How to Be a Real Man

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Mulhern

The old rules don't work--as I've learned being married to a powerful woman. Here's what I'm telling our son about modern manhood.

Editor's note: Mulhern is married to star Democrat Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan. After reading NEWSWEEK'S April 26 cover on how the Great Recession has left many men feeling shamed and powerless, he composed this letter to his son.

DEAR JACK,

At your physical yesterday, the nurse measured you at 5 feet 9 inches. You have officially passed your old man. And at 13, you're not done growing.

There's never been a better time to grow into manhood, but not everyone thinks so. NEWSWEEK recently reported on the plight of the "Beached White Male." "Man down!" they're crying--and insisting we'd better man up. It got me thinking about what it means to be a man.

I always thought that I would become governor, and then I'd "be the man." But the train tracks got switched, and instead Mom pulled into that station. I came to wonder about my strength. Do you remember when I took you along to my speech about leadership to some Cisco executives in Chicago, where you ran the PowerPoint slides? During the Q&A someone asked you why your dad was a great leader. You told them that I faithfully visited the young man I mentor in the Big Brother program, even when he was frustrating and difficult. Then someone asked, "Why is your mom a great leader?" and you said, "Wow, my mom--where do I even start?" I felt my armor pierced by that contrast--Mom's obvious, overwhelming heroism, and my leadership, such as it was, smaller, humbler.

Male armor had always seemed to fit me well. As a young man I felt comfortable behind Ivy League walls, then moved easily through halls of power. When I launched my leadership consulting business, I enjoyed "eating what I killed," as the macho maxim puts it. But the choices Mom and I made to put her public service in front of my career, and for me to lead at home, left me vulnerable and caused me to rethink what it means to "be a man." It has not been a tragic end to my manhood, but a wondrous beginning. It'll get even better for you.

When your grandmothers were raised, being a woman meant being a housewife. …