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Offers insight into the myriad issues influencing commitment fears for men, counseling women on why men cling to bachelorhood, how to discern a man's actual interest in marriage, and how to understand the ways men perceive various situations.
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R.M. Johnson is the author of nine novels, including bestsellers The Harris Family and The Million Dollar Divorce. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Why Men Develop a Negative Opinion
The marriage model
Our parents' marriage, for us, is supposed to be the example of what a good marriage is, right? When we watch our mother and father, how they relate as a married couple, this is supposed to be the blueprint for how we're supposed to behave when we grow old enough to marry.
That is the way it's supposed to work, and believe it or not, it does work that way.
Think about your close friends whose parents are still married. Are those friends married now? Many of them probably are.
Now think about your close friends whose parents are divorced, or who were raised by a single parent. How many of them are married today? Most likely not as many.
As kids, if we see that the two people raising us, a mother and father who are in love, get along, treasure their time together, and are happy, we will one day want the same for ourselves.
If we had a happy childhood, one that we knew was created and supervised by our parents, we know we have them to thank for that, and we will look forward to the opportunity to one day give our children the same.
What is interesting is that as children, we don't always have to be happy to later want marriage. Once we are old enough, we understand that it's natural that our parents weren't happy twenty-four hours of the day, either.
Here is where the model is important.
Parents are going to argue. There are going to be disagreements.
My parents are divorced. That happened when I was eight years old.
Building up to that point, they argued a lot. They experienced conflicts they could not resolve. There was a lot of tension between the two of them, which ultimately led to divorce.
Because of their arguing, and their subsequent separation, the message I took away from the experience was, if I get married, and if problems occur, the way to resolve them is to leave. But in doing that, I'd know that the same way my father hurt me with his departure, I will hurt my children. So to avoid that from happening, I told myself that it might be best if I never marry.
But what about the parents who argued but never got divorced? The parents who disagreed and raised their voices sometimes, but then calmed down, talked things out, and resolved their issues? What do the children of those couples believe?
They understand that arguing and the occasional spat is part of marriage, or any worthwhile relationship. But what they also learn is that compromise and understanding is part of that as well. They learned this from hearing the arguments their parents waged, then seeing them resolve those problems. They've seen what years of determination and dedication to a marriage can bring, as opposed to what so many other men see -- the failure of their parents' marriage, then their mother and father walking along separate paths, many of them dating for the rest of their lives, but never marrying again.
Guess what kind of effect that has on the average man? How many of us do you believe would be rushing to the altar to find ourselves in the exact same situation as our fathers? That is, even if we knew our fathers.
I don't believe people appreciate just how important fathers are. I often say, if there was no father, there would be no Tiger Woods, just some guy named Eldrick Woods. That's not to say he wouldn't have been a great banker, or cable technician, or Walmart associate. I'm just giving an example of how much influence a father can have on his son's life.
Keeping with Tiger Woods for a moment, he married before he was even thirty years old. That goes against most of what I say in this book. But, then again, I'm speaking from the point of view of a boy who grew up without a father.
Tiger Woods's father was around. He was married to Tiger Woods's mother, and he was present in his son's life.
I imagine that, as a child, just about every morning when Tiger Woods sat himself at the breakfast table, he'd see his parents there. And just about every day, he'd see them interact. But what also happened is what happens with all the other little girls and boys whose fathers are in the home -- those children will spend time with their fathers. Those children will learn from their fathers; they will be loved by their fathers. And for little boys, this is especially important -- that they will be taught by their fathers.
As the boy grows into a teenager and starts to date, the father will tell his son about the importance of relationships, and soon guide him, tell him what to expect from marriage, how much that union can improve his life. There will be no question as to whether the son will want to get married, for the same reason that children of parents who have gone to college are more likely to go, or that the children of parents who are readers will probably develop a love for reading as well.
But what happens to the little boys when there is no father in the home? How do we grow up, and what will our opinions of marriage be?
Boys without a father in the home will wake up and sit at the table and eat breakfast with their mother, or alone with their siblings because their mother is off to work. Boys without a father present will have to rely on their mother to tell them about "the birds and the bees." But really, what mother wants to have that conversation with her son? And nowadays, do mothers even know at what age to have it?
When I was young, the average age a boy started thinking about, or actually having, sex was sixteen. Do you really think your son is waiting that long today? And if he hasn't lost his virginity by sixteen, considering the Internet, and raunchy music videos, and cable television porn, he probably knows more about sex than you do.
But getting back to the little boy growing up without a father, if there are "father and son" activities in school (which most schools don't even conduct anymore because so many fathers are absent), he won't participate in them.
There will be no father-and-son time around the house -- the time when, as boys, we will look up to our father, try to emulate him, desire to be just like him when we grow into men. At this point in a boy's life, we will create our own definition of what father means, purely by the example we witness. But if there is no father there...
When we start to desire the attention of girls, we'll find a way to get that attention, and we'll find a place to give them our attention, whether in our mother's basement, in the backseat of our cars, or even behind the school.
Boys will use girls only to fulfill our sexual needs, and at that age, be it fifteen or sixteen years old, determine that girls have no other real importance.
After graduation from high school, when we go to college or start working a job, we will see women the same way. Why would we have a reason to change our minds? There was no father there to tell us, or teach us, about marriage. And no, I'm not saying that you, as the mother, could not inform your child, try to positively persuade him. But when the father is in the home, married to the mother, and speaks to his child about it, it's more than a suggestion. It becomes an endorsement, because the father is practicing what he preaches, living what he speaks. But if there is no father there, like there has not been for so many of the men who are of marrying age today, why would we want to marry? It certainly wouldn't be based on what we've seen. You might say that if we grow to love a woman, then we should want to marry her. But a man can love a woman for the rest of his life and still feel no need to marry her if he doesn't know the benefits, doesn't understand the reasoning behind it.
This is something that may cause us to move very slowly when considering taking steps in that direction, or leave us frozen.
So, does that mean that all is lost, that the generation of boys today will have just as much trepidation as the men of today because of the absence of their fathers? Yes, it could very well mean that. Or there could be something that you, as mothers, could do to eliminate that possibility.
If you're a single mother, how will your son find out about marriage?
If you're divorced, what's your son's opinion of marriage now? Did you know it while you were still married?
If you're happily married, your son is being raised by you and your husband. He sees the two of you every day, and if he's still a young boy, when he gets old enough to wonder, most likely there will be discussion as to how the two of you got married, and why.
But what if you have a son and you're not married? There will be no man to wonder about, to ask questions about, so there will be no discussion about marriage.
So how will he ever find out? Will you tell him about marriage?
You should. Believe it or not, by default, it is your responsibility.
Ask yourself, as a single mother, how often do you promote marriage to your son? Have you even discussed it, ever given him the definition of marriage? Ever felt the need to? Probably not.
Single women, be they those who have never been married or those who, for whatever reason, have gotten divorced, probably don't feel like breaking into song all of a sudden about the joys of marriage. If it was so great, you wouldn't have to promote it. You'd be married, and the promotion would take care of itself, the way it's supposed to. Right?
But for your son, it's a bad thing that you haven't had this discussion, that you haven't told him how wonderful a marriage union can be, even if yours flopped.
Think about how you were first introduced to marriage. If your parents are together, or at least were together, then you found out about it from them. But if you were raised by your mother alone, or even by just your dad, you probably were first introduced to the idea of marriage and weddings and two people falling in love by a cartoon, a ...
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