Redefining The Dallas MALE

Zapped by the local economy, sapped by the Dallas woman, and wrapped up in a search for his identity, the Dallas man is more confused than ever.

I KNOW THAT THE STATEMENT I’M ABOUT to make regularly appears in women’s magazines every couple of months, and I know that no one believes a word of it. Men are going to roll their eyes and say, “Oh no, not again.” A lot of women will think I’m making everything up. Men changing? Don’t be ridiculous. Maybe they’re changing in some place like New York or San Francisco, where it’s acceptable to be in an encounter group or nude therapy or something, but, come on, we’re talking Dallas. Men here want to do the same thing they’ve always done- make a million dollars, make a little small talk with the office secretary, and then lunge for her blouse buttons.

I’m sorry. You’re wrong. As uncomfortable as I am with such sweeping pronouncements, I must tell you there’s a new kind of man emerging in Dallas. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the new man could turn out to be more baffling and confused than ever.

Dallas, like most places, has been so aware of the onslaught of the “new woman” in her many incarnations-from the volunteer housewife who runs for city office to the liberated single woman to the powerbroker business figure- that we have often forgotten that men have been making some discoveries of their own. Dallas men, often against their will, have been forced to define their manhood with a new set of traits and attitudes. Curtains have fallen on ;old assumptions. A lot of men, frankly, aren’t sure how to deal with it. “If you simply look at what’s happened in the power structure of this city,” says Dr. John Batrus, the well-known local consulting management psychologist, “and at an economy that is forcing thousands of men to rethink their entire lives, then you have !to believe that what’s happening in Dallas is revolutionary.”

Just consider: a woman is mayor of Dallas. The number of women moving into Dallas’s professional and business life continues to increase. The old-boy network that ran this city for so long has broken up. Men from the city’s old-money families have little of the power they once did. And, most important, a poor local economy, weakened by the downturn in oil prices and the near-collapse of the real estate market, has significantly affected the lifestyles and aspirations of many affluent Dallas men. Suddenly, the dream of making a million dollars has grown dim. Men who have spent the last decade happily climbing from one tax bracket to another now find a lot of things crashing down around them. The ledgers they havt been keeping of their lives are not adding up the way they thought they would. “You cannot overestimate why so many men came to Dalla; in the late Seventies and early Eighties,” says Dr Burton C. Einspruch, a psychiatrist who see; many conservative Dallas businessmen (he co founded Sherry Lane National Bank and puts; copies of Harvard Business Review in his waiting room). “They saw Camelot, a magica environment where the dream of riches seemed in everyone’s grasp. There was a tremendous material rush to overprovide, and in that, they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. In their wish to overprovide everything, many of them forgot to teach themselves how to live or at least handle conflict.’

This kind of statement, I have to admit, is a little strong. Though it’s obvious over the last few years that the clichéd mass media image of the “Dallas man” is finally disappearing-that frontier-legacy figure who barrels through life fighting for his money, spouting good-ol’-boy slogans, acquiring and multiplying, and slapping his little wife on the bottom-it’s difficult for me to imagine men in Dallas making enormous changes. I certainly haven’t seen much evidence of the new “sensitive male” we had all been promised in the Eighties. I still see a lot of hairy-chested Vanna Whites at the nightclubs I keep coming across the macho crowd whose language is part English, part Nautilus. There are middle-aged men who risk their families for the thrill of one hazardous affair with a younger woman. And there are men going through the same ritualistic conversations with other men, discussing the Big Three topics-sexual conquests, money making, and sports statistics. I see the native-born Texas men whose lives were so strongly hammered in traditional forms by what their fathers and grandfathers did, and I think, “What is really coming to an end?”

“A lot,” says Steve Garrison, one of the most powerful executive recruiters in Dallas, a man whose reputation in part depends on the trends he can spot in the professional marketplace. “The image of Dallas as a ’young man’s city’ is about to end. In fact, the whole belief of youth in Dallas is tarnished somewhat. This has always been considered the success city where a young man can move in and accomplish anything he wanted. Well, that’s stopped real fast.”

