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May 21, 2013

Into the Clouds

Zach Sobiech passed away on May 20th 2013 from cancer. When he was diagnosed in November of 2009, he was told he had months left. Instead, he took four years and showed the world what how to live. Rather than lose hope, his acceptance, maturity, and optimism drove him to deepen his relationships with family, pursue love, and express himself in incredible ways.

This was his way of saying goodbye, and it reached millions in under 6 months:

When his story go out, this documentary was filmed. It touched my heart and made me think about how I'm living:

I'm still left mostly speechless, sitting with raw emotions and thoughts I'm turning over in my head. I think it may be that way for a while.

May 19, 2013

Men of Inferior Quality

I've heard so many devaluing generalizations about men across the board, from Beit Yaakov schools to liberal education. Comments about men being socially inept (especially as compared to women), shallow, selfish, insensitive, interested exclusively in sex, uncaring, and having the emotional intelligence of a teaspoon. Beyond that, just not being up to scratch -not being a learner, earner, rich rabbi-doctor, partner-of-the-century,  intimacy-oriented, perfect present/future father, Adonis, and communicator extraordinaire.Take your pick, mix n' match whichever resonate with you.

For some examples, See these posts on devaluation, ironic standards, gender differences, and outrageous expectations.

I heard it all. In my classrooms growing up, in the my Mother's minor complaints and big arguments with my Father, from female friends starting in middle school and continuing with a steady stream of criticism and complaint up to yesterday afternoon. It's on billboards in subtle and overt ways, in movies, and even the ultra-orthodox community.

For the last twenty years it's most of what I heard about men as a whole. It has been the hip thing to do as long as I can remember -just blame men for their ineptitude and lack of quality. It justifies the anger, frustration, and pain. It's easier to sit up on high and judge men negatively. Nevermind that the Torah says not to do that. 

Let me tell you about some of the damage it has caused and continues to wreck.

Men are considered failures from the get-go. Not because we actually are inept, but because we are told that is who we are and how we are perceived. Regardless of achievement and growth, self-awareness and sensitivity. We are still considered inept simply because we belong to the male sex. If you want to quote the exceptions, or provide examples I invite you to consider that those are precisely the "exceptions that prove the rule." I have certainly made plenty of mistakes in dating including some serious faux pas, like forgetting to call a woman back within a few days of a date. Those mistakes had nothing to do with my character, as in the above example I happened to have been swamped with school, research, and field work that I had not anticipated in the following days that simply flew by. I was surprised to have missed the time. I faced significant ridicule for that little snafu, irrespective of my circumstance and character. In fact I had more than a few attacks on my character for it. 

If I were a woman and thought this way about men, I would never want to go on a date with a guy. In fact, as a man if I thought this way about women I would have a chip the size of Antarctica on my shoulder and I'd be considered a misogynist, among all manner of other unseemly names. Seems like a wonderful place to start when looking for a life partner.

It's insulting to be admired for sensitivity despite being a man. If I had a choice, and could grow up in the way I wanted, I would make sure I grew up in an environment that taught me to be sensitive is to be a wonderful man. It's much better than learning that men are all insensitive and that insensitivity is contemptible. I would much rather be admired for being a wonderful man than non-man-like person.

For those who do not understand the implications of this, let me spell it out. When I hear a woman express negative beliefs about men or generalizations about what men are like based on negative experiences, I am very concerned. I have a hard time believing that a woman can harbor deep seeded negative beliefs and resentment towards men yet have a healthy intimate relationship with admiration and respect for a man.

In fact, I think those beliefs are particularly harmful for dating. I can sense when a woman has those beliefs and it is a serious turn-off. Either I have to work extra-hard all the time to compensate, distinguish myself, and maintain an image of being Superman (which is exhausting and not realistic since I cannot change someone else's mind) or when I fail -even the normal flawed failures that humans all experience -then I am just like all those other men. It's a no-win scenario. I have had this unfortunate experience more than once.

While it may initially feel good to be considered special and unique, I need a woman to build a home with, and that home will create an environment for our children. I think it's important for a father to teach his son about what it means to be a man, and that message should be confirmed and validated by his mother (and vice-versa for daughters).

I plan on raising my children with positive images of manhood and masculinity, and I need a wife and future mother who will validate those both to myself and my (God willing) future sons so that they will grow up seeing and knowing a positive image of manhood in their father and themselves. Only in that way will they strive for and achieve it with encouragement, modeling, and validation. If our children hear and absorb negative images and beliefs about men at home, it will be validated by the messages they hear outside, which will have powerful consequences for their own growth and development. I have and will continue to work hard at creating a positive and nurturing environment for my future children, and that means ensuring that the woman I am with has a strong positive image of men.

Blaming and devaluing men (or women, but in this case I'm focusing on the former) as a group is a damaging and destructive way of explaining frustrating and painful experiences, be that in dating or other contexts because it leads to images and beliefs which continue to negatively impact how we treat and think about one another. It's a lot more helpful to explain it as a temporary, situational, specific event rather than in a way that generalizes men in a permanent way.