The Plight of a Modern Man

What does it mean to be a modern man? I don’t know. These articles seem like as good as place as any to start the conversation.

Film Title: I Love You, ManMen have become psychologically tormented at no-longer being handy around the house, according to a contractor:

Although I’ve worked for plenty of men who seem to be perfectly comfortable with the arrangement of using the money they earn with their own skills to pay for someone else’s expertise, there are three reactions I’ve grown familiar with that suggest there’s often anxiety about letting another guy do your “man jobs.” The first is sheepishness and self-deprecation. I don’t know how many times I’ve had men apologize to me for being inept at home improvements. I reassure them that hanging cabinets and repairing termite damage is not supposed to be encoded in their DNA. I’ve also been in the position of taking over a project that a man had started and then aborted once he realized he was in over his head. This can be particularly shameful and embarrassing to some guys. While I must admit that part of me sometimes wants to say, “It’s okay, little buddy, Daddy’s here now,” all I have to do is think about the times I have called tech support, near tears, to try and fix something I botched on a computer, and my empathy is restored.

Another reaction I’ve become accustomed to is the assertion—which may be legitimate, but still comes off as defensive—that “I could do this myself if I only had time.” In the worst cases, a guy will point out how easy the work he’s paying me to do is. As much as this makes me want to go to his office and tell him how cushy it must be to sit around and process loan documents all day, I remind myself that he’s only marking his territory, and I don’t need to get wrapped up in his insecurities.

Finally, there is the very successful male client who lets me know repeatedly that he is very successful, and that matters of home repair are almost too far beneath him to even discuss. This archetype is less common than you might suspect, but I have run across him, especially in the tonier ZIP codes. A surprising trait of some guys who fit this profile is parsimony. They seem surprised that I would expect to be paid a living wage to do work that I’ve mastered over decades of practice. This attitude is certainly built on classism and general obliviousness as much as gender issues, but it’s telling that I have rarely had rich women balk at estimates I’ve given them for work, whereas with rich men, haggling seems to be a necessary ritual.

Adult men have long struggled with maintaining male friendships as they grow older and the pressure to be both a father/husband and career climber sets it. The desire to old onto those friendships later in life is more important than ever, but how do we do this while juggling all of those other commitments in a meaningful way?

Even those who have excelled, or are becoming better at, male bonding, attest to the challenges, particularly in those decades between boyhood and retirement. “One could argue that pressures of work and family ought to increase the desire of men to seek advice from others,” says Warren Sherman, who is part of the Father’s Group. “But after spending years avoiding talking about personal matters—as most of us learned to filter our emotions, raised to believe that being sensitive was being weak—and without the skill set to engage in the process, why try when there are so many demands on our time?”

There are no hard statistics, obviously, on the subject, but things may be looking up for male friendships. According to an extensive survey commissioned late last year by Chivas Regal, the independent-minded 20th century has given way to the interconnected 21st. Even if men don’t want to be touchy-feely in the flesh, they can communicate more often via Internet, The report—based on interviews with experts and academics—showed that while men are still much less active than women in social media, they tend to focus on a tight knit core of friends. The study also showed that some of the barriers to male friendships are coming down, including the assumption that two men doing anything together must be gay, and the fading stereotype of what makes a real man.

And finally, why is it still so culturally unacceptable for a man to take the last name of his wife?

The tradition of taking the man’s name remains and, given its background, it seems to me it’s simply bad taste to carry on with it, in the same way that it would be bad taste to put on a minstrel show, no matter how pure the intentions.

You might say that we need some rule, and that taking the man’s name is as good as any other. But is this true? Why not go with whichever name sounds better? Or which name is associated with the coolest people? (MacAskill clearly beats my birth surname “Crouch” on both counts, having a better ring and being the name of both Giant MacAskill—a forebear of my fiancée’s who has a claim to be the world’s strongest ever man—and Danny MacAskill, a trial-biking legend who, also being descended from Giant MacAskill, must be a very distant cousin.) Or any other choice made by both parties.

In general, we are happy with the idea of molding our self-image in a whole number of ways, including how we dress, look, and talk. And having the right name is a big deal—affecting expected grades, likeability, success at job applications, and likelihood of having your Facebook friend request accepted. So why the double standard when it comes to marriage?

These three issues have been occupying A LOT of space in my brain the past few months and more generally, male identity in contemporary society.

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