Friday, February 28, 2014

Part I: What If You Don't Like Your Son's Fiancee

     We were out to dinner the other night with some close friends of ours. They have three children, and one of them, their oldest son, recently got engaged to be married. The young woman is someone the son -- I'll call him Taylor -- has known since first grade, and they've been going out together since high school.

     I've also known Taylor since he was in first grade, maybe even before that, although I've only met his fiancee a couple of times. Taylor has always been a popular kid with lots of friends. He wasn't a brilliant student; but he went to college and now has a good job, though it's not an easy one and he does work odd hours. His fiancee is more quiet. She has a couple of close friends, but not a wide network of friends. And while she is very pretty, she doesn't open up to other people very easily.

     The problem is that she hasn't opened up very much to Taylor's mother. I kind of knew it already; but that's what most of our dinner conversation was about. The girl tends to be kind of formal in social situations; she rarely contributes much to a conversation; and for whatever reason she and Taylor's mother have never quite made a good connection. They've never had a heart-to-heart. If anything, the mother and the fiancee seem a little wary of each other.

     The girl is perhaps overly protective of Taylor, almost as though she's sometimes ordering him around. Taylor is very solicitous of her. She always seems to get her way. And yet, when the two of them are off in another room, or watching TV together, they seem very close. They talk in whispers; they laugh; they cuddle. They are obviously very much in love, and seem very well suited to each other.

     Last year the young couple moved away from home, and now they live several hundred miles away. Too far to simply drive over for the weekend. So the latest? Taylor's mother wants to take a quick flight to spend a long weekend visiting them. Her husband wouldn't go; he's still working; and besides, the mother wanted to make this a special trip of her own.

     All this all seemed fine, until Taylor's mother actually made her plane reservations. Then she heard from her son. Maybe it wasn't such as good idea to visit after all, he told her.

     Taylor and his fiancee were busy at work, he explained, and they couldn't afford to take any extra days off. They wanted to make a visit home at some point; and then they would need vacation time for their honeymoon; and they were carefully saving up their vacation days. Also, they were busy looking for a new apartment, since their year-long lease is running out. What would Taylor's mother do if she came for three days, and both the kids were working, or looking at apartments?

     Taylor's mother told us she's sure this sudden change of mind has come from the fiancee, and while she's trying to understand the situation -- and still trying to decide whether or not to make the trip -- it hasn't given her any more warm and fuzzy feelings about her son's fiancee

     Don't get me wrong. The title overstates the situation. Taylor's mom likes the girl okay, and she does think she's a good match for her son. But this would be the first of her children to get married; and maybe she thinks he's a little young to take this step anyway. She definitely feels more like she's losing a son rather than gaining a daughter-in-law.

     Does this situation sound familiar to anyone? Her husband did voice the opinion that she should make the trip; he offered to go with her if it would make her more comfortable, but she said no, she wanted this for herself. And the unspoken question was: why should the girl be able to prevent the mother from visiting her son, or even make her feel awkward about it? What I thought, but did not say, was:  for crying out loud, couldn't the kid take one day off to please his poor mom?

     But then, I'm not a mom, so I don't know about these things. I thought the problems with our kids ended the day they went off to college! But that is obviously not true, as will be explained in Part II, upcoming sometime in March.

     

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are Women Better Investors than Men?

     An article in the New York Times over the weekend called "Mars, Venus and the Handling of Money" talks about how women now have more money than ever before, but their concerns are not always addressed by the financial services industry. Recent studies show that male investors are driven by objective data, while women want to deal with money holistically and emotionally. "You could talk to guys about research, transactions, performance," wrote M. P. Dunleavey. "Women were more interested in coaching, saving and support."

     You might think that the data-driven, math-oriented approach to investing would produce better results. But if you did think that, you'd be wrong. According to several other studies, women actually make better investors than men. The most recent, from the tax and advisory firm Rothstein Kass, found that hedge funds run by women outperformed those managed by men by 6 percentage points over a nine-month period in 2012.

