Author: Mansourian, Narbé
Date published: January 1, 2012
MEN CAN: THE CHANGING IMAGE AND REALITY OF FATHERHOOD IN AMERICA, by Donald Unger. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010, xiii + 240 pages. ISBN: 978-1439900000.
Men Can by Donald Unger seemed to speak directly to me as a modem-day working father and a committed parent to my three-year-old little daughter. The book explores the changing role of men as fathers in the 21st Century. Unger does so by using different families, all from different parts of the United States, and from different ethnic heritage and ideological backgrounds as examples. In addition, he draws upon his own experiences as a parent in order to substantiate his contention that men are just as capable as women when it comes to functioning as daily caregivers and nurturers of children.
Unger sets out to expose the unfair and at times harmful stereotype of the bumbling man or "doofus dad," as found in commercials, movies, and television shows, by analyzing the subliminal effects the stereotype has on the viewing public: i.e., men do not possess the know-how to take care of and nurture their children effectively and appropriately. Unger uses a wide range of examples from popular culture, from Mary Poppins to modem reality shows to illustrate the constant depiction of men as clumsy, emotionally detached adults, incapable of forging true bonds with their own children.
The author does agree that there are men who are either ducking their responsibility as parents or who are choosing to take on the role of the workaholic, bread-winner instead of assuming a principal role in nurturing their children. However, he argues that there are more and more men who are eager either to take full responsibility or to share the responsibility of hands-on parenting. He uses a half dozen real-life cases to substantiate this trend. In addition, he references the late 1970s movie like Kramer vs. Kramer and even the short-lived television series like Kevin Hill to demonstrate fictionalized versions of the changing role of men as engaged, hands-on fathers.
Unger does point out that the evolution of men in the household has drawn the ire of some feminists who feel that the woman's role as nurturer is being threatened. However, he underscores his principal contention that men who want to be available for their children should be greeted with encouragement rather than skepticism. Moreover, Unger sets out to change the stereotypic language that society uses for men and women when it comes to parenting. He recommends, for instance, the use of terms like "working father" or "fatherly instinct" as expressions that should be in our everyday vocabulary. Though he acknowledges that men and women are different, he urges readers to see that the natural inclination of parenting has no gender.
As with some other recent publications on parenting, Men Can reinforces and validates the decision of more and more men to be hands-on, nurturing fathers. This easily accessible and jargon-free book reiterates its principal contention that it is all right to be a hands-on, nurturing father. Men Can also invites society as a whole to embrace the willingness of those fathers who want to contribute physically and emotionally in the day-to-day activities of their children. I enthusiastically recommend this book to all fathers, and of young children in particular, whatever their personal or professional status. Unger 's book will spark recognition in those fathers already inclined to take on more aspects of child rearing and it will give confidence to those who may be reluctant to do so because of the preconceived notion that this is "naturally" women's work or the notion that women are better at it. To hands-on fathers like me, Men Can will validate the time and commitment that they already give to their children on a daily basis.
Narré Mansourian teaches middle school in Hollywood, California