“What’s terribly sad,” says Dr. Helen Hark-ness, a former university dean who now is a local career consultant, “are all these men who come in to see me, some of them twenty-six years old, and they’re already burned out, thinking their hopes will never be fulfilled. It’s something you usually don’t see in men until their late thirties. I think a lot of men are in a crisis, reevaluating what they are here for.”

Men, of course, have been allegedly reevaluating themselves for a long time. The man debate-carried out in countless magazines, books, Donahue shows (“Our question today: can you wash dishes and still be a man?”)-is an ancient ritual, begun no doubt among women huddled around Stone Age campfires. In an 1898 issue of The Critic, a leading magazine of the time, I came across an article titled, “The New Man,” which studied the same problems and drew the same conclusion that a zillion articles to follow would make: men, sooner or later, would become more open and caring. Yes, well, don’t hold your breath.

AND YET (AH, YES, ALWAYS THE “yet”), it would be naive to say men in Dallas are the same as they were ten or even five years ago. In truth, the Dallas culture today offers fewer of the raw materials it once took to “be a man.” The reason, certainly, has something to do with the inability to pile up material wealth the way we did a few years ago, but there is something else. There are growing numbers of Dallas men without meaningful romantic relationships: they are afraid of making a commitment while their own lives are still filled with a certain aimlessness. There are men whose thoughts linger more on Dallas’s 50 percent divorce rate than on the stability of a marriage. There are men who have no idea how to blend their hard-edged masculinity with any softer role. There are those who are deciding they can no longer play the traditional role of husband and father. In this post-liberation age, men are perceiving a changed sexual milieu, even here in Dallas, a city that has never been on the forefront of the women’s movement. The Dallas man realizes that his consciousness is indeed different from his father’s at the same age, though he may not be sure just what that difference is.

I say this because in a month I turn thirty, I’m right in the thick of the baby boom generation that has poured into Dallas (31.7 percent of the Dallas population is between twenty-five and forty-four, compared to 27.7 percent for the country as a whole). Across the Dallas landscape, you can see the men of this generation, running furiously, not sure where or why, but afraid to stand still. The problem, however, is that some of the rules are changing, which in turn will change us. Now, perhaps, might be the appropriate time to stop and see where we are headed. I admit, it’s not an easy task. As my lifelong friend Gregg Steward, who also turned thirty this year, says, “There are three rules to being a great man. Unfortunately, no one knows what any of them are.”

I MENTION GREGG BECAUSE I REMEMBER the way we were when we came to Dallas in the late Seventies. Dallas, by then, had become the ultimate young man’s city. At night, the city was filled with the lights of their campfires-restaurants and nightclubs all aglow as men moved from table to table, on their faces the unshakable look of those meant for success. All the fame rested in the young. The Alt-American boy, Roger Stau-bach, was leading the Cowboys to Super Bowls. Billy Bob Harris had become one of the most famous bachelors in the whole country. Steve Bartlett, a mere kid in his thirties, was on his way to the city council and soon to the U.S. Congress. A new breed of button-down young executives began moving into the downtown banks; young, renegade blue-jeaned businessmen like Gene Street, of the Black-Eyed Peas and Dixie Houses, developed the golden touch. Was it impossible to fail? Jack Knox, now forty-nine, not only created a successful oil company, but a gourmet restaurant, Cafe Pacific, which quickly became one of the city’s most popular eating spots. “In Dallas,” recalls George Kline, now thirty-eight, a Fort Worth native who came here to become rich as a producer of television commercials, “money-making became the equivalent of long hair in the Sixties. Everyone dijl it.”

