Legal Writing for Legal Reading!

The Rise of the Man Child

Over the course of my career I have seen a rather strange trend among men which is conspicuously absent among women, and that is what I call the “man-child.”  I am not exactly sure what the sociological explanation is for the gender difference, and perhaps my sample size is too small (though I doubt it as my office has had hundreds of clients over my 12 plus year career), but it is definitely pretty much a male thing (in comparison with the dozens of man-children I have encountered, I have dealt with maybe only two women who I would describe as “woman-children”).

What is a man-child?  A man-child is a chronologically adult man who continues to act like, and get treated like, a child by the woman in his life, and he seems to accept (or desire) this willingly.  The woman in his life is sometimes his wife, or girlfriend, or even his mother (strangely, I have never seen a “man-child” with another man playing the role of the aforesaid women).  Now, don’t miss read me, this is not some sort of “male power” post or a post about appropriate gender roles and Christian male headship or something like that.  Not all.  This post is about grown men who are, basically, children and need the woman in their lives to mother them and control their lives.  I was inspired to write this post due to the realization that man-children seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate.

Let me give you some examples.  How about the grown man, and father of children, who needs help with a custody case regarding those children?  Seems typical enough at first blush until you find out that my main client contact about his custody case is his wife (who is not the mother of those children) who also pays for his case and is the person who contacted me to represent him.  By “main client” contact, I don’t mean because he works during the day and she is the stay-at-home mom and more available to talk to me.  No.  I mean main client contact in that she does all the talking, provides all the information to me, conducts the email correspondence with me, and makes the custodial decisions at home for a child that is not even hers.  When I call or email the father, his wife returns the call or email.  When I ask him to make decisions about his case, he has to “check in” with his wife.  When fees are due, he needs to use her check or credit card.

How about a case involving debt collection?  A grown adult man owes money to a credit card and got behind on payments.  It happens to the best of us sometimes for various reasons.  This man is sued and needs representation to help him against the credit card company.  Who calls me?  His wife.  Not because the man is tied up with other obligations but because he has ceded the responsibility for his life to her.  She is the one who was my main point of contact.  I tried to negotiate an agreement in the case and it was the wife who approved the language to it.  She stated that she does not let her husband make any decisions like that anymore and he seemed to simply accept it.

Another example is a case involving a man in his early 40s who may have fathered a child a few years ago.  The issues of custody, support, and paternity are all on the table.  Who retained me?  The man’s mother.  Who does all the talking?  The man’s mother.  Who makes the decisions?  The man’s mother.  You get the idea.

Another thing they all have in common is the the “follow up” call.  Many times, especially for that last one, I try and call the man on his telephone (who is the client after all)  but he never picks up, so I leave voice mail messages for him.  Who calls me back?  The mother/wife/girlfriend on her telephone.  Obviously he knows I called him and listened to the message I left but then, instead of calling me back to discuss the case, called the woman in his life, told her what I said, and had her call me back.  Perhaps my favorite is when I actually do have a conversation with the man – indeed sometimes an extended conversation – and after we conclude the call, the woman in his life calls me about an hour later to have the exact same conversation with me.  Why?  Because the man “can’t be trusted” to actually process what we discuss.  Or she wants to “check in” to make sure the man follows or at least considers my advice.  Or “he never listens” and needs her to ensure he does what he is supposed to do.  Or she needs to make sure she “hears it right” because you just never know how he will relay the information.

I wish I could say that the above examples are due to a healthy division of labor between husband and wife.  Or a dutiful mother helping her disabled son.   Or, perhaps to at least explain it, some sort of overpowering matriarchy or something.  Indeed, none of these examples are derived from manipulative men who control the women in their lives to do their “dirty work” for them.  These are all adult men who, basically, still need their mommies to control their lives or, as a substitute for dear old mom, they find women who, although technically “wives” and “girlfriends,” are basically mothering them.

I am not sure why this phenomenon is happening.  Maybe my practice just attracts men like this.  Somehow I doubt that is the case.  I decided to write on this because I feel that the sheer number of man-children I encounter cannot be a coincidence or bad luck.  I probably would not have written this post were it not for the fact that others in my office – some of whom are very different from me ideologically – have noticed the rise of the man-child as well.  I think the fact that women are rarely in a comparable position to be quite telling.  I also think the fact that the “actual adult” in the life of these man-children is nearly always a woman to be telling as well.  I think greater study needs to be done but I think much of this reflects some disturbing trends in our society, such as the decline in manhood, the decline of the nuclear family, the rise of sexual promiscuity, and the lengthening of male adolescence.  Maybe it is due to something much less dire.  I just do not know.  Over the ensuring weeks, months, and years I’ll see whether this trend continues.  Until then, all I can say is that I hope these men someday grow up, if only for the sake of their children (especially the boys who look up to them as fathers) who are still actually children.

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