I live unaware of the contents of most popular daily advice columns. It's not that I don't think the advice is useful, it's that I believe the personal problems people are willing to have splattered on the pages of North American daily papers are often only symptoms of a greater issue. I suppose that's the Dr. Phil view, but anyway...
When Cheryl pointed out this letter in today's Dear Abby, my jaw dropped. (Emphasis mine)
DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Ron," and I are at odds over parenting our 7-year-old son, "Brett." My husband is very domestic. He cooks like a world-class chef and does more housework than any man I know of.Jeebus H. Christ on a popsicle stick! I almost don't know where to start with this cornucopia of issues.
I have read Dr. James Dobson's books on family. He clearly states that a father should be the manly role model for the son, to prevent the son from being homosexual. I'm concerned that Brett will learn feminine ways from my husband and turn out to be gay. How can I convince Ron that he needs to teach Brett the more manly things in life? -- WORRIED MOM IN FLORIDA
DEAR WORRIED MOM: From my perspective, you don't need to change a thing. With all due respect to Dr. Dobson, your husband is already a manly role model to your son. He is teaching the boy important survival skills that will be invaluable when he is older. With luck, your son will turn out to be every bit the man -- and father -- that your husband is.
I have an overwhelming temptation just to say to WMIF, "Just put the guy on waivers." There must be at least six or seven women on this continent who would find a guy who cooks like a world-class chef and immerses himself in housework as mildly attractive. But no, that would be too severe. She does, after all, have a 7-year-old son, presumably as a result of conjugal relations with "Ron" whereby he willingly assumed the role of a heterosexual male.
While it's impossible to identify which of her beliefs is more ludicrous, of all the bothersome items in WMIF's letter, it is her suggestion that her husband is somehow "out of role" that first caused me to react. Something has gone terribly awry if cooking, cleaning and doing housework is viewed as "feminine". The vision of a woman scrubbing a toilet bowl does little to stir sexual feelings in most men but it does have images of slavery. Fear that her young son's sexual orientation will somehow develop because of a form of physical labor is beyond the pale. Why doesn't she just buy him a gun? He may become a serial killer but, at least in the eyes of many, he will be manly.
It is a sad testament to the state of WMIF's thinking that she somehow associates character modeling with sexual orientation. Had she picked up a book by someone other than a flaming homophobe perhaps her mindset would be different. However, a quick look at the bookshelves of the 'big box' outlets illustrate a depressing trend. Big Daddy Dobson has the market cornered for popular titles on the subject, which does more to suggest that he knows how to promote his books more than he cares about raising healthy, happy children. He does, after all, suggest that corporal punishment is a good thing and while he expects all mothers to stay at home they are more than permitted to wail away on their children should they become frustrating.
WMIF would have been better served had she read something by Jerome Kagan, a world renowned child psychologist. That is, if you could actually find it on the shelf at major bookstores. Dobson produces homophobic bile under the guise of psychological expertise; Kagan presents suggestions based on long-term peer reviewed studies and collaboration. Where Dobson is obsessed with penises and assholes, Kagan's focus is genetics, environment and achievement. You can find Dobson's books in the Parenting section of major bookstores; you'll have a tough time finding Kagan's work without ordering it.
The thing I found the strangest however, is that this woman, consumed with a personal dilemma, after reading the tripe produced by a bigoted gay-basher, decided to seek advice from a populist advice columnist. Jeanne Phillips provided an answer that was properly aimed although I suspect due to editorial brevity she may have held back. I would not have suggested that "Ron" is teaching "Brett" survival skills, but something more important. The 7-year-old is learning that the performance of domestic duties is not related to one's genitalia in any way. And sexual orientation is not determined by one's ability to operate a vacuum cleaner.
Why do I get this niggling suspicion that Worried Mom In Florida has some literal bible interpreting fundie preacher whispering in her ear that her husband isn't a real man?