where once men were exiled to the hospital waiting room to pace and smoke, fathers now participate in their partner's pregnancy in a way that would have been unimaginable thirty years ago. And the bond that comes from a father being present at the birth of a child sets the stage for a much more intimate, loving and honest relationship between parent and child right from the start. Fathers have moved beyond the merely titular "head of the family," and can now share fully in a far more important role—being an involved parent.
While men's role in the family has changed, families themselves have also been redefined. A family today can be a single parent of either sex—again, something uncommon just a few years ago, and nearly unheard of a few decades ago barring the death of a spouse. Men have demonstrated that they can create a home and provide for their children just as well as women can, and in child custody cases it's no longer automatically assumed that sons and daughters "belong with their mother." Fathers have earned the right under the law to be seen as equal to women when it comes to raising children, and courts can now make custody decisions based on what's best for a child—and not simply gender. (Regrettably, the workplace hasn't kept pace with the law; there's no such thing as a "Daddy track" in corporate America for fathers who want to spend time with their newborn children.) Then again, a family today might consist of two partners of the same sex.
While all of these changes to American society can seem overwhelming—and might make you nostalgic for the "good old days" that are better in hindsight than they ever were in the present—they really represent great opportunities for men. A man today can be straight, gay or bisexual; he can be single, married, divorced or widowed; he can choose to be a father, and have the freedom to assign the same priority in his life to that role as mothers traditionally have; and he can combine these aspects of himself in whatever way he sees fit—and with a level of acceptance from society that's never been witnessed before.
Despite the changes of the last fifty years to the circumstances of men, there is one area in which men haven't made great strides: our emotional life. What do men think and feel about the new options and responsibilities facing them? Who knows?—most men won't say. It's certainly not that men don't feel things as deeply as women, but rather that we haven't developed our own vocabulary for this aspect of ourselves. Moreover, the whole concept of expressing—or even experiencing—emotions is often seen as "unmasculine," and is tacitly discouraged by our society.
Much of this harkens back to the turn of the century, when raising a family really became "women's work." Men spent increasing amounts of time outside the home, concentrating more on career than the role of head-of-household. As women ran the home and assumed nearly all the responsibility for raising the children, men's familial role narrowed greatly. It suddenly became almost suspect to concentrate too much on duties that were now seen as "womanly." (It is interesting to note that this is the period in which the word "sissy" first came into the vocabulary). The nurturing role of fathers, and indeed anything that smacked of the softer side of being a man, became somehow unmanly.
Today, there is a large part of the male psyche that still views our emotional life as suspect, as if feelings by their very nature make us somehow less masculine. And we get conflicting information from society about what is expected of us. The media dish up the most extreme examples from either end of our expectations. The ultimate example of the emotionless, hard-driving male is the Terminator, a being that appears to be a man but is simply a machine wrapped in flesh. (It is significant that in the sequel to the film, the Terminator evolves his own set of emotions, and even admits to one character, "I know now why you cry.") At the other end of the spectrum is poor Alan Alda, who somehow became the pi€ata for those hoping to bash "the sensitive male." It is rare to see a man depicted anywhere who can be both strong and emotional.
It was precisely this male archetype that Robert Bly wrote about in his much-maligned book Iron John. Bly was attempting to provide a new mythology for a man, a "warrior ideal" for whom toughness and sensitivity were two sides of the same coin. One might argue with his approach, but there is clearly a need for a new model of masculinity—especially for our sons. As the social critic Christopher Lasch has written, "When adult manhood labors under such a heavy cloud of suspicion, young men have to choose between equally unsatisfactory alternatives: to become more like women or to embrace a masculine style that leaves no room for love and friendship with members of either sex."
With such unsatisfactory role models, it isn't surprising that so many men report feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction. The archetypes of our society don't point the way, and there's certainly no "men's movement" akin to the one that forever changed our notions of women's roles twenty-five years ago. There is a greater variety of accepted masculine roles today, yet men are still struggling to connect with each other and with themselves. Yale University psychiatrist Kyle Pruett observes that "men aren't any happier in the nineties than they were in the fifties, but their inner lives tend to be more complex. They are interested in feeling less isolated. They are stunned to find out how rich human relationships are." If we're not there yet, then at least the seeds of change seem to be sprouting and taking root within us.
|1||To Be a Man: Our Total Well-Being|
|2||Men's Bodies - A Crash Course in Physiology|
|3||The Healthy Man|
|4||Wellness and the Mind|
|9||The Middle Years and Beyond|
|11||Eight Myths about Men|