WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - While most American women obsess about the laments of frazzled mothers, a handful of their daughters at Wake Forest University are turning their attention to the study of that mysterious and often-demonized species - fathers
Yep, you read it right. Fathers. Dear ol' Dad. Remember him?
Each week, these young women (and one young man, who signed up because he hopes to be a good father someday) arrange their desks in a circle with Dr. Linda Nielsen, psychologist, professor and author, to learn about fathers and fatherhood in the only such college course in the country.
The class is not a therapy session or support group, but a tough college course like any other, involving research, reading, field projects, papers, tests and grades. It's just harder than most because the course also involves introspection, self-analysis and the search for insight into one of life's most important relationships.
I attended a class recently, both as an observer and quasi-lecturer, at Nielsen's invitation. Nielsen's and my discovery of one another was like that scene in "The Count of Monte Cristo" where Edmond Dantes suddenly hears the tapping of another inmate through the dungeon floor and realizes, joyously, that he's not alone. Together they labored to tunnel their way out of captivity and darkness into freedom and light.
Similarly, these young people dig deeply to liberate themselves from the dark male stereotypes that pervade our culture, enlightening themselves in order to embrace their fathers. The title of Nielsen's book and the course textbook is "Embracing Your Father: How to Build the Relationship You've Always Wanted With Your Dad" (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
Despite the popularity of Nielsen's class, now in its 15th year, and rave reviews from alumni, Nielsen has received scant attention from our nation's literary and cultural gatekeepers. She understands the problem. It is, after all, her job to understand the psychology of groupthink and the unconscious motivations of human beings.
Thus, the joke around Nielsen's kitchen table is that her book might have been a best seller if she'd titled it, "Ten Reasons to Hate Your Father . While Losing 20 Pounds and Having Great Sex!"