My father was not very tall. But no man ever stood taller in my eyes than this particular Big Daddy. He was warm and playful, a man of character and the model for the men I would admire as I grew up. Daddy wasn't formally educated, having dropped out of school in the sixth grade after his mother and father, Jewish immigrants from Pinsk, Belarus, told him he had to wear his older sister's hand-me-down shoes because they didn't have the money to buy him a pair of his own. He took a certain pride later in having graduated from the "school of hard knocks."
He was a man of his times, describing himself as a "man's man." He became a sportsman, hanging out with the sports writers of the considerable number of newspapers in Washington, D.C. He promoted a world heavyweight championship at Griffith Stadium in 1942 between Joe Louis and Buddy Baer. According to contemporary feminist thinking, he was a male chauvinist who believed that men should earn the bread and women should bake it.
I wrote a book years ago about a father's influence on his daughters, titled "Like Father, Like Daughter." He was the person of integrity I wanted to imitate as an adult, even if I didn't agree with all of his ideas. I further saw my parents in a loving marriage, reinforcing the idea that has lasted for many thousands of years that men and women are different and that the difference, at its best, is what gives spice to life. The French famously celebrate it as "Vive la difference." But now it's not fashionable to think of that difference as anything but a negative, to regard the male as an aggressor, and in the worst way. My father would be described as "bad" because he was not only a man but also a white man of privilege.
I've been thinking about my father a lot, with the newspapers and television screens awash in breaking stories about the evil that men do. Accusations from universities and now from high schools, some true and some not, tell of men who have wronged women. There's so much hatred manufactured against specific "bad" men that it's become fashionable, if not mandatory, to think of all men as evil.
The presumption of decency for men like my father and those of his times is lost in a chaos of angry assumptions about men who have resisted feminine pacification. Women from many different places in life, different experiences, are eager to show contempt for men as if they are guilty simply for having been born male. An unproven accusation of sexual aggression is considered "credible" merely for having been made, and men are told to stand up and shut up. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii told men to "just shut up and step up." (We still don't know what her male constituents think about that.)
Suzanna Danuta Walters, the editor of a gender studies journal and a professor at Northeastern University, asks in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "in this land of legislatively legislatively legitimated toxic masculinity, is it really so illogical to hate men?" After cataloguing global realities where women are treated badly, from low pay to gun violence, Walters says American men can only be #WithUs if they follow a rigorous prescription for passivity. Men must decline opportunities to be in charge of anything, step away from power, vote feminist and not run for office. If they don't, "we have every right to hate you."
Her stunted attitude obviously doesn't reflect the attitudes of all women -- there's still a lot of fraternizing with the enemy in the war between the sexes -- but reflects the thinking of a large swath of vocal feminism. The turnaround of cultural assumptions is poisoning the relationships of a generation of men and women. Fox News interviewer Martha MacCallum struck a poignant note when she asked Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, how their daughters were dealing with the dreadful noise raised against their father. "It's very difficult," she replied. "But they know Brett."
Many women know their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, lovers and friends, who live beyond the malicious male stereotypes but find it evermore intimidating to speak out in defense of men unjustly accused. Men are presumed guilty when accused by a woman. Even asking for due process and fair play for men is asking for trouble.
I closed my book a generation ago with Loretta Lynn's country hymn to the fate of our fathers: "They don't make 'em like my daddy anymore." But her message has been drowned by Helen Reddy's "I am woman. Hear me roar." When anger trumps love and hatred trumps reason, we all, women no less than men, pay for it.