Thanksgiving Gratitude for a Father’s Lesson

Many years ago, I committed an offense for which famous men are now being publicly, and rightly, shamed. I patted an office secretary on her behind. I won’t offer the usual lame defense that I didn’t know my advance was unwanted or that social attitudes were different back then.

My only excuse is that at the time of the incident I was about 7 years old.

I remember the moment because of what happened immediately afterward. The secretary, who worked at my father’s business in Mexico City, turned around and slammed a heavy stack of papers on my head. I marched indignantly over to my dad’s office to report her behavior — only so that he could march me over to her desk and have me apologize. He followed that up with a stern warning never to do anything of the sort again.

I don’t remember the secretary’s name. But what a service she did me by giving me a knock I’ll never forget, one that took courage and self-respect considering I was her boss’s son. What a service, too, that my dad defended her and gave me the talking-to that he did. It’s a lesson every boy should get — loud, clear, and early — from a male role model.

.. Oh, and be tender. Most kids endure a sex talk with a parent. Mine with him, on a winter’s evening drive when I was 12, was light on the mechanical issues but heavy on the subjects of gentleness, respect and love. I sat through it in mortified silence.

..How do men steer a path between the anachronistic prudery of a Mike Pence (who will not dine alone with a woman other than his wife) and the naked lechery of a Louis C.K., both of which share the premise that the central consideration in any interaction between a man and a woman must involve the prospect of sex?

.. There’s a long history for such ideas, dating at least to the 16th century with Baldassare Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier.” But most books published today on the subject of gentlemanliness are about how to dress, not how to behave.

.. Other than the advice columnists at Maxim magazine, who are today’s male authorities on the subjects of consideration, modesty and respect? Who, in the age of Trump, is teaching boys why not to grope — even when they can, even when “you can do anything”?

.. The good news is that, thanks to some brave women, we are at a moment when a great many men are privately re-examining past behavior and wondering how to do better. In other words, we’re thinking about how we might act as gentlemen. For now, it’s an impulse based largely on fear. In time, it should become one based on hope — the hope of real romantic fulfillment through the creation of trust, the practice of courtship, the intimacy of love and genuine partnership.


In Country Music, Nice Guys Finish First (for Now)

At the time, country music was still reckoning with its bro tendencies. For most of the 2010s, 20-something men in weathered baseball caps injected the genre with an almost comical masculinity — brawny, hip-hop-inflected sounds, lyrics that treated women as objects of lurid attention. Stars like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line were making intriguing musical hybrids with often woeful gender politics.

.. Mr. Rhett sings gently, with the faintest hint of soul-music syrup in his barely-accented voice. “Die a Happy Man” was so straightforward it landed with a shock. It became Mr. Rhett’s breakthrough hit, topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for 17 weeks.

As often happens, it also became a template: the country gentleman. And so Nashville’s bro tide is now receding, supplanted by a kindlier new generation of male country singers. They focus on uncomplicated, deeply dedicated love or, alternately, being hopeless on the receiving end of heartbreak.

.. They sing with voices light on drawl. They ooze respect, charm and, occasionally, dullness. At times they recall George Strait, the restrained cowboy superstar; at others, Earl Thomas Conley, the emotional ballad specialist of the 1980s.

.. More often than not, they have sturdy, approachable, single-syllable last names: Thomas Rhett, Brett Young, Chris Lane, Michael Ray.

.. They are the men next door, promising undying affection and emotional stability — a cliché, perhaps, but one more appealing than the last.

.. This surge also doubles as a response to the gender crisis that has been gripping country music the last few years, as captured in two parallel phenomena: the rise of the bro, and the disappearance of the female star.

.. For most of this decade, the genre’s male stars have been strutters: egocentric, bumblingly flirtatious, a little dunce-y.

At the same time, female singers have been getting squeezed ever more tightly

.. younger artists like Maddie & Tae and Kelsea Ballerini found success by positioning themselves in opposition to prevailing masculine narratives.

.. It dilutes the toxic levels of masculinity in the genre without offering women songs of their own to sing, instead plying them with ones that place them on a pedestal.

.. This is the emo side of the gentleman, looking inward for shortcomings, not outward.

In the bro era, women were objects to be chased. In these songs, they’re porcelain, gleaming and precious.