Gregg and I also showed up just in time to watch the eruption of a whole new breed of young real estate barons, from curly-haired Texas boy David Davidson (now forty-three) to a Jewish kid from New York named Paul Pilzer (thirty-two). The early Eighties saw an explo-sion of fresh-faced college graduates with their real estate licenses, running around trying to broker a deal. They were men who could credit-card anything, they always flew somewhere else on weekends, and they dated those polished women who seemed to pulsate under-neath with secret fires. Larry Cantrell, thirty-three, came to Dallas in 1978, ate at the free happy hour buffets at the Greenville Avenue bars to save money, and began making real estate deals of his own. “The peer pressure was so tremendous back then,” says Cantrell, now a successful developer, “because every guy your age looked like he was rich. Everyone was moving up so fast that you felt like an idiot if you didn’t join the gold rush. And the easy thing was it didn’t take much to join.”

The attitude was addictive: everyone thought it was just a matter of time before they made their own great impact on the world. “Listen,” Gregg, totally serious, told me one night years ago, “if we stay in shape, by the time we’re thirty, we’ll rule this city.”

We were not part of a generation in any self-conscious sense; there was no understanding among us that we were vastly different than the group that had preceded us. But no Dallas male under the age of forty can remain untouched by the memory of the sudden wealth that seemed so close and available so fast. It was like a mag-: let to even more young people. When the census was last taken in 1979, there were 228,438 people living in Dallas who were between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-nine. But, astonish-ngly, there were 102,673 residents (nearly half of the previous number) who were only be-:ween the ages of twenty and twenty-four. Now, nearly a decade later, that twenty to twenty-four group is hovering around the thirty-year-old mark. And guess what? Today’s thirty-year-olds are not ruling (his city.

“In fact,” says Dr. Michael McGill, the SMU business professor and popular author, “the younger man at thirty is going to be floundering a lot more than the man ten years older than him. All those big-money, land-of-opporlunity myths he had heard about Dallas, that he saw embodied in the group of men who came right before him, well, they’ve all exploded.” Moreover, says Einspruch, “all the bright people in their thirties and younger face withering times because the executive chambers of our companies are already filled with men in their early forties, and there is no place for the younger group to move up. They can’t make their big mark here like they thought, and so the dream declines.”

As I move around this young man’s city talking to dozens of young men. I notice that a lot of them, even those well into their forties, are indeed taking stock of themselves, wondering about their obsessive chase of the bitch goddess of success. Some are able to admit to a panicky feeling, as if they are men on the run, the dogs baying not far behind. Others realize their lives aren’t going to make quite the difference they once thought. They won’t be famous and powerful, except perhaps in the narrow, contrived worlds of their chic nightclubs where they can charm women and spend money on champagne.

Something has moved closer to the bone-maybe it is a little sorrow, and maybe it is the knowledge that often comes with age. “The most important thing.” says Batrus, “for men in Dallas has been their ambition. They’ve been hard workers, screwing each other to get ahead, kissing ass, doing everything they can to make it. And now, just when they figure it’s time to pluck the gold ring of success, they find that some son of a bitch has already run off with it. Now they’re trying to figure out some other way to make their lives seem important.”

I don’t want to give the impression that there are no happy stories among the new young men of Dallas. I think of Paul Cog-gins, thirty-six, the renaissance man, a Harvard-educated lawyer and novelist, former president of the Dallas Democratic Forum, married to a woman who is probably more talented than himself. I talked to Bill Conley, thirty-six, the young computer venture entrepreneur, one of the first of (he new strain of high-tech men who are making their way to Dallas. Bright, glib, charming, Con-ley knows that out of his profession will come the powerbrokers of Dallas’s future. “But they will be men who are more quiet and strategic,” he says. “They won’t have the Texas flamboyance of the earlier generations.’” I occasionally came across happy, prosperous young men in Dallas real estate, like Richard Boyd, twenty-eight, a man filled with such a sense of ease and confidence that others find themselves trying to imitate him.

There are just as many men as ever who have immersed themselves in the single life of the city, their fives cheerfully dominated by the mating urge, regardless of what time of day it is. One can find the usual number of young men who have inherited money- Boyd calls them the “Lucky Sperm Club’- as they zip around town, serene looks on their faces. Also, there are the notorious “young fogies” of Dallas, men who have adapted to a bedrock-conservative Highland Park life; apparently quite satisfied, they never look back.

