The American male is broken and the only way to fix him is to redefine what makes him a success, says Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in his new book.
Boteach, who is also a columnist for this newspaper, said in a phone interview Sunday that the American male is made to feel like a failure. Rather than taking pride in his accomplishments, he is always in competition with those around him to the point that he feels he cannot keep up.
"You’re trained to look behind you to see who’s gaining on you, and sideways to see who’s caught up to you," Boteach said. "The dehumanization of the American male is destroying him. He’s made to feel like he’s a not a human being, he’s a human doing, and he’s only valued for what he produces."
Boteach first wrote about the topic in a column three years ago. After syndication carried it to about 70 newspapers, he received more than 5,000 e-mails telling him that he had struck a chord.
As he filmed his TLC show, "Shalom in the Home," the subject of the dysfunctional male kept reappearing as he traveled from home to home across America. Finally, he decided to put together all his thoughts on the subject.
But while men are the focus of Boteach’s book, called "The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him" (St. Martin’s Press), women don’t escape unscathed. Originally, he had thought to name the book "The Broken American Male and the Inadequate American Female."
More than half of the divorces in America are initiated by women, he said, because their husbands have become intolerable. When men see themselves as losers, he went on, they view a woman who would marry them as twice a loser, and women don’t want to be married to men who feel that way.
"The broken American male, through his own state of brokenness, creates a feeling in women that they’re inadequate," he said. "He comes home, he turns on the TV, he doesn’t talk. He’s not passionate. So you start blaming yourself. Your reaction becomes, ‘It must be me.’"
Rather than turning to their wives and families, the American male has a slew of other escapes, from sports to alcohol to television.
"Men don’t follow sports, they’re fanatical about sports," Boteach said. "The reason is if you feel like a failure, you try to live vicariously through your team."
So how do we fix the problem? The solution begins at home with the next generation.
"We have to raise our boys to stress their emotions more," Boteach said. "We are much tougher on our sons in the belief that the world is going to be tougher on them and we don’t show them their emotions matter."
Young boys should be given confidence that they have special gifts that only they can contribute to the world, he said.
The next step is to change what drives a man. If a man lives to work, he becomes burned out or overly focused on his work to the exclusion of his family.
To spur this change in focus, Boteach has created a new definition of success by rearranging a man’s priorities. Five factors should define a man’s success, he said. In order of importance, they are:
his role as a husband;
his role as a father;
his role as a member of the community;
This list of priorities will restore balance in men, he said.
"We have to stop giving men a career and start giving them a calling," the rabbi said.
A career is very self-focused, he explained. Focusing so much on advancing one’s own situation instills fear and insecurity and makes a man self-absorbed. He is always looking to compete with others for the next raise or promotion. A calling, however, focuses a man on maximizing his potential for his own betterment, rather than trying to get ahead of others.
"A calling gives you a unique sense of purpose," he said.