     Why do women do better? No one knows for sure. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions like Warren Buffett. But I can think of a few likely reasons:

     Men are more competitive. You'd think this would be a good thing, right? But as in so many areas of investing, the obvious answer is not the right answer. For many men, the most important thing is not the absolute return of an investment, but whether or not they beat their rivals. This often leads males to make riskier bets, which are less likely to pay off.

     Also, as we all know, men are less likely to ask for advice. Somehow it's seen as a mark of weakness. All this leads men to focus on the short term and lose sight of the real objective of investing: producing consistent, positive returns over an extended period of time.

     Women take fewer risks. According to research by behavioral scientists, women as a rule are more risk averse than men. Women are more inclined to wear seat belts, avoid cigarette smoking and get their blood pressure checked. They are 40 percent less likely to run yellow traffic lights. So it should come as no surprise that women gravitate toward safer investments and hold stock portfolios that are less volatile.

     One investment study concluded that when things go wrong, men get angry, while women become more fearful. Anger can lead people to take action that will lead to more losses, such as doubling down on losing investments or trying to "catch a falling knife.” By contrast, fearful women are more likely to side-step market downturns in the first place, then if they do suffer losses they pull in the reins and avoid big disasters.

     Women do more homework. Women are less confident than men, and therefore less likely to be deluded into believing they know more than they do. They want to be in control, and therefore do more research to find out exactly what they are investing in. Women also have more realistic ideas about what an investment can reasonably deliver, and are less likely to jump on the “next big thing” or fall for a “can't miss” stock tip.

     One report found that a quarter of the men surveyed admitted they would gamble on a “hot” investment without doing any research, while only half as many women would make that same mistake. As a result, women trade less frequently. They incur fewer transaction costs and fewer tax consequences. Women are more patient. They commit to their investments and do not get spooked by a short-term hiccup in a company's performance.

     Women realize they are not in control. Surveys show that women are more likely than men to attribute success to factors outside themselves, like luck or fate. This apparent contradiction – aiming to achieve control when you know you can only control so much – gives women the perspective they need to avoid panic.

     And yet, paradoxically, it also allows them to admit when they have made a mistake. Women look out for the next storm. When it arrives they batten down the hatches and ride it out. They know the market is like the ocean. It is much bigger than any one investor, subject to huge global forces. But over time there's a certain ebb and flow, and if you're a good navigator you can sail on to richer shores.

     If you want some basic investment advice, check out one of my early posts called The Last Word on Investing. But meanwhile, how is it that the best investor of all, the legendary Warren Buffett, happens to be a man?

     Perhaps you should ask author Louann Lofton, who wrote the book: Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should Too.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Guilty Pleasure

     Adam is not sure where to turn next. He lives in Berkeley, Calif., with his wife and two children. He recently found out his son Max is autistic, or at least on the spectrum. Max has had some flare-ups in school, and if things don't go his way at home he falls apart and has a temper tantrum.

     Meanwhile, Adam's parents are having marital difficulties. Adam and his sister Sarah found out their dad made a bad real-estate investment. Their dad is afraid to tell their mom -- and when she does finally find out, she is devastated. She feels that her husband never trusts her, never shares his life with her. And this brings up a long-repressed problem in the marriage. The dad had had an affair -- it happened a while ago, but it was never resolved, never forgiven. The result:  Adam's dad moves out of his house and into Adam's spare bedroom. 

     As if that's not enough, Adam's 15-year-old daughter Haddie is going out with an older kid in high school. He pressures her for sex, and when she turns him down he has a fling with Haddie's cousin Amber. Meanwhile, Haddie is learning how to drive. Her mother is teaching her. And it's not going well.

     Does this sound like real life to you? It's actually a summary of what's going on in Season 1 of the TV show that B and I have been binge-watching. I don't know how we discovered it. I think one of B's friends told her about it.

