At very least, man in home is an extra pair of hands

August 03, 1999|By Susan Reimer

DO MEN MATTER?

It depends on whom you ask.

And whether he is late getting home from work again. Or golfing again. Or asleep in front of the television again. And what kind of a mood she is in.

On balance, it may not be fair to measure a man's worth on the basis of how his wife/mother/girlfriend is feeling about him at the moment. Especially when there are other indexes we can use.

For example: Men are now in the minority in colleges and universities. Men hold fewer and fewer jobs in relation to women. Men are not present in the lives of more than a quarter of the nation's children. The number of women who never marry and who never have children has been rising for a generation. Men are retiring from the work force earlier. All of this was reported in Harper's magazine for June.

Also consider: In a report in the June issue of American Psychologist, two researchers concluded that the claim that good fathering is essential to the positive development of a child is a neo-conservative myth. In fact, Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach of Yeshiva University argue, the only outcome guaranteed by a father's presence in the family is domestic violence.

And finally, according to a report from the National Marriage Project, young women are increasingly disenchanted with the idea of marriage, both because they expect to be economically independent and because they don't believe their mate will measure up to their expectations of emotional intimacy -- nor will he be much help around the house.

Margaret Mead said fatherhood was a social invention. An unnatural scheme to domesticate wild beasts, like wild horses to the plow or wolves to the hearth. An old girlfriend used to say that men were good only for sex and heavy lifting. And what with your sperm banks and your personal trainers, that's not necessarily true any more.

It is predictable that the pendulum of debate would swing so far as to make a case for the superfluousness of men. You could almost see this one coming.

The vote, the birth control pill, and Title IX. Feminism, abortion, the acceptability of single motherhood, affirmative action, a woman's right to her own line of credit and day care.

These and so many other social high-water marks have changed the landscape of the possible for women. But I am not sure all of us would choose to pursue these new and exciting opportunities alone, though we may wait to pair up until later in life, when we have shed a few idealisms.

Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center, late last year repeated the finding that children without a father in the house are more likely to live in poverty and are at higher risk for dropping out of school, for ending up in jail and for teen pregnancy.

Child Trends also reported that paternal praise, as opposed to criticism or indifference, is associated with higher school achievement, higher educational goals and better classroom behavior.

Silverstein and Auerbach would conclude that a good, strong mother in the house will produce the same good results, that it is not essential that it be a father delivering these goods.

I'm no social scientist, but my guess is that the reason a resident father has so many positive outcomes is because there is also a resident mother, and they get a lot more accomplished working together, even if he isn't doing what she considers to be his fair share.

You want to see my demographic evidence? Take a look at the U.S. women's soccer team.

My guess is they can thank their fathers for that World Cup.

Certainly their mothers believed that they should be allowed to play soccer. And my guess is, it was the mothers who drove the car pool and did the paperwork for the leagues they formed.

But I'm also sure it was the fathers who were out there coaching them, coming straight from work on those fall evenings, changing clothes out of the trunks of their cars and running onto the fields.

Their wives probably volunteered them for the job. Their wives probably raised their hands at a meeting or said out loud in a group, "Sure. My husband would love to coach. I think he played when he was in school."

So you see? Men are indispensable.

Nothing worthwhile would ever get done if there were no men whom women could volunteer for the job.

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