Jack Kammer, MSW
Back in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, athletic girls often heard “You’re really good at sports... for a girl.” And girls who enjoyed working with numbers often heard, “You’re really good at math... for a girl.” When I was a boy I heard a different kind of left-handed compliment: “You’re really good with babies... for a boy.” It was clear to me even as a youngster that people were trying to tell me something about my rightful territory and about proper boy behavior that I refused to accept. What exactly were they trying to say? Whatever it was I knew I didn’t like it.
I remember seeing fathers leave the house every morning and thinking how sad it was that they had to leave their babies and little children all day, every day. I didn’t want that to be my life.
My father was a doctor. He worked long hours to care for his patients, but when he came home he was tired. And often grumpy. He became more and more of a stranger to his kids. And we became strangers to him. Since he made a lot of money, he was a Big Success. But I knew something was wrong. I felt sorry for him. He seemed quite pathetic as a stranger in his own house.
One of the best things I ever did in my entire life was deliver my father’s eulogy: at his funeral in 1985 I honored his life and his memory—truthfully: he was a great doctor and, sadly for his seven kids, that meant he had little time or energy left over to be a great father.
When I kept hearing that “It’s a man’s world,” I knew it didn’t look like a man’s world to me. Sure, there were some parts of being a man that looked good. But mostly it looked like a lot of tension and stress. I didn’t see much joy in it.
In the 1980s I was in my 30s and playing on a co-ed softball team. After the games when we went out for drinks and dinner, some of the women on the team found they could talk easily with me, mainly be- cause I’d listen. Often they’d want to talk about their “lousy” or “rotten” or “horrible” boyfriends. They’d tell me some story about what their men had done and then they’d say something like, “And so he’s a real jerk. Don’t you think?” I’d smile and say, “Well, maybe. But on the other hand maybe the way it looks to him is like this...” And I’d say something that made perfect sense to me and was almost totally obvious from my experience as a man. And each time the woman threw her hand over her gaping mouth and said, “Oh, my gosh! I never thought of that! That makes sense because just last week he said...”
So it began to be clear to me that women didn’t understand the male point of view very well and that men weren’t doing a very good job of explaining that male perspective. I’ve been writing and talking about what’s going on with men and boys ever since. From 2005 to 2008 I earned two Masters Degrees, one in Business, the other in Social Work, so I could be in a better position to work on these issues that I care about so much.
But there were few jobs in Social Policy or Social Justice for men. So I took front-line jobs working with and for men. I worked for a year as a Correctional Officer (better known as Jail Guard) at the Baltimore City Detention Center, a year as a Parole & Probation Officer in Central Baltimore and a year as a trainer in fatherhood programs for National Fatherhood Initiative. All of those jobs confirmed for me the social significance of male gender issues.
I am approaching seventy years old now and I still hold out hope that I might live to see our public policy discussions recognize and embrace the importance of giving male gender issues a seat at the table.