When social historian Donald H. Bell found himself "faced with a crisis of both love and work," he began asking questions . . . about his manhood, fatherhood, his failed marriage and loss of his job as a college lecturer.
"In dealing with my loss of marriage and loss of job," says Bell, 39, now an assistant professor in the history department at Harvard, "I began talking to other men to see what kind of experiences they had had. I'd had lots of traditional expectations about success . . . marriage and job . . . and that just wasn't happening.
"Lots of the people I talked to were telling me of their own pain and doubt. We were expecting to have women take care of us at home and it just wasn't happening."
The result of Bell's interviews with more than 100 other men--and his own sometimes brutal introspection--is the new book, Being a Man: The Paradox of Masculinity (Lewis Publishing Co., $12.95, 158 pages).
"I might be a little crazy to have done this," he says now about his frank detailing of personal experiences, "but I felt I had to do the same kind of thing I was asking other people to do with me.
"I had two reasons for doing the book. Professionally I was working on a history of the family. I'd done a long article on the male role over the past 300 years. Personally it was a sense of trying to give some objective shape to my own experiences."
Also, he says, "I believe in the value of education and I feel that people can compare their own experiences to mine and maybe have an 'Aha!' kind of reaction . . . 'I'm not alone.'
"My only misgivings were about my students reading it. On the one hand I had the feeling I was putting my sense of prestige, of being a good teacher, on the line. I was a little worried my students might think less of me.
"On the other hand, I also felt that this kind of book might draw their respect . . . make me more approachable as a person, one not afraid to express myself in personal, human terms."
The response of another critic Bell says he sometimes "lays awake thinking about" was that of his father, who retains a more traditional view of the man's role.
"We were just at a family reunion, my brothers and I and our wives and children. He would come to the breakfast table and click his cup for coffee and just wait to be waited on. We [Bell and his brothers] did just what we do at home . . . We just did the dishes and helped make dinner and that sort of thing and, after a few days, he started pitching in . . ."
"I think change happens," says Bell, "in waves, in ripples, like when a rock is thrown into a pond."
Among other observations made by Bell in an interview and in his book: Men's Movements
"I have a little trouble with men's movements. Men are reluctant to join with other men in showing their feelings. Women feel oppressed and their natural response is to join together. It's the same sort of thing with minorities. Men don't feel oppressed in the same way. It's harder for men to come together like that.
"I have some doubt as to whether men's movements ever will really take hold. I think now it's more a matter of men and women together making demands for change on a personal basis.
"I would like to see men's networks. A lot of men are having the same kinds of feelings but whether or not they can get together on them is another question. It's like Betty Friedan said in her second book . . . men and women working things out together." Today's Man
" 'Real' men are more flexible than they used to be. It's more gratifying to be ourselves, the way we want to be.
"For the last 200 years there was a ready-made mold and we had to fit ourselves into it at the expense of denying other parts of ourselves, and that was very tragic, having capabilities that we could never express or use.
"The women's movement both forced and helped us to break the traditional male mold. What the mold is now is up to each of us. "I was talking with my barber when I was getting a haircut, the day after the Cooney-Holmes fight, and do you know what we talked about? Not the fight, but about the baby he and his wife had just had. Caring for it and that sort of thing. That's not the sort of thing that would have happened a few years ago." Dual-Career Families
"We have to decide every day how we are going to live, even in the simplest of terms. Sara [Bell's second wife, a practicing psychotherapist and mother of their 7-month-old son] and I negotiate every single day. These daily negotiations are very important.
"It's hard, dealing with the daily problems, but you have to do it. And you get paid back for it. You can build a relationship that is really equal, based on who's at home, doing what, when.
"If one or the other partner feels badly used in the course of the daily rounds or feels oppressed by a too-precise and burdensome division of labor, it can ultimately threaten the relationship . . . The essential element is that both partners express their feelings and needs without fear of being overwhelmed or psychologically assaulted by the other."
And on squaring traditional male upbringing with the present-day reality, Bell's counsel to other men:
"Share your feelings and difficulties with the woman in your life. A partner is not a parent: She is a lover, a friend, a helper and a counselor . . . emotional support and understanding is crucial in the relationship of men and women, a foundation on which all else must rest."