Even though we have been hearing endlessly about the success this spring of half a dozen bitter Bush-bashing best-sellers, there’s another far-less-publicized little book that has done extraordinarily well. Without the benefit of enraged “exclusive” interviews on Sixty Minutes or screeching headlines in the New York Times, Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands continues to sell amazingly well.
Currently, there are over 800,000 copies in print, and it has become the most successful book about male-female relationships in years. The last book that was as popular was a short instructional manual called The Rules about how to make even the most reluctant guy finally pop the big question. Funny, even in these times when women are supposed to be so enthusiastically independent, masses of them still want the scoop on the traditionally tried and true: How to get him; how to keep him. Feminists, naturally, shudder or sneer.
I am a longtime admirer of Dr. Laura, who is the most popular woman on talk radio with 16 million listeners each week. She skillfully combines straight, sometimes-tough talk with dulcet tones and a lady-like delivery. Laura, even before the current mega-success of The Care and Feeding had written a half dozen New York Times best-sellers. “Seven out of seven have all made the list,” she told me. “And with almost no reviews. No woman’s magazine even wanted to excerpt The Proper Care and Feeding. There have been a few little columns here and there, sniping at me as usual, but that’s all the attention this book has received.” In general, the media love to write about itself–and its stars. Laura has the rare distinction of being one of the most successful women in media who nary gets a mention.
I bought her book last week as a Father’s Day present for my husband. Not for him to read, silly, but, for me to maybe, just maybe, learn some things that I could put into practice by the 20th of June.
Laura’s premise is simple: Men have unique needs that should be respected. They want to be cared for and loved. They don’t want to be criticized and nagged. (When I read the previous sentence out loud to my husband, he just grinned and nodded.)
“I was amazed at the reaction I have had from so many men about this book,” Laura says. “So many of them are so unhappy. They feel emotionally abused by the women in their lives. Women have been told for so long that men are powerful and that women are always victims that they believe it. They expect men to be understanding of them, even when they are hostile, dismissive and undermining to the men in their lives. In truth men are fairly simple. They are born and raised by women. The acceptance and love of a woman is central to their whole lives. The woman, who knows that and is wise enough to use that power benevolently will have a happy life.”
This past weekend I read Laura’s book off and on while watching the many tributes to President Reagan. Obviously, a woman who understood how to take care of a husband, in the best of times and the worst, is Nancy Reagan. Nobody could help but admire the valiant way she coped with her husband’s long illness. The couple’s great friend Michael Deaver has said: “As the years progressed, she didn’t really go anywhere. She was simply there with him…Ronald Reagan was her life. From the time she met him, she’d done anything she could for him.”
Yet during the White House years, the former First Lady was often criticized and laughed at for her total devotion to her man. Remember the jokes people made about Nancy’s rapt and adoring look of love whenever her Ronnie spoke, no matter how many times she listened to exactly the same speech or heard exactly the same jokes. How women, especially, in those stridently feminist times, scoffed at the way she fussed over him, coddled him, and fiercely protected him from any criticism or slight.
What we were watching, of course, was a love story, the real thing, starring a woman who didn’t mind being “the woman behind the man,” not because he was a great man (which he was), but because she truly adored him. He, in turn, was a man who, even when he had forgotten his many glory years, was still trying to pick a rose in a neighbor’s garden for his beloved “lady.”
“Nancy was Ronald Reagan’s emotional caretaker” Laura Schlessinger says, and all Americans owe her so much. Because of the way she cared for him, he could remain optimistic and resolute and effective as he cared for us. Unlike so many wives who are always criticizing, always asking their husbands to change, she loved him just the way the he was. That may be the most important reason he had the confidence and courage to truly change our world.