This is, certainly, a city that still celebrates the young man-a half-dozen charity bachelor auctions have sprung up in the last year, in which women bid thousands for dates with handsome, successful men wearing tuxedos-and it’s rare to find a success-driven man who readily admits that he doesn’t have it all together. Men have always known how to assume stoic disguises and act with a staged, if unsettling, evasiveness. But Boyd himself admits that “the guys I know who look like they have everything in control are, deep down, asking themselves a lot of questions. They don’t know how long they can keep up the image, but you’ll never hear them say that.”

MAYBE THAT’S STARTING TO CHANGE. HOW-ever. “Men in the late Seventies would never speak about themselves,” says Dr. Lucia Gilbert, a University of Texas educational psychology professor who recently published a book on men in dual-career families. “But lately, they’ve been saying, ’Talk to us. We’re the ones who are changing, not women.’” I remember my conversation with Jim Henry, a successful Dallas corporate executive, who last year formed a small self-help group with other successful male executives ’’so that we could learn to share our vulnerabilities. Most of us had never tried to do that before.” There are men like thirty-four-year-old Jimmy Roseman, a North Dallas bank executive. Aggressive, with uncanny business instincts, he shot upwards so fast in the city’s financial community that his future looked boundless. But now, he wonders about being a part of a very greedy young generation. “I don’t want this to sound arrogant” he says, “but I see such rampant desire for wealth, an unquenchable desire to make a million dollars, that I wonder if we’re forgetting to act like caretakers of the earth instead of guys trying to make money out of it. At some point, we need to sit down and talk about where our values lie.”

In many ways, the new Dallas men today seem confused about the self they present to the world. We try to make such great strides under the category of “personal fulfillment”-working on our bodies in our yuppie gyms, eating pasta salad, cutting down on our drinking-that we often forget what it is we want to fulfill. What is the end we’re using all these means to reach? Stephen Page, a thirty-two-year-old partner with an executive recruiting firm, came to Dallas in 1980 to make his fortune. Now that he’s made it, he contemplates the price he paid. “There is no question that everyone in my age group who wanted to be successful did so mostly to the exclusion of their personal relationships.” Tim Vaughan, a talented thirty-two-year-old attorney for the prestigious Gardere & Wynne law firm, concedes that he doesn’t think about getting married like he once did. “If someone asks me what I’ll be doing in twenty years, I say that I suppose I’ll be married. But I don’t consider it in the way that I, say, consider advancing in my career.”

Oh, yes, the great Lack of Commitment issue. In their thirties, men today are still confused by the problems of freedom and commitment and responsibility that their fathers took care of by the age of twenty-one. Caught in that typical male oscillation between a desire for freedom and a desire for intimacy, they end up mostly looking silly. My friend Gregg Steward admits he is exactly this way-he puts on a suit and pretends to be a man, but he never feels grown up. “It’s like you don’t want to be captured,” says Gregg, a copywriter for a large Dallas advertising agency. He develops a major infatuation with a woman, acts serious for a couple of months, talks about “being involved,” then picks up and runs, feeling trapped.

A woman, of course, is the best barometer of a man: she invariably receives the bluntest of his emotions- Though the post-feminist thinking maintains that a woman’s sense of self is now defined less in terms of a man and what a man provides, like money and power, it is still true that women remain intrigued, and continually perplexed, by the odd mixture of manliness and sensitivity, the need for love and the desire for power, that couple in men, one element often hiding the other. “Through all the changes we’ve gone through in the last two decades,” says Dr. Gilbert, “it is the woman who has to do the fighting for intimacy in a relationship “

The women I talk to from Dallas’s upscale environments don’t seem too encouraged with the progress of the new generation of men in their romantic relationships- especially now, in a limited economy, with so many men feeling stripped of their self-worth. “You know,” a woman in her early thirties tells me about her husband, who was a rising young banking star at InterFirst, “I didn’t understand how much his job affected our marriage. But then word comes down that they’re merging InterFirst with Republic, that his job is changing, that he won’t get the big raises anymore, that he won’t be promoted as quickly as he was in his twenties, that he might be in his same position for the rest of his career. And it’s like something inside of him died. He doesn’t seem to care about me the way he used to.”

