The Man of the House. The phrase sounds like a leftover from the 1950s, like “family man.”
It reminds one of images of a man in a fedora coming home from work around 6 or 7 p.m., having a drink and reading the paper until dinner. It is the image of fatherhood that was projected on television when I was growing up. Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady, and even Don Draper in his uniquely dysfunctional way was a “man of the house.”
What role does “the man” have in a house, when things have leveled as they have?
Looking back, I was always aware that those notions of patriarchy didn’t always match up to the reality of the house where I grew up. Still, back then, Dad was an honorable character, even if he wasn’t engaged in family life in any other way than to dispense justice, advice, and money. Today, we see signs of progress in our television dads, but a fully engaged father just isn’t very funny. So even the dads who are trying seem a bit hapless and confused by their environment.
But that’s where we are. As for my buddies and me, we come home from work, and depending on the day, check homework, fold laundry (with uninterrupted ESPN), or watch the kids play soccer, baseball, hockey, lacrosse and more recently, rugby. It’s not just me, of course. The daily insanity is shared equally with my wife. It’s what we do, and we’re both as comfortable cooking as we are quietly keeping score.
But that begs the question: What role does “the man” have in a house when things have leveled as they have? Are husbands and wives interchangeable in their roles? Is masculinity, as some men argue, under assault by feminism and the modern world?
Here’s where I come down: Any man who whines about being emasculated by modern feminism isn’t much of a man. In our house, a man sets the tone by doing the things that good men — and good people — have always done. Good fathers treat their wives with respect and dignity. From where I come from — the Deep South, as if it’s not already clear — doors are opened, peers are addressed as “sir” and “ma’am” and the Golden Rule is very much in force. You treat folks as you want to be treated. That’s what a man of the house does.
Any man who whines about being emasculated by modern feminism isn’t much of a man.
When I recently busted a Lego Minecraft set that my daughter (and I) spent a lot of time creating, she was quite upset. I stayed up late, downloaded the instructions and put that thing back together. It was waiting by her bedside in the morning.
That’s what a man of the house does.
When my son recently got a bit rough at the swimming pool and scared a smaller girl, he wrote an apology note, we walked down to her house, and we delivered it. He was terrified, but proud he had stepped up and owned his mistake. Then we had a long talk about the necessity of holding back when you’re big and strong (a variation on the “with great power comes great responsibility” Spiderman theme). That’s what a man of the house does.
The man of the house has his own set of rules, and they are as old as civilization. Hubris kills. Might does not make right. Bullies do not rule the day, and folks in rags have as much dignity as a rich man. My father is fond of saying: “I’m just trying to make things better.” That’s a good way to approach it, from where I sit.
Adapt, improvise, overcome.
He’s also fond of saying, “Adapt, improvise, overcome.” (He was a Marine, after all.) That works, too, because the world is changing so fast that grappling with it head on is the only way to go. Fact is, your house needs a “man of the house.” And if you think the world doesn’t need a few more “strong, silent, types” — guys who do a bit more listening than talking — then fella, you’ve been living under a rock.