Rebecca Walker



By Kathleen Grant Geib, © Alameda Times-Star, 06/18/2004


IT TAKES a feminist to ask, "What is a man?"
And not just any feminist, but Berkeley's Rebecca Walker, daughter of well-known writer Alice Walker.

But it isn't really surprising that a woman whose previous anthology, "To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism," a standard text in women's studies courses, would dare ask why men are being robbed of their softer sides.

As editor of "What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future" (Riverhead Books, $24.95), Walker says men are taught from childhood to avoid emotion, be in control, define themselves by money and work and never cry. She says these cultural lessons result in men who don't know who they are, only who they are supposed to be.

In her anthology of essays, Walker invites writers to look at demilitarizing men. "I absolutely asked them to write about 'putting down the gun,'" says Walker.

The editor brings together talented writers such as Michael Datcher, David Coates, Bruce Stockler and Douglas Rushkoff.

In "The Gift," Datcher talks about his wedding gift to his wife -- a year of financial support while she finishes her novel. Datcher's story is filled with married-life humor and his struggle with the resentment that unexpectedly accompanies his gift. Datcher's friend counsels him to be patient and in the end, Datcher discovers that giving and forgiving make him a husband.

Female writers including Martha Southgate, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Ruth Bettelheim and Walker also provide perspectives on masculinity.

As a mother, Southgate listens to her heart when her tiny son adds girl's clothing to his outfits in "My Girlish Boy." The author's son outgrows this, but Southgate says the experience forces her to pay attention to the way society defines men and encourages her to let go of her own ideas about boys and girls.

Walker feels socialization has its place, but says our culture asks kids to deny parts of their humanity. "I hope that my children are able to grow up free," says Walker.

Help for dads

This Father's Day, two newly released practical parenting books encourage men to free themselves from traditional boundaries and connect with their children from the beginning.

New dads, don't lose any sleep -- at least not over the how-to's of caring for your baby. Authors Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden offer a step-by-step guide to the first challenging year in "Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads" (Simon and Schuster, $11.95). Drawings by Hayden are delightful.

Learn how to bathe your baby and what different cries mean. Learn to baby-proof your home, deal with teething and pack a masculine-looking diaper bag. Learn about finger foods, restaurant outings and mothers' post-baby moods.

A new baby may turn your life upside down, but Greenberg and Hayden's coping methods are both practical and humorous, so take heart. You have only 17 more years to go.

Lots of time is the focus of Stephan B. Poulter's book, "Father Your Son: How to Become the Father You've Always Wanted to Be" (McGraw-Hill, $14.95). Poulter encourages fathers to create an emotional connection with their sons by spending time together. Whether this means reading favorite books, playing video games, catching a movie or just listening, time together helps sons grow up healthy.

Poulter reminds dads that sons of all ages need their father's approval and that daughters who have good relationships with their dads grow up confident and hopeful.

You can e-mail Kathleen Grant Geib at or call (925) 416-4812.




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