Another woman friend says that she worries that her boyfriend, in real estate, will start trying to play around on her, substituting erotic gains for professional advancement. “He’ll try to pick up a fluffball woman just so he can say to himself that he hasn’t lost any of his bigtime manhood.”

She isn’t far off the mark. For many a man, a new woman gives him an illusion of authority that was never really his in the First place. There are husbands, not yet in middle age, who have already tired of the well-regulated happiness of their home life, and so they cheat, believing in their hearts that they are capable of another act of great passion. None of this is new: anyone who has lived in Dallas for a few years can recite dozens of routine horror stories about couples whose relationships have failed. Sadly, the stories aren’t going to end. The local psychologists and psychiatrists I interviewed all predict a greater increase in Dallas divorces and affairs as relationships feel the pressures of a constricted economy. Says Einspruch: “People are willing to tolerate a lot of emotional problems as long as there’s some money around. When times are bad, those relationships bust up.”

OF COURSE, THIS IS THE TOP END OF Dallas’s economic scale we’re talking about. One of the unpleasant little truths of our money-driven city is that we usually forget the people at the other end of the scale, the middle-class and blue-collar workers. According to demographic experts, more young blue-collar workers are now migrating to Dallas than affluent professionals who once flocked here as part of corporate relocations. With the blue-collar population, it’s normal to live in bad times, to try to keep a family together with a meager paycheck. I know it’s popular among the young professional class to talk about two-career marriages and shared domestic roles and day care and all that, but it’s in the middle class where you see both parents working because they have to, where you see dads with their kids at McDonald’s, where a “sensitive man” is born not from a trendy book, but from the realization that his love and affection might be the only things he has left to fight the tension that is knotting up his life.

Nevertheless, it is in the lives of the young upper-middle-class generation where you find the battleground of change. Here, couples are obsessed with the modern relationship and the choices and dilemmas it brings. Here, a different kind of power game is being played out, as men and women struggle with all the archetypes of manhood and womanhood, trying to figure out how their roles should mesh. Sure, there is still the comic mating-and-dating drama where the actors follow hackneyed scripts without ever stopping to ask why. But it’s obvious that for some men, the courting of women has turned. No other generation has been so concerned with keeping each other’s territory intact, with space, with unobtrusive intimacy. I came across men who now talk about learning to love without dominating. There is a New Age etiquette to which they seem to be paying some lip service. The question a lot of women ask is whether men, when they finish talking about change, really want things to be that different.

I talk about this from a bias, as one who has spent a lot of time going through horrible, ridiculous rituals trying to prove myself in a relationship. Almost every time, I come across as bumbling and potentially destructive. “That’s perfectly natural,” says John Batrus. “It seems to me the new group of men today are more scared of women than ever before. A man’s roles aren’t clearly defined. He can’t be macho in the old dominating way. He can’t be a hard-ass. And he’ll probably fall for a woman who will be better in business than he is. These guys are looking around today and saying, ’Well, hell, now what?’”

Often it looks as if the men I know fall in love just to have someone in whom to confide all their uncertainties. The younger men seem to want numerous qualities out of a relationship, yet they are never quite able to pinpoint what those qualities are. I see a lot of Dallas men act as if they are simply passing through various stages of being single. They engage in what has been called “serial monogamy,” a series of one love affair after another, all of them important, none of them amounting to anything that will entail marriage. More men confess a liking to a part-time relationship; to them, seeing the woman they love four or five times a week is more satisfying than seeing her seven.

