I saw Harry Brod for the last time in November 2016. We were in Green Bay, Wisconsin, together with Michael Kimmel, for a two-day event honoring Harry at St. Norbert College. In the evening, the three of us spoke in the auditorium where we reminisced like the old codgers we were. We spoke about the early days of profeminist men’s scholarship and activism in the 1980s and its evolution since. We shared our thoughts on issues facing us all today. Here was our usual pattern: Michael or I would speak for several minutes and then, in about ten seconds, Harry would make the most obliteratingly cogent, synthesizing and stunningly perceptive and perfectly articulated comment. And then, it was on to the next question.
Photo by Corey Wilson for St. Norbert College.
Although we were honoring Harry, he deflected praise. He was clearly happy, happy as I’ve ever seen him, but things never were just about him.
Who knows what’s in the cauldron of our personalities, but being a Jew born in Berlin six years after the defeat of the Nazis would have to loom large. He was an intellectual’s intellectual. I never heard him being defensive when challenged. I never heard him spout dogma. To Harry, the question was always as important as the answer. He dug deep and then dug deeper again.
I remember when around 1990 I was developing my notion of men’s contradictory experiences of power. I wrote something about the ways that men experienced both power and pain and about how these were the flip sides of the same coin—the coin being men’s lives in a male-dominated society. The problem, Harry said, was that my two sides of a coin formulation suggested a false equivalency. What’s more, he said, it was at odds with my own analysis. First of all, not only has the power traditionally outweighed any pain, but as I was arguing, the source of the pain lies in the paradoxes emerging from the ways we have constructed societies of men’s power and personal identities shaped within that. That was Harry. Listening to another person more deeply than one might listen to oneself. He nailed down for me what I was trying to say. He made those around him so much better as thinkers and as people.
He was a gentle man who had an incredible mind. He had trained with the great Marxist- Freudian philosopher Herbert Marcuse. It was a tough time not only to get a job as a philosopher but almost impossible in those days for a man doing critical gender studies. He understood that priority needed to go to hiring women who were utterly underrepresented in the professoriate. I know it was tough on him, but I never heard him complain. Things, as he had learned from his parents, could always be so much worse.
His greatest strength was as a teacher. Perhaps his great legacy lies not so much in his writings