Can Men Have It All?

Roger Horton, a computer-firm manager, came to work at 7 o'clock one morning so he could put in a 10-hour day and still leave in time to coach his son's Little League team. Yet when Roger packed his briefcase that evening, his boss reproached him for leaving early. If this sounds like your own life, you're not alone. American culture often defines men by their jobs. According to the Wall Street Journal, "a growing body of research suggests many male professionals wish for a better balance between work and family," but employers are slow to acknowledge the importance of life outside the workplace. It was not always this way. In his book American Manhood, historian E. Anthony Rotundo says Americans once held a very different ideal of manhood. In colonial times people lived in economically independent households—either family farms or family industries. The husband and father was regarded as the head of this small commonwealth. Headship was not considered a personal privilege but an "office": It imposed on men a duty to represent not their own interests but those of the entire household in all their actions. In this setting the dominant definition of masculinity was what Rotundo describes as "communal manhood." That is, a man fulfilled himself not through economic success but through what was termed "public usefulness" or service. Men were urged to subordinate personal ambition to the common good. But these cultural values were turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. Productive work was removed from the homestead to the factory, and men had to follow. Being gone from home all day sharply reduced their role as fathers, while highlighting their role as breadwinners. At the same time, women lost their traditional productive tasks: From weaving cloth to preserving food, production was transferred from the home to the factory. Women at home became economic dependents, living on their husband's wages. These economic changes shifted the male role, redefining it in almost purely financial terms. And masculine character ideals likewise shifted. Whereas men were once exhorted to promote the common good, the new market economy fostered competition and individual ambition. The old ideal of "public usefulness" crumbled, and men began to base their identity mostly on individual achievement. Does this sound familiar? Today economic achievement has become virtually an idol for many men. I know; before I became a Christian I fell into this pattern myself, which I deeply regret. But Christians ought to challenge this one-dimensional standard of success. God calls us to a richer vision of our purpose in life: to a deep communion with Himself that spills over into love for our families, service to the community, involvement in Christian ministries, and cultivation of the arts and culture. Whether we are employers or workers, this is the vision we should be promoting: not merely economic success but the older virtue of public responsibility. The Roger Hortons of this world should not be made to feel guilty when they leave work in the evening to coach their son's softball team.


Chuck Colson


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