On Being Men: Letter to My Grandsons

Dear Jake, Eli, and Jack,

There are so many things I’d like to share with you.  Some will have meaning now; others are for later as you grow into manhood.  Here’s one.

Did you know that the majority of men in this country prefer Donald Trump to any of the Democratic candidates for the presidency?  For me, that fact feels like the betrayal of the American ideals and, more personally, the values I was brought up with.  Our elected president is dishonest, cruel, bigoted, and corrupt.  He’s a braggart, a misogynist (that means someone who disrespects and probably dislikes women), and a cheat.  I could say more but you get the picture.

Yet men in great numbers keep choosing him.  Instead of just dismissing him and his followers, though, you and I need to ask ourselves as honestly as possible what makes him so attractive to so many.  The temptations to join his crowd are greater than you might think, yet it would sadden me beyond measure if you yielded to them.

I think I can boil down Trump’s appeal to a simple message: people (immigrants, people of color, the “elite” (people who are well educated), and women are taking away our power.  Men must be strong and reject their takeover.

What kind of takeover are we talking about? Here’s how the Trump voters see it: “They” are taking our jobs.  They are taking our culture (this is code, meaning a diverse society that no long puts White men and especially those of northern European ancestry on top).  They are taking our homes—men are no longer the kings of their castles but must share power with their wives.  In other words, White men are no longer the automatic center of American society.  Hoards of immigrants, Black and Brown people, women, and Eastern intellectuals are attacking our traditional ways.

Not only is society changing but we can’t seem to do anything about it.  There is a tidal wave washing over us, overwhelming our efforts to maintain our way of life.  What’s worse is that all of this is happening in spite of us.  We’ve got to stop acting like helpless victims—like women.  We need to take back what rightfully belongs to us.  If we have to do that by bullying, by stealing votes, by keeping those “others” poor and powerless, we will do that.  Thus the big, orange-haired man, bellowing at the rallies, insulting all who oppose him, sneering and snarling at all opposition—that’s who we want to be.
Warriors. Big and strong, our anger released. He makes us feel more like men.

This, of course, is not even close to the kind of man I want you to be.  It’s not who your parents want you to be.  It’s not who you are.  I already see that plainly in you, Jake, at 18.  I can even see it in nine year old Eli and six year old Jack.  Your parents have taught you well.  But let me say a little more about the forces that have brought on this backlash to a century of social progress.

Trump and the White men are right: we have lost some of the power that men have had over the centuries.  Woman now vote.  Women now work out of the home and will soon earn equally with us.  Black and Brown people vote, too, and they are finding good jobs. Immigrants from around the world, people of all colors and nationalities, have entered our country in search of freedom and economic security.  Women and men, often working twice as hard as we do to earn a living for their families, often laboring at jobs that White people don’t even want to do.  I get goose bumps watching them rise.  Isn’t that the American dream?  It sure is mine and I’m happy to share.

And here’s some of the positive sides of change.  In the old days, men had to always seem, even pretend to be strong, even when we felt tired or frightened or depressed.  We couldn’t ask for help.  When I was young, cultural norms warned us not to share our feelings—bad feelings, of course, but even good feelings, like love and delight—for fear of seeming weak. We don’t have to be that way anymore.  We don’t have to act like cartoonish stereotypes of men the way that Trump and his followers do.  We don’t need guns to make us feel strong, to make us feel like men.

We can join together, share work, share feelings, share triumphs and losses, fears and loves.  With each other.  With women and children.  We can be playful and sweet.  Not always rough and tough.  We don’t have to hide behind gruff voices and threats and guns.  We can be obvious.  We can be who we are, each moment, and over the long haul.  You can’t imagine how much more energy comes from breaking the old taboos, from the ability to express all sides of our character.

By tearing down the shell we built to protect us from feeling weak, we are free to love.  To be open and close with our wives, our children, our friends.  And to feel loved.  Something that so-called “real men” rarely feel.  We can let it in and be warmed by it.  Gain confidence through it.  Find ourselves able to love others more because we feel loved.

Maybe the most extraordinary prize for the new men among us is the ability to be close, loving fathers.  We don’t have to hand the job over to mothers.  We can share.  We can begin by holding our babies, by playing with our toddlers, hanging out with our older guys (and girls).  For me, there was no deeper and no more challenging experience than raising my daughter—your mother and aunt—by myself for a while.  It made it so much easier to understand women and children.  And that made me stronger and—pay attention—less self centered.  I had to pay attention to her first.  Not something that many men have had to do.  Not something that came naturally to me, either.  But I learned, and, when you care for your little ones, you will learn too.

Getting outside ourselves, being caretakers—not just by paying the bills but, like your fathers, by changing the diapers—will make (modern) men of us all.  And I will be so proud that you are my grandsons.