     We backed into this show -- watching Season 5 first, and falling in love with it, then going back to watch Season 1. We actually think Season 5 is better than Season 1. I don't know if our first exposure gave it a freshness that has been lost after watching a dozen episodes, or if the show has just gotten better. Or maybe it's because Ray Romano, one of my favorite actors, joined the cast for Season 5.

     Anyway, in Season 5, Adam's wife Christina is recovering from cancer and running for mayor of Berkeley. Adam must have lost his job, because he's working with his brother managing a music studio. Their niece Amber is breaking up with her fiance and getting interested in a member of a band. The parents are back together, but the mother is going on a trip to Italy with her art class. And Haddie. Haddie has disappeared from the show. If you know what happened to her, please don't tell me. I want to find out for myself!

     After we finished watching Season 5, we searched Netflix and found the entire backlog of the show. We finished watching Season 1 last night, and started in on the first episode of Season 2.

     The show, by the way, is called "Parenthood," and I recommend it highly. It's billed as a comedy but is in fact a soap opera -- but a good one. The new season begins next Thursday night, Feb. 27, on NBC.

     The show was developed by Jason Katims, who has "Friday Night Lights" and "Boston Public" to his credits (neither of which I've watched), and who has a new show coming out, "About a Boy" based on the novel and movie. Ron Howard was involved in creating the show back in 2010, though he's apparently no longer involved.

     So . . .  watching the Braverman family struggle through the vicissitudes of modern life will make you laugh and make you cry. And here's a bit of gossip: Actor Peter Krause, who plays Adam Braverman, and Lauren Graham, who plays his sister Sarah Braverman on the show, are dating each other in real life.

     Binge-watching. That's got be a new word in our modern-day vocabulary. Last fall I binge-watched "Orange Is the New Black." But I did that one alone. B saw the first episode and wasn't interested.

     Have you done any binge-watching? I know it's nothing to brag about -- watching lots of TV -- but hey, I've just admitted my own guilty pleasure, so don't be shy admitting yours. Besides, I'm looking for my next binge-watching opportunity. What should I put on my list? I've heard "Breaking Bad" is good. How about "House of Cards" -- anyone recommend that?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Get the Call

     My doctor put the order through for a CT scan. But it was up to me to schedule an appointment. I'd seen my doctor on a Friday. I went right home, picked up the phone and called the radiology department. I got an appointment for Tuesday, at 11:45 a.m. "Don't eat anything for four hours before the test," the woman told me. She didn't say why. I wasn't going to get anesthesia, was I?

     So much about this was unknown. And I had four days to wait and wonder and worry. The doctor had said it's probably not a nodule, probably not a growth. "That's not where they think this is going," he'd said.

     But he didn't know for sure. And how was I supposed to know what kind of misdirection he might use to mask the cold reality. I mean, not even a doctor wants to be the one to tell someone they have cancer.

     Four days to think about what might be wrong. It wasn't too bad during the day when I was busy. But the question hung in the background.

     B seemed not at all worried. "The doctor told you it wasn't any kind of growth," she reminded me. She was making dinner, and I was hanging around the kitchen. "He said not to worry, so why are you worrying?"

     "Well, it could be ..."

     "I'm sure it's nothing," she said. "Look at you. You're as healthy as can be."

     That was easy for her to say. She wasn't the one with the shadow on her X-ray. After dinner I went to my computer. I checked some emails. I was planning a trip to Florida. What if the CT scan came in positive -- would I have to cancel my trip and take more medical tests instead?

     I found myself poking around on WebMD. I went to the symptom checker and started answering a series of questions. I had a cough. I had pain in my chest. Suddenly a red box popped up: "If you are experiencing dull or achy chest pain or discomfort please seek prompt medical attention."

     I laughed. WedMD says I'm having a heart attack. At least I know I'm not having a heart attack. Besides, I've already sought medical attention. I answered the rest of the questions and read down the list of possible conditions: coronary heart disease, heartburn (GERD). That's one possibility my doctor suggested. But I couldn't believe I had heartburn. I don't eat greasy, spicy food. I never get an upset stomach.

