“Men just use women.”
“All men care about is beer and sports.”
These phrases and others can be found cluttering the pages of Glamour and Cosmo or typed as the header on young singles’ blogs. It appears that in recent decades, women have largely lost faith in men: in their ability to be gentlemen, to be decent, to be industrious. “He’s never going to get married.” “He’ll still be playing video games when he’s eighty.” Women, more than ever before, doubt men’s desire to settle down and raise a family, commonly labeling them “commitment-phobes” and “eternally boyish.” They often think men poor in taste, in civility, in character, in will. Feeling discouraged, frustrated, and fed up, they turn to a “girls’ night out” or a cocktail and a movie. “Who needs a man? Not me!”
In her book Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care, Kathleen Parker explains this modern phenomenon, saying, “In the process of fashioning a more female-friendly world, we’ve created a culture that is hostile towards males, contemptuous of masculinity, and cynical about the delightful differences that make men irresistible, especially when something goes bump in the night. In popular culture, rare is the man portrayed as wise, strong, and noble… One would assume from most depictions that the smart, decent man who cares about his family and who pets the neighbor’s dog is the exemption rather than the rule.” In short, men are assumed to be bad. Period. It’s in their DNA.
Yet according to The State of Our Unions, a new research project by W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt on the health of marriage and family life in America, 77% of men desire marriage. For most, having two or more children is among their top priorities. And married young men are between 11 and 28 percent more likely to report that they are “very happy” in life, compared with their unmarried friends. When we assess these realities, “Call of Duty” begins to take on a whole new meaning as it relates to the twenty-something American male.
The fact is that good men are among us. They are in our classes, on our sports teams, in our workplaces, at the grocery store. They may be more rare than we’d like; but they are far from extinct. My girlfriends and I very often have the door held for us. Male friends in my dorms have killed bugs on my ceiling more times than I can count. Such gestures are small, and surely not indicative of everything about a given man; but they are often indicative of a broader character and nobleness possessed by many. To those men who have felt unfoundedly criticized by the media, or unjustly slammed in their masculinity, I would like to pronounce: “I’m sorry! I recognize the valuable role you have to play in society and I appreciate it!”
Might I celebrate just some of the qualities (admittedly, not exclusive to men, and not all necessary, verbatim, for any given good man) that make men worthy of praise.
I see many great things about you.
Door-holding and bug-killing aside:
Good men are steady. I appreciate that I don’t have to wonder what kind of mood a man is going to be in on a given day—pleasant or irritated, cheerful or rude. With the rare exception, he is going to be essentially the same as he was yesterday: neither overly excited nor incredibly unhappy. He will be content. He is fine. A good man does not cause those around him to walk on eggshells. He is the anchor in the midst of a maelstrom. He is predictable.
In a similar vein, good men are uncomplicated. They usually say precisely what they mean, offering reliable, straightforward answers. Advice is given freely and frankly. A wife is not left wondering what her husband thinks, because he just told her a few days ago. And it is generally safe for her to assume he still holds that opinion today. Painless. Uncomplicated. Easy.
Good men are merciful. A good man is eager to extend forgiveness, particularly towards the woman he loves. I might remember something he did two years ago; he forgets what I did yesterday. It seems that men generally hold grudges less often than women, rarely entangling past wrongdoings into their overall tapestry or perception of a person. They are also good at forgiving their children. How many times is a toddler’s tearful apology met with a swift scoop into daddy’s arms, or a piggyback ride to the car? My father always forgave me. And a good man exhibits humility among his friends, as he is not prideful enough to think himself without fault and thus does not demand perfection from others.
Good men are brave. Most men are willing to take bold risks when they glimpse the possibility of a desirable outcome. If there’s any chance of the job promotion, he’s going to work harder. If the outcome is unlikely, he’ll chance victory and track it anyway. This may also be depicted in a young man pursuing a woman whose interest has yet to be confirmed, or in a male employee seeking a raise that his boss could reject. He has the courage to exert himself and look for the best. Those who claim contentment are often the very ones who lack a will to fight; they are defeated from the start. A brave man, on the other hand, is rarely content with himself.
Good men are playful. They know how to rough around with each other, wrestle out a bet, and bond on a sports field. As fathers, they tend to out-do their wives as playmates, proving playfulness to be valuable in parenting as well. Many children love few things more than playing with Dad. By age three, I was practically a professional at “flying airplane” on my daddy’s feet in our living room and “riding horsie” around our backyard. Dad will challenge you to climb to the top of the tree where Mom would get worried and tell you to come down. Men help others stretch and grow.
Good men show just anger. They are not neutral in matters of integrity. A good man is one who has trained himself to recognize that which is wrong and reject it—to respond with due disapproval which may be vehement. My father never raised his voice; but he did always speak with seriousness when one of my sisters or I was treated wrongly. A good man is less concerned when he himself has been offended, but is intolerant of injustice against the ones he loves— particularly his wife or children. Just anger is a sign that a man’s conscience is well-formed, that he has made himself skilled in distinguishing good from evil. Because he boasts virtue, he can identify vice. He is a model in morality.
Finally, good men are protectors. They have a unique ability to defend others, especially women and children, who, on a purely physical level, tend to be more vulnerable. When I was a little girl, my father descended the stairs any and every time our alarm system sounded at night. Racing into my parents’ room to cuddle up to my mother, I was always amazed that Daddy wasn’t scared. Yet dads guard their children emotionally, too. Margaret Meeker M.D., in her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, writes: “My dad protected me fiercely… not from predatory boys or monsters, but from myself. I was young and too trusting of people and he knew that long before I did.” A good man cares for his wife and children sacrificially, to the point where he is willing to forego his own wellbeing to ensure theirs. He makes a habit of small forfeitures (in matters of preference, never principle) in order that he may possess a predisposition towards selflessness should a larger, necessary sacrifice present itself. He is both motivated by and oriented toward self-abnegation.
This list is in no way exhaustive. Yet, though no man displays all of these qualities all of the time, nearly every man embodies some of them some of the time. This makes men great! When women lament that men are ‘this way’ or ‘that way,’ may we be re-inclined to remember that they are also this way (brave!) and that way (uncomplicated!)—ways which oftentimes women are not, and ways which can many times balance the qualities women possess. Such masculine qualities make men good at being husbands to their wives, talented at serving as fathers to their children. In their constitution (physical, psychological, spiritual, intellectual), men complement women quite well!—garnering hope that marriages can and will flourish, and that the model of a good husband, wife, and family is not beyond our reach.
So what woman needs a man? Every woman. Even a woman living a single life needed her father.
Josemaria Escriva said, “There is need for a crusade of manliness… to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.” As a woman, I say, “Men: an army of you have already proved yourselves well. Carry on!”