“I am sorry for being a man.” Warren Farrell opens his recent book “The Boy Crisis” with that remarkable statement from a leading New Zealand politician. He’s talking nonsense. A man who apologizes for being a man is not a man.
Prior to the last few years, such a statement would seem like the punchline to a stand-up comedian’s ridiculous joke. But since then, many in our elite culture see it as one of the most important confessions that every male over the age of 15 or so should make.
Sackcloth, ashes, and effusive, non-stop public self-flagellation should follow. We have come to the pathological place where too many believe the dividing line between the good and bad male is his realization that his malehood is an inherent social toxin.
The Sin of Being a Man
If being a man is the original sin of half of humanity, then genuine boyhood is the road to perdition. It’s seems as if more and more are believing this with far more reactionary emotion than careful consideration. For them, the real “boy crisis” is that boyhood exists at all. The solution is that it must be exorcised.
This wicked assumption is not only the actual boy crisis, but one of the greatest social crises of our time, because it condemns one half of humanity as inherently noxious—a social contagion that must be unapologetically acted upon and cured. That is not only no small thing, it’s a psychologically certifiable dismissal of humanity. No society can sustain itself under such a silly belief, because manhood is essential to every civilization. This new social cause must be called out and denounced with the greatest of passions and done so relentlessly.
This reality is what compelled Farrell to write “The Boy Crisis.” Doing the work I do, I read this very large book with great interest and anticipation. We need all the weight we can gather behind the defense of well-developed maleness and its personal and societal necessity. But unfortunately, his intention is the best thing about the book. “A” for intention, but not so much for anything else. That’s unfortunate.
Farrell starts out the way all such books start, with a litany of social science statistics indicating how boys are falling behind girls in healthy human development, academic achievement, and successful launch into productive adulthood. Important stuff to know, and it’s true, but nothing really new here.
He then goes through a bunch of interesting research and facts on the nature of boyness. In fact, scanning his table of contents is dizzying. That’s equally because of the vast range of topics he addresses throughout his 32 (!) chapters, but also because his editor should have cut them by half.
While he properly covers such essential topics as “Raising a Balanced Son in an Out-of-Balance World” and “Why are Dads So Important?” Farrell also included whole chapters on the sole topics of why so many marriages fail, how to reverse depression, the nature of emotional intelligence, and the hidden hazards to our sons’ health. One section is entitled “Match.com: The Father Warrior Meets the Have-It-All Woman.” Uhm?
And then there’s five chapters on ADHD. Some might call it a tour de force, but it actually reads like 400 pages of TMI.
A Sorry Lack of Answers
While Farrell includes all this seemingly random information on every angle of boyness, what is clearly missing is what should be central: any larger vision for what boyhood (and thus manhood) really is and how we put our boys on the path toward that ideal. He offers no meaningful for what mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and all the other players who affect a boy’s proper development should shoot for. This is the book’s greatest fault.
Farrell’s book is not altogether useless, nor is it really helpful. It never becomes the champion of full-throated, unapologetic manhood that you hope it will—something really substantive and attractive to point our boys to. While he doesn’t point us toward a feminized male ideal, his destination is pretty neutered and lukewarm. The good-enough boy seems to be his destination.
What is the most important thing he believes parents can do to set their boy on the path for healthy male development? He tells us clearly: “I have found that the most important single tool you can give your son is a once- or twice-weekly ‘family dinner night.’” Seriously?
Yes, loads of research definitively and amply demonstrate how essential regular sit-down, hide-the-phones, family dinners are for family cohesion and healthy child development. It is one of the most essential familial acts that contribute to becoming a secure, articulate, self-controlled, patient human with substantive character to be sure. But is it really the “most important single tool” in creating a man from a boy? How many gentlemen would say they became the men they are at family dinner night?
I grew up having nightly family dinners. It was a primary staple of the Stanton home. It provided untold riches to my happiness, development, and family cohesion. But would I say it’s the primary place I learned to be a boy? It was a part, but only a part.
Manhood is primarily learned in action, in doing, by demonstration and typically in relation to other boys, guided by good men. Womanhood and femininity is an essence. It exists in its own being. Manhood is primarily demonstrated in action, knowing how to do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason.
It can certainly is learned inside the home, in terms of serving others, learning patience, being fair to others, and doing one’s duty. But if it is not also learned out there in the world, in social groups, in challenges and opportunities engaged, it doesn’t exist. Manhood is not a static virtue.
Farrell Likes Himself a Bit Too Much
What the reader does get a good dose of, unfortunately, is Farrell’s appreciation for himself and his work, frequently citing himself and his important research and clinical work. He also demonstrates it in his illustrations throughout.
Early in the book, he tells the story of meeting a man who explained how powerful one of Farrell’s men’s groups was to his own fathering career. For some reason, he felt the need to tell us the conversation took place at a soiree of Ms. magazine bigwigs, where he was trying to get the attention of Gloria Steinem. Farrell confesses that the conversation with the gentleman became so “inspired” that “I forgot about Gloria.”
Another man broke in and asked for an autograph. Farrell readily agreed. After all, “I had just returned from a book tour in which I had done a lot of TV” so it was natural people would ask. But the gentleman didn’t want Farrell’s autograph. He wanted it from Farrell’s conversation partner: John Lennon. Farrell had a major role in helping JOHN! LENNON! become a better dad.
Farrell admits he only knew Lennon was some kind of musician and actually confesses he was proud of himself for having to ask this very question, “You’re with a singing group, aren’t you?” Warren took it to eleven, asking a second question, “Forgive me, but what’s the name of the group again?” Yes, he and his editor saw no problem with putting this in the book. My interest waned at that point.
Warren’s book is a resource for parents and professionals who do not want boyhood to be full-throated boyhood. Any address he gives to the thing itself is anemic. The most Farrell can offer is the very thing that has created our current boy crisis: The assumption that the goal of being a good man is essentially being a good person.
He does get it right that healthy manhood is found in self-sacrifice and service to others. But this falls woefully short in addressing the wonder of the essential human, familial, and societal phenomenon that is maleness. But what might one expect from an author who touts on his book jacket that he is the only male in the United States to be elected three times to the board of the National Organization for Women?
Save your money and time. Spend them on two other books instead: George Gilder’s classic theoretical must-read “Men and Marriage” and Robert Lewis’ highly practical and pointed “Raising a Modern-Day Knight.” Both will give you more in their first few chapters than Farrell provides in total.