When Ron Levant was a semi-custodial father of a preteen daughter in the 1970s, he fumbled and stumbled. He admits he didn't have a clue what to do.
That sense of inadequacy bothered him until he saw the 1979 movie Kramer vs. Kramer and realized that perhaps it wasn't him it was that men of his generation were being asked to do things for which they weren't prepared. That spawned a lifelong interest in the psychology of men.
Over the years, Levant, 68, has burnished a resume as president of the American Psychological Association, as an author of several books on men and as an expert to shows such as Oprah Winfrey's and 20/20. He has been quoted in publications like Time and People.
Today he is a psychology professor at the University of Akron.
With Sweetest Day approaching, Levant responds to common questions women have about their beloveds, sons and brothers and might have been afraid to ask.
Q: How does he know to fix things and solve problems when he didn't learn that in school?
A: Boys in traditional homes are focused on action and doing. It is thought of as an attribute of being a real man, to take care of things yourself. Men who are socialized as boys conform to traditional norms. They learn how to solve problems by modeling the male members of their household, or Scout leaders, whoever.
Q: Why doesn't he cry?
A: Boys start out at birth as being more expressive than girls, but are socialized to become less expressive. Starting at 2 years, they start to decrease their verbal expressions and by 6 lose their facial expressions. Men who conform to traditional male roles have been conditioned not to cry. They have a great deal of difficulty crying or admitting vulnerability.
Q: Why does it make him uncomfortable when I cry?
A: They're so out of touch with their own feelings that they're very uncomfortable when someone else does. Those who are reared traditionally don't have the ability to be emotionally empathetic. I'm starting a program at the Cleveland VA hospital with men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to teach them to be emotionally self-aware so they don't resort to less effective means of self-expression like violence and drinking. They are alexithymic they can't put emotions into words.
Q: Why does he want to watch sports so often?
A: Sports is a sort of masculine pageantry. Many men, even those who strongly conform to traditional masculine roles, feel inadequate. Attaining the status of manhood is precarious. Sports lets them vicariously experience heroes and feel more adequate as a man, but of course, as their team loses, they're impacted.
Q: Why does he want to have sex so often?
A: Traditional socialization prohibits caring emotions. They find it hard to feel affection and feelings of fondness. I've asked men in my practice, ''When do you feel closest to your wife or girlfriend?'' For many of them it's during sex. It's through the act of sex that they feel connected.
Q: Why does he pay attention to other women, even though he's happy with me?
A: That's something called ''nonrelational sexuality.'' It's part of the masculine code. In these days it's so politically incorrect that many men don't do it. I would say consciousness about its inappropriateness has been raised in the last decade. I get the impression from college students that leering is more socially unacceptable than it was in the '90s but I don't have any studies to back this up.
Q: How do you advise women to deal with the men in their lives?
A: Try to understand where he's coming from. Don't take things so personally; that may take away a little of the sting. Explain how something doesn't work for you and suggest that they read a book, solve it on their own, see a counselor. Remember that male socialization is a continuum that some men will reject this and don't conform to the norms.
Q: What would be the perfect Sweetest Day for a traditional man?
A: A day off from the honey-do list to watch football. A seductive evening. A traditional man probably has some manly hobbies. [Buy] a gift that appeals to his traditional masculinity.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.