I also watch men in the dual-career marriage, where husbands divide the domestic duties with their wives, try to find time for the children while sneaking in a little time for themselves, and in the end sag or snap under the strain. They quickly leam that the 50-50 life can be very constraining and can drain a lot of the romance out of things. Mary Emma Karam, thirty-three, the respected law partner of the Jackson Walker firm, is married to a pediatrician, Albert Karam. After working full days at their separate offices, they try to spend at least six hours each evening with their two young children, ages one and two, even if it means keeping them up past 10 p.m. The couple has not been to a movie since the first child was born, they never go out two consecutive nights, and they live under incredibly precise schedules. “It seems every other day,” says Mary Emma, “my husband and I get into a long discussion about whose career is going to give first. We talk about how we are going to be able to make the family work, whether our lives are accommodating our children. We both know how important our work is to each other, but.. .” And then her voice trails off.

Mary Emma knows what the usual outcome is. She can cite examples of many of her young female friends who have given up their careers to save the family. Their husbands pressured them to quit. “Normally, when something has to be sacrificed,” she says, “it’s going to be the woman’s work. My husband is rare because he refuses to ask me ’ whether I want to quit. He says that’s my decision to make. But, secretly, if I walked in and told him I quit, he’d be delighted.”

Even in the best of the modern relationships, like the Karams, there is a palpable tension that was seldom found in the marriages of a generation past. For men, it is difficult to surrender the desire to be cared for and nurtured as their fathers were by their wives. Many men still commit themselves to a marriage with the conviction that the wife won’t change much, that the family will be the most important thing in her life, and that she will always find him an inspiring and beloved figure. It was not necessarily easier in the old days-there was still the conflict and torment-but at least the players knew the rules.

AND IF THAT CONFUSES WOMEN, IT IS IM-portant to remember that the men of my age feel they don’t get any clearer signals in return. Men see some women stretching their independence, yet they see just as many women returning to old-style self-help books: today, more than ever, women are buying simplistic bestsellers (Women Men Love/Women Men Leave. Smart Women, Foolish Choices) that tell women how to find the right man and how to keep him.

Though the landscape of the evolving male-female relationship is littered with the tragedy of divorce-the same old story of two people, beginning with the best of intentions, then sliding slowly into cynicism and despair-the truth is men want to be married . Sociological studies of the last decade have also found that men need marriage. Single men suffer worse physical health and more mental problems than married men (single men between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five are more than 30 percent more likely than married men or single women to be depressed, and they’re almost twice as likely to show “severe neurotic symptoms”). They die earlier than married men. Most men build meaningful, satisfying lives only through institutions, and that includes marriage.

There are many times when I am convinced that a decent manhood is simply a matter of developing a good marriage. I have spent enough time being single to realize the advantages of being alone, how much more work you can get done, and how you don’t have to put up with the little annoyances of someone else. But I also realize what it means to get a look from across the room from someone who knows you so well, who laughs at you and cries for you, someone whose unspoken love suddenly seems far more important than a few hours of freedom. I get sentimental when I remember the definition someone once gave me of two people in love. “You can tell they are in love,” my friend said, “because of the significance they give to one another.”

AND SO, IN THE YUPPIE NEIGHBORHOODS of East Dallas, in the apartment complexes of the north, in little suburban homes, in the condominiums of Oak Lawn, the new generation of Dallas men is hard at work, trying to make terms with life. We are out there acting ambitious, passionate, adventurous, and virile, while at the same time displaying a real cute sense of humor. We consider ourselves honest and protective, with a bit of me charming scoundrel in us. We like to think that women see in us a kind of quiet power, even a superiority, as if we have something very important to teach them. There is still a little voice inside us that says we are destined to make a great dent in the world. We know that some day we will be able to fix the electric dishwasher, then cook French food, and then lie down on the living room floor to watch Monday Night Football.

The truth, as we all know, even if we’llnever admit it, is that we are one truly banalgroup of men, mostly baffled, often insecure, scared of the future. I know that manyof us, married or single, making a lot ofmoney or making nothing, will tread into ourthirties fearing maturity, because we wonderif the chapters in the remainder of our liveswill only get worse, and we fear that ourdreams will never come true. So we arestuck at the crossroads. Sometimes I think ofthe words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,who, upon looking back on his great career,said, “Alas, gentlemen, that is life. We cannot live our dreams. We are lucky enoughif we can give a sample of our best, andif in our hearts we can feel that it has beennobly done.


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