Speaking of Men . . . and Maria Shriver

Maria Shriver along with the Center for American Progress and NBC are this week launching a report – and hopefully a national dialogue – about “A Woman’s Nation.”  I’m pretty sure it’s a man’s nation too, so is Maria, and I’m glad she’s got us talking about it.  Follow me here, and let me know what you have to say

For the past ten years I have been one of those guys who was raised to run things and now runs . . . well, a long distance behind my wife (Governor Jennifer Granholm).  I am watching as this gender shift flips on like Christmas tree lights – house by house by house around neighborhoods all across America.  It’s not a time of change.  It’s a time of wholesale transition.  It’s confusing and stressful.  And this transitional era is bursting with extraordinary opportunity.  Not just for women!  It’s a time when men can blossom as our amazing sisters, nieces, granddaughters, and wives have been blooming.  It’s a time to sprout new growth.  But it’s not easy.

William Bridges groundbreaking work Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes has been offering me great solace and light in my ongoing transition.  One of Bridges’ central observations is that after an ending – for example a man (me) being the major breadwinner – there then follows a time Bridges calls “the neutral zone.”  In the neutral zone we feel a bit at sea, a little lost, unsure what to do and even who we are.  I have felt that feeling often, wondering things like:

  • What do I do: Stand here like a good first lady, smiling adoringly? 
  • When I am with the kids – who are most often under my care – do I try to act like my mom – or like my dad – like the goofball dads on TV – or like Oprah? 
  • Do I forge ahead with my career, trying to keep up with the Jones and the Jennifer? 
  • Do I let myself sound like some stereotypical 1950s wife, complaining when my wife doesn’t have time or energy to hear about my day (when I myself know it’s not nearly as exciting as her day has been)?
  • Can I let myself relax into this nurturing role?
  • Should I give her advice from my wisdom as a hunter-gatherer, or should I be the one to bind up her wounds and pick up her spirits?
  • Do I accept that she will probably ALWAYS be the big economic and political hitter, or do I advocate for my future?
  • Do I drag my tail around about having lost some expected, inherited role as the “main man” in the family?  Or should I maybe seize the freedom to experiment with hobbies and passions – music or photography, tutoring or mentoring?  Will those satisfy my socialized-male need to conquer and achieve.

I thank Bridges for giving me the wisdom to let go of what’s gone, and the permission and encouragement to hang out in this neutral zone in the big transition of our generational gender shift (and my own mid-life transition).  I’m curious how other men are thinking through this shift. Have you accepted the “ending” of being like your dad, being some economic leader and public player?  As we’re together walking through this neutral zone, where is your head and where is your heart?

You might also enjoy the exchange and information happening at http://www.awomansnation.msnbc.com

Please comment !!!

  • Dan,

    At times, I swear I can hear terrible sounds of tearing and ripping as I slowly become a paradox: As I grow older I look and sound more like my father, simultaneously, my life experiences pull me further away from the tools and tactics he taught me for interacting with my world. Certain of his lessons are timeless: trust in truth and integrity, treat others fairly, take responsibility to clean up your own messes, love and protect your family — because they are inextricably part of you.

    However, many of the male-centric attitudes he espoused were echoes of his own upbringing and those messages still permeate my thoughts. I was always “the man of the house,” when my folks left me in charge of my siblings (I was the oldest). My dad was big on stoicism — men don’t cry or whine, they “suck it up” and work though problems — asking for help is a sign of weakness. And there was his favorite: “There are three ways to do things — the right way, the wrong way, and MY way. In MY house, you will do it MY way.” I tried that one on my wife right after we were married. She set me straight very quickly — tough lesson number one.

    My mother taught me to listen to my heart, and through writing, to learn from to its wisdom. Out of work and no longer the undefeated breadwinner of our family, the lessons of my heart have kept me sane as I deal with old messages in my head. I am finally learning to “roll with the punches.”

    John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Here, I believe is the great falacy for those who tell us that everything is about our choices. Here is the difference between hardship and tragedy. Sometimes, I am not responsible for what happens, and sometimes there is nothing I can do to fix a problem. Once I can accept that I am a traveler on the journey, just like other men and women — I understand that seeking the best way to apply my talents to make the journey a success is what leadership is all about.

    It’s not about being large and in charge — it’s about showing others a viable path and helping them along the way — and about a willingness to listen to others who may have a better view of the road ahead. I am becoming a paradox, and perhaps it is what I was meant to be. Perhaps the future can only be built of paradox and transition…for that is the “stuff” of change.


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