     Pneumonia; hernia; muscle strain, pulmonary fibrosis; bronchitis; panic attack. I wasn't having a panic attack. But I was experiencing anxiety. Couldn't I just stop thinking about it? The doctor did say it was probably nothing.

     And then I saw it:  lung cancer (non small cell); and lung cancer (small cell). So it was a possibility, after all. What's the difference between small cell and non small cell? I didn't want to know, at least not that first night.

     I tossed and turned through the night. Daybreak brought a more sensible frame of mind, as daily routine kept my mind off the issue. But that night I again was on the computer, searching for lung cancer. My family had a history of cancer. I knew that, even when I was a teenager and started smoking. How could I be so stupid? I probably deserved whatever I got.

     I found some information about low dose CT scan screening for lung cancer. Is that what I was getting? The guidelines suggest that people with a history of heavy smoking get the screening, because like other cancers, if you catch it early it can often be cured. If you wait until symptoms like coughing and chest pain occur, it's probably too late.

     I saw a recommendation that anyone with a history of 30 or more pack years should be screened -- that's the equivalent of one pack a day for 30 years. I did the math for myself. Part-time smoking in high school. Full time smoking in college and for about two years afterwards. Then I gave it up. But I was a cheater. I wouldn't smoke for a couple of months; then I'd be at a party, and someone would light up, and I'd bum a cigarette. I smoked a cigar when I played poker. My ex-wife smoked, and so I breathed in my share of second-hand smoke.

     I figured I had a history of about 8 or 9 pack years. Was that enough to give me cancer?

     My logical mind told me, no. B was right, I was worrying over nothing. I'd been to the doctor over the years with a pain here, a pain there. It always turned out to be nothing. Why would this be any different? But then the prickly heat would break out. People do get lung cancer. Why should I be exempt?

     The morning of the CT scan finally arrived, and it felt like a relief. I got up and drank one cup of coffee at 7:45, four hours ahead of time. I showered; I walked the dog. B went to work. And I finally got in the car and made the drive to the radiology department.

     I filled out a form and waited in a small room, sitting with five or six other people. A nurse opened the door and called my name. She led me inside to a tiny room, told me to strip down to my underwear and put on a gown. When I came out she walked me to the CT scan room, explaining she'd be putting an IV in my arm to inject some dye. The dye would highlight my chest, make it easier for the doctors to see what they were looking for.

     "Is that why I couldn't eat?" I asked.

     A man came up by my side. "I'll be doing the scan," he said. "We don't want anyone to get sick. We just like to be careful."

     The scan was quicker and easier than I thought. It only took a few minutes, and all I saw was a few flashing lights on the big circular machine. The man told me he sends the results right away. "The doctor usually gets back to you the next day," he said.

     I jumped off the table, got dressed and walked out, feeling relief that the test was over. Until I realized that the test itself meant nothing. It was the results that count.

     The next day was bringing a snow storm, and I didn't even know if the doctor's office would be open. I resolved that I wouldn't panic if I didn't hear anything for a couple of days. At least we were doing something about this, I reasoned, and that's better than sitting around doing nothing.

     The next day did bring the promised snow storm, and no phone call from my doctor. I wasn't even sure if he was going to call me himself, or if the nurse would call to make an appointment. If they'd told me, I hadn't been paying attention.

     Whatever was wrong with me gave me no reprieve from the snow. I spent the day shoveling out the front and back of the house. I watched TV, did some work on the computer, and waited. We had dinner, and oddly enough, I slept soundly that night.

     The phone rang the next morning, after breakfast. B answered, as she usually does. It was for me. The doctor, she said.

     The CT scan showed no mass, no nodules. There was no sign of cancer. But the doctor went on to say that a couple of little things did show up. He wanted me to make an appointment with the pulmonary specialist. "I just want him to check you out."

     "But I'm clean?" I asked, my stomach doing flips.

     "You're fine. I'm much less worried than I was before."

     "Do I need to make this appointment right away, or can it wait?" I asked, thinking about my trip to Florida.

     "There's no rush. Just do it in the next month to two."

     I thanked the doctor and hung up with a sigh of relief. Then I reflected back on what he'd just said, that he was "much less worried than before." So he had been worried. I did have reason for all my anxiety, after all. And, what? Am I just lucky? Did I dodge a bullet?

     So I went to Florida, and last week I had my appointment with the pulmonary specialist. I have some fibrous tissue, some scarring in my lungs. Could be from an infection, or any insult to the lungs. I thought about the time, a couple of years ago, when I cemented the back wall, and how I breathed in cement dust and was coughing for three days.

     But it's nothing to worry about, he said. It's normal for someone my age. He told me I also have a hernia. My liver is pushing up against my chest cavity. But again, nothing to worry about; it looks like it's been that way for a long time. Maybe I was born that way.

     And so after all was said and done, I got a clean bill of health ... at least for someone my age.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Chest Hurts

     It started at the beginning of November with a sore throat and a little cough. B had been suffering from a cold, so I didn't worry about it . . . although what she had seemed different. And it just didn't feel like a cold. My nose wasn't stuffed up; my eyes weren't puffy; I wasn't sneezing.

     Maybe I was suffering from an allergy. I sometimes get a little irritation in the spring and fall. Anyway, I was scheduled for my annual checkup, so if it persisted I figured I'd just mention it to my doctor.

     In mid-November I got a call from my medical group. My primary care physician had gone on some kind of leave, and I was told to schedule my physical with another doctor. So I went to the website and found one who was taking new patients. He was younger than my old doctor; he had good credentials; and he was located in the medical office closer to my house.

     I showed up at the doctor's office, and since I was a new patient he asked about my history. I have a pretty long-lived family. My mother lived to age 89; my dad to 91. My aunts and uncles lived into their 80s and beyond.

     We have strong hearts in my family. But we do have a history of cancer. My mother had breast cancer, twice, and eventually died of pancreatic cancer. My dad finally fell to lung cancer. One sister has had breast cancer; and I had an older brother who died of Hodgkin's lymphoma back in 1965.

     So you can see what I worry about.

     The nurse told me my blood pressure was perfect. The doctor listened to my lungs, tapped my knees, looked in my ears. Everything checked out. He ordered blood tests, and later that day his nurse called to tell me everything was normal.

     I told the doctor about my throat, and he looked into my mouth. He said I could have post-nasal drip, or possibly acid reflux. He suggested some over-the-counter remedies, and then if my issue with the throat didn't go away, he said I should come back and see him.

     I went home, happy with my checkup results. But my throat did not get better. It seemed like there was something stuck in there, and coughing just wouldn't clear it out. Then about ten days later, my throat got sore, and the discomfort in my chest was worse. I went back to the doctor.

     He inspected my throat again and confirmed that I had post-nasal drip. "I can see it in the back of your throat," he told me. He also said I was likely suffering from an infection, so he prescribed an antibiotic. "This should take care of it," he said. But again, he told me, if it didn't get better I should come back to see him once again. "I'll order an X-ray, just to make sure," he said.

     "You mean, now?" I asked.

     "I'll order it now," he explained. "But don't do it now. If you're not better after the antibiotic, we'll do the X-ray then. Just call the radiology department, make an appointment, and after they do the X-ray, come back and see me. But really, I don't think you'll have to do that. It should clear up."

     I went directly from the doctor's office to the pharmacy and bought the antibiotic, along with a cough medicine he prescribed. I went home and took the antibiotic, and used the cough medicine at night.

     After a few days, my throat felt better; the cough went away -- or, mostly went away. I kept taking the antibiotic, but I stopped using the cough medicine because it made me anxious and disturbed my sleep.

     Ten days went by. I finished the antibiotic. I felt better. Not all better; but much better. But then a few days later the discomfort in my chest returned. It's hard to describe how it felt. It wasn't really painful; but maybe a little pressure; a little burning sensation. It was right in the middle of my chest; but sometimes moved around to one side or the other.

     A few more days went by. The "feeling" was still there, but it wasn't really painful. Was I being a hypochondriac? But it wouldn't go away, and I kept thinking:  by this time I'd had the problem for almost two months.

     I made the decision to go back to the doctor the night B and I were in church, listening to a Christmas concert. Instead of enjoying the music, I was sitting there worrying about my chest, my throat, my lungs. What the heck was wrong with me?

     So the next day I called the doctor's office. The nurse agreed I should get the X-ray, and then come see the doctor again. I called the radiology department, and they scheduled me in around the New Year holiday.

     A couple of days later I arrived at the lab at 8:45 a.m. The place wasn't crowded and a technician ushered me right in. I stood up against the plate. The technician took one picture. I turned to my side. She took another picture. I was done. The whole process took less than five minutes.

     I left the medical lab and drove up to my doctor's office. The waiting room was crowded. I checked in, took a seat. The nurse called me into the examination room and took my blood pressure. It was a little higher this time. But she wasn't alarmed. She told me to wait for the doctor.

     Five minutes went by; ten minutes. I paced the little room. What was keeping him? The office was busy. But . . . is he stalling because he has bad news for me?

     The door finally opened. The doctor came into the room, shook my hand, and asked my how I was doing.

     "Well, you tell me," I said.

     He looked at me. "The X-ray did show a little spot," he said. "But don't get too worried. The report does not indicate that it's suspicious. It could be a blood vessel, or a cyst. It could even be an error."

     I sat down on the examining table and looked at him. "Alright," I replied, taking in a big breath, then slowly letting it out. "But . . . it could be cancer?"

     "I can't rule it out," he admitted. "But I'm not too worried. The report did not use the term suspicious, so that's not where they think this is going."

     "Okay," I said. "So what's next."

     "We take a CT scan. That will tell us what's really going on."

                                              -- To be continued --

Friday, February 14, 2014

Buried Alive!


     This morning . . . the deck at chez Sightings in New York. Just think, in couple of months we'll be sitting out there in our shirtsleeves talking and laughing, drinking iced tea, eating salads, and looking forward to a dish of ice cream!



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why It's Better to Be "Over Sixty"

     B and I decided to take advantage of the winter weather and go ice skating. We got to the rink, an outdoor facility overlooking the mostly frozen-over Hudson River, and we were greeted by this sign.



  
   
      There were two young women at the ticket booth. So I asked, "How old do you have to be to get the senior discount?"

     One of them answered: "62."

     "And you get to go skating?"

     "Of course."

     "Okay," I told her through the window, "I'll take one adult and one senior." Then I paused. "Do you need to see my i.d?"

     She gave me a quick look. "No."

     So B and I got in for $7. And (I have to say) I thought it was pretty nice of me to cover the extra-expensive entry fee that she was required to pay.


View from the skating rink overlooking Bear Mtn. Bridge




Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Honey, Can You Open This for Me?"

     This is just a short post . . . short because I'm basically admitting what a wimp I am.

     B has a little arthritis in her hands, so every once in a while she'll call me into the kitchen and ask me to open up a jar or a bottle for her -- unscrew the cap from a particularly difficult container.

     But I have a little arthritis is my hands as well, and I'm not as strong as I used to be (not that I was ever that strong). And so sometimes neither one of us can manage to twist off the top of a bottle.

     The other day we spent a good 20 minutes wrestling with a small jar of artichoke hearts. She tried to open it; then I tried to open it. No luck. I got out our little rubber twisty thing that's supposed to give you a better grip. Didn't work. Then I tapped the lid of the jar with the back of a kitchen knife -- an old trick I learned from my mother. No luck.

