Yet cynicism is commonly taken as a sign of competence, As a result, the stern manager, the hard-boiled detective and the brusque physician are all male-coded cultural archetypes. Emotionally open male figures have not yet fully supplanted them. The fictional soccer coach Ted Lasso, all smiles and positive self-talk, is funny because he defies the paradigm. In reality, it’s the door Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, whose mantra is “Do your job,” who has won six Super Bowls.
The way men burn out as parents also reflects the way they are conditioned by the breadwinner ethos. in one study, researchers in Belgium found that while mothers scored higher on the parental burnout measure, fathers more quickly exhibited burnout and its negative consequences: escape fantasies, suicidal ideation and neglect of children. That is, given the same level of parenting stress, fathers reacted much worse than mothers did, putting both themselves and their children at greater risk of harm.
“Fathers may be more vulnerable to demands arising from a role which is gender-typed and not seen as an integral part of being a man,” the Belgian researchers write.
A skeptic might see this as evidence that men are weak and coddled. The researchers, however, see it as a sign that societies need to do a better job of preparing men to share the burden of parenthood.
When men encounter problems at work or elsewhere in their lives, they are much less likely than women to talk about it, in either public or private. Written accounts of male burnout are hard to find. Men are about 40 percent less likely than women to seek counseling for any reason. And the well-documented crisis in male friendship means that many men have no one aside from their spouse or partner they feel they can open up with emotionally. Single men often have no one at all; when they burn out, they may do so alone.
The key problems that distinguish men’s burnout — the characteristic cynicism, the lack of preparation for parenting and reticence about their struggles with work and fatherhood — shared roots in the ethic of stoical duty our society has instilled in boys and men for decades: Go to work , and shut up about it. If you can put food on the table, then you’re a good father.
The breadwinner ethos is a faulty masculinization of a noble ideal — that even those who do not work still deserve to eat — shared by men and women alike. It’s a source of meaning for countless people who labor in difficult conditions so that their children won’t have to. It is also hard to live up to. This lingering ideal has been devastating for many blue-collar men, who pinned their self-worth to the notion that they were providers even as their job prospects diminished.