Making Promises You Can Keep
by Jan Baughman

It is difficult to comprehend the drive behind the Promise Keepers. A bunch of guys in football stadiums holding hands and sobbing -- and not because their team just lost. Perhaps El Nino, with its threat of mass destruction, is providing a safe haven in which men can express their feelings. People often say things they wouldn't otherwise say when facing a crisis.

The Promise Keepers claim to be apolitical. Their president, Randy Phillips, said "We are not a political organization, we are not politically motivated and we do not have political goals." No doubt it was only a matter of convenience that they chose the apolitical National Mall for their revival! The pundits were quick to report on the event, yet were even quicker to reserve judgment on the group. "We are waiting to see whether they put forth a political agenda." An organized group of white males representing organized religion, anti-abortion and male-dominated households with no apparent political agenda gathering by the tens or hundreds of thousands in Washington D.C. with no agenda? Give us a break! If these men, these middle-class middle-age white family men wanted nothing more than to confess their sins, reclaim family values and espouse racial harmony, they should have joined the Million Man March. It would have brought the actual number closer to its name.

Why weren't the wives invited to bear witness to the grand promulgation? It's much more powerful (and generally the norm) to take a vow or make a promise directly to the person to whom one is promising. Ah, well, it's the 90's; somebody had to stay home with the kids and have dinner waiting on the table after a long day at the rally. Besides, actions speak louder than words -- the wives know that. Most men wouldn't have been able to afford the plane ticket if their wives didn't work.

Here is a word of advise to the downtrodden white male: Don't flaunt your ability to emote before you are sure you can sustain it. Start slowly; consider a local men's group, Geraldo, Oprah. Talk to a friend. Or, better yet, start in your own home. If you make a promise to participate in the family, do so with your family and in your house, not in Washington D.C. or in some football stadium. Stop reinventing yourself in an effort to define your manhood. Terms like "breadwinner" and "man of the house" are history. Ask your wife if she wants you to be a Promise Keeper. You need your wife's income. That's a promise.

Published October 12, 1997
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