Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Alpha Male - Genre?

Society has its buzz words that seem to come and go. I'm sure that their coming and going is insidious, but from my perspective, it seems abrupt.

I remember while I was still living in Egypt, I went to well-attended lecture by a Princeton Linguist about the Arabic language. The whole, American University in Cairo campus (where I was attending) turned out for it. I went because I was studying Arabic at the time, and . . . here was my rare chance to see another American.

It was interesting that they professor used the word “Paradigm” about 48 times during his lecture (I counted them). I wasn’t even sure I had heard the word before, at least not while I was living in Egypt. Then suddenly, every USA Today (usually a week old by the time they arrived in Egypt) had the word “paradigm” in it. When I got back to the states, over and over in TV interviews, the word was being used. It is now a common word in my own vocabulary.

But since then, I’ve noticed how words come onto the scene very abruptly . . . then the use is epidemic for a while. Entertainers abuse the word “Amazing.” They can’t even talk about breakfast without using it.

But two words that I have seen bursting onto the American landscape (and I may be very late in the game) are “Alpha Male” and “Genre.” Every day I hear these words. Now this discussion is about to take a more serious turn . . . so hold on.

In a discussion I had two days ago (with our old pastor’s wife), she used the term “Alpha Male” several times when talking about both men and women. What I'm about to say has nothing to do with how she was using the term, but it just reminded me of the term itself and how I had herd it on NPR and other sourcs over the past few weeks. I’ve done some thinking recently about the Alpah Male and I want to talk a little about the genre of the "Lonely-Alpha Male Syndrom" . . . pun intended.

I really don’t think there has been a lot written about the American male, especially the Christian male. Sure, there have been plenty of books about “Being the Perfect Husband God Always Wanted You to Be.” I have to admit that I did enjoy some of John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart.

But most Christian books push men in the direction that they have already gone too far in . . . that is living behind some kind of fa├žade.

It has been my observation that women, and girls (being a husband and father of a teen-aged daughter) don’t deal with this as much. But society (men’s society at least) demands that men be the Alpha male figure. That means there is a tremendous pressure on men to be the champion of everything they do, and that now applies to "doing" Christianity.

The problem is, the people who set these standards and write these books are totally out of touch with the depth of the Fall of Adam on all us men. We are not champions, knights, great successes, godly . . . yada, yada, yada. So, what do men do? Men feel that they must created these very thick facades, behind which to hide. Men can no longer communicate in real terms, except for describing their accomplishments or talking about superficial things like football or how to stain a deck.

Somehow, I think I am different than most men and it has nothing to do with my “godliness.” I think I’m a little different because I tend to be one of those more-creative, sensitive-type of males than the stereotypical macho male. I actually enjoy talking about feelings and really deep, honest things about real life, what people are thinking and hey, I’m not gay nor have ever been tempted to be. But very few men want to go to this honest personal level because of their insecurity. I think part of it is, sadly, is homophobia. Men are afraid to talk about feelings because someone would get the idea they are gay . . . or at least soft. So it renders me, and most males, very, very lonely.

I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve had great friends. High school was good. The 4 years I was in college, and the additional 5 years I was around graduate school (and the Navigator training center) I had great relationships with other men.

I remember sitting up and taking to 4 AM with Antonio (pictured over at the right) who was my roommate from Spain. We talked about, almost, anything. I say “almost” because we were still pretend Godly Navigators at the time. So we might say we are “having lust problems” but we would never say that we have sexual fantasy life going over the Nav-staff’s daughter. So we could be real to a point.

But since I’ve graduated from college, I have had very few men to talk to. I mean I have a choice. I could be (and have been many times) part of men’s prayer breakfasts . . . but those are so out of touch with reality that is would be the same as going to a wax museum to talk about life with your wax buddies. There is so much fake godliness in those places that I choose not to go BECAUSE I hunger for friendships.

The Alpha-male syndrome, either in Christian circles or professional circles is the same. It is like a tennis match where ego is the ball. They serve with a statement about their great accomplishments then you have to trump with your own. Then they must trump what you say with a better accomplishment.

I’ve set in on many professional dinners where one doc will talk about how big his boat is. Then the next will tell how his boat is better, then on up the table. I don’t speak about boats because I just have a couple of kayaks.

In the prayer breakfast, or elders’ meeting it is the same but with veiled responses. Since bragging is considered “ungodly” you veil it with a psychologically-sophisticated cover, about how God did such and such “Through You.”

But I am a very lonely man, like many men. Maybe that's why I and many other men do blogs like this.

I am privileged to have great sons, and I do think we communicate much better than most. For about four years, I’ve met with one . . . up to all four of my sons at Starbucks every Saturday and Sunday to discuss books, poetry and philosophy. Lately, I am down to one son and that makes me sad. Two sons are at home right now, but Tyler doesn’t come any more.

But watching my daughter grow up, I see something that I really envy. She has girl friends who really care about her and love to talk to her about anything. If we go out of town, her phone rings within minutes of coming in the door because she has about three or four friends that are dying to know how the trip went, what she did, who she met, how she feels etc.

I can honestly say, and I don’t mean to sound like self-pity, but no one gives a rat’s ass about how my day went. I can have a terrible day and there is no one to tell. I can take a long walk to recover from it.

I think this is difficult for me, because my entire profession is tied up in listening. I work in chronic pain and I sit for 8-9 hours a day listening, intently (and I don't mind this) to other peoples' deep problems. There is not a day that goes by when I don't have a converstaion about someone's experience with incest, sexual abuse, abusive husbands or boyfriend. I just sit and sincerely listen and encourage them. But it would not be approriate for me to talk about my own feelings or thinking with my patients.

My wife Denise is a wonderful woman in every way . . . but she is not a talker, at least when it comes to me. I’ve try to figure out why and I think I know some of the answer. I mean, she is a little like my daughter with other women. She can talk to them for a hours.

I think the reason that Denise can’t listen to me, when I speak of my real life, is that she grew up with men who not only practiced the Alpha-male syndrome to a tee, but also had the Scandinavian-stoic philosophy superimposed. So I can’t speak to her about emotional things . . . what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling or venting about a frustrating day. I can speak to her about how to stain a deck. She loves to sit in silence and me to give her foot rubs. But if I talk, she tunes me out quickly because I am responding very differently than how she was taught that men should respond. I've been at her house for a week and heard her dad speak five words at most. Those words were usually about a sick cow.

So, I am speaking not just about me, but about the condition of all men. The Lonely-Alpha-Male Syndrome, Genre. I think I go down to the museum and chat with my wax friend and pretend that he’s listening . . . and that he really does give a rat's ass.


Anonymous said...

This post really hit home for me and I am a middle-aged female. Yes, women are much more 'chatty' than men and express feelings more readily but in my experience, Christian women will quickly cut down those who are not playing by the Christian rules. No questioning, doubting, trying on one's own to seek out the interpretation of some passage or idea is acceptable. If you mess up, your friends will let you know.

It is a barrier to intimacy that is very similar to what you are talking about with males. I have felt this lonliness too and I am sorry you are undergoing this hardship.

MJ said...

Interesting perspective. I guess I have seen it with females at times. I mean, we use to be part of a homeschooling group, and I thought the women in that group, who met with my wife, lived in a fantasey-perfect mother and wife world. They ate and feed their families only perfect "natural" diets. They, just like their male counter-parts, seemed to want to present themselves in idealized ways.

But this is not reality. I've always said that the church should be the safest place in society . . . where you could say anything, anything at all and it would be okay, as long as it is true. I mean, if someone honestly felt like killing themselves, then they should have great freedom to share that among Christian friends . . . with no lectures attached, just compassion.