The offending bottle cap
     Finally, I ran the jar under some warm water for about a minute, then using the little rubber twisty thing I gave it my all . . . and finally the cap moved a bit and then I opened the artichoke hearts, like I was cracking open a rusty old treasure chest.

     So last night I was sitting at the computer when B called. "Tom, can you come here a minute?"

     I got up and went to the kitchen. B had a bottle of vinegar in her hands. She looked at me sweetly and asked, "Can you open this for me?"

     "I'll try," I said. But the top was pretty small, so it was hard to get a grip. I strained and struggled. I tried the twisty thing; I tried banging it with the knife; I tried the hot water. I tried everything.

     Nothing worked. So finally, instead of making our own salad dressing, we gave up and served a bottle of Kraft's Italian.

     I guess we'll have to wait until B's son comes by -- he's supposed to be here on Sunday. Maybe he, with his 20-something-year-old hands, can crack open that bottle of vinegar. But, why oh why, do these packaged food companies have to twist those caps on so damn tight?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Men Benefit from Feminism

     I wrote a Remember Her? about Betty Friedan the other day, harking back to the days of the feminist movement and a time in history when the relationship between the sexes was changing dramatically. Many of us Baby Boomers grew up in one world, and now live in another.

     Many people have commented over the years about the advances of women -- and the encroachments on male entitlements that came with them. Top universities that were all male went coed. Women broke into the old boys network in hiring and promotions. Women were encouraged to enter previously male-dominated professions from business to law to medicine. When my daughter went to vet school a few years ago, 80% of her class was female. Back in the 1960s, the class was over 90% male. Meanwhile, men have been told to do more housework, and encouraged to spend more time with their children.

     The benefits for women have been pretty clear -- although I daresay there's been some downside as well. I remember when I was getting divorced. I had a friend at work who was getting divorced at the same time. We commiserated with each other -- my nonworking wife was getting half of our marital assets. And her nonworking, no-good bum of a husband was getting half of their marital assets as well. So goes equality.

     I readily admit that in the past, especially early in my career, I benefited from a preference for males in the workplace -- the presumption that males were more serious about their careers, more committed, would work longer hours -- whether it was true or not.

     But I also remember one point in my career -- it was 1988 -- when I went into my boss's office, sat down and reviewed my career prospects. I was in line for a promotion and was competing for a particularly coveted job at the company.

     The boss acknowledged that I had proven my skills, excelled at my job, shown my corporate loyalty, deserved to move ahead. Then he looked at me with a pained expression and told me straight out: "But listen, I have to give this job to a woman. I can't get around that."

     And sure enough, the job went to a woman ... one who was about five or eight years younger than I was, with five or eight years less experience, and who I guarantee you, was no better at the job.

     But enough about me. Reviewing the life of Betty Friedan made me wonder -- we know how women have progressed because of feminism, but how have men benefited from the women's movement? I was struck by Friedan's quote regarding women stuck at home as housewives with their "disease with no name" and their "sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered and struggled with alone . . . afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'"

     You don't have to be a housewife to feel this "disease with no name." Many people in the workplace have felt the same sense of despair and futility as they realize that whatever work they do feels somehow hollow -- but they are trapped because they need the paycheck to pay the bills for themselves, their family, their children.

     To me, the biggest advantage of feminism to males is the freedom from expectation -- the expectation that they would bear the full responsibility for providing for their family -- for how many men over the years have been trapped in a job they hate, but could not take the risk of trying something different because they had to pay the mortgage, the credit card and the grocery bill at the end of every month.

     I know a number of Baby Boomer men today who have in a sense been set free by the women's movement, who have taken early retirement, or lost their jobs, and are now being supported largely by their wives.

     So can you tell me what else feminism has done for men? The sexual revolution? Oh, I don't know anything about that. But I do know I was able to spend a lot more time with my children than my father ever did with his. Part of the reason is because I didn't have as long a commute; but part of it was because people now expect men to help take care of their children, whereas before they didn't. And I for one loved being a part of my children's lives when they were growing up.

     Then there's the housework. Aside from everything else, in my house I'm the one who washes the dishes. Every night. All year long. But then, so did my dad, 50 years ago.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Remember Her?

     She was born on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Ill. Her father owned a jewelry store, and her mother was a homemaker who also wrote for the women's pages of the local newspaper. Can you guess who she is?

     She had a strong, abrasive personality even as a child, and toyed with radical leftist political thought as a teenager. She hung out with a group of young Marxists, and even though she wasn't particularly religious she was active in her local Jewish group, later saying her "passion against injustice . . . originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism."

     She attended Peoria High School and worked on the school newspaper. However, her bid to write a column for the paper was rejected, so she and some friends started their own school publication called Tide, which like her mother's work focused on home life rather than political life.

     In 1938 she traveled east to Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she won a scholarship, started to write poetry, and in her senior year became editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. (As a side note, she was one class ahead of Nancy Davis Reagan and one class behind famous children's author Madeleine L'Engle.) She graduated summa cum laude in 1942 with a major in psychology . . . and promptly left for the West coast.

    She spent a year at Berkeley getting a master's degree in psychology, then went to work for a labor union newspaper, returning to the East coast where one of her assignments was to report on the House Un-American Activities Committee. She got married in 1947; and ironically, was let go from her job when she got pregnant with her second child.

     After leaving work she became a housewife in suburban New York, although she wrote articles as a freelancer for Cosmopolitan and other publications. But it was a project she started in 1957 that famously changed her life.

     For her 15th college reunion she decided to take a survey of her classmates, focusing on their education, careers and the satisfaction with their lives. As a result, she identified an issue she called "the problem with no name" -- a "sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban housewife struggled with it alone, and as she made the beds, shopped for groceries . . . she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'"

     She wrote several articles about this phenomenon, and generated an overwhelming response from many housewives who recognized the problem in themselves. She wrote a book called The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, that depicted the lives of many women who'd given up their careers for their husbands, and who were faced with the terror of being alone in the suburbs and then oftentimes left to fend for themselves after a divorce.

     The book catapulted the author, Betty Friedan, into the vanguard of the feminist movement. In 1966 she co-founded and became first president of the National Organization of Women, advocating equal rights for women. In 1971, along with Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, she also founded the National Women's Political Caucus. She wrote six books, a myriad of magazine and newspaper articles, and gave many speeches, arguing forcefully for equal rights, equal pay, and the right of women to have an abortion. She resisted those who tried to sexualize feminism or link it to lesbianism, and in the name of free speech she also argued against banning pornography.

     In her autobiography Life So Far, Friedan admitted that she often rubbed people the wrong way. She had an intense rivalry with fellow feminist Gloria Steinem. And feminist writer Germaine Greer later wrote that Friedan could be egotistical and selfish. Yet Greer also admitted that it was Friedan's strong personality that allowed her to change the deeply rooted prejudices against women.

    Carl Friedan, Betty's husband, had this to say: "She changed the course of history . . . it took a driven, super aggressive, and almost lunatic dynamo to rock the world the way she did. Unfortunately, she was that same person at home, where that kind of contact doesn't work." The couple, who had three children, were rumored to have come to blows at certain points; in any case, they divorced in 1969.

     Yet in her later years, Betty Friedan did mellow somewhat. She wrote The Second Stage, published in 1982, a post-feminist book that warned more radical feminists against male-bashing, portraying women as victims, and a preoccupation with sexual identity.

     Betty Friedan died of heart failure on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday; but her legacy surely lives on not just in the organizations she co-founded, but in the movement that is still relevant today. It may seem quaint in 2014, but that makes her cri de coeur of 1963, as quoted in Life magazine, no less passionate:  "Women of the world unite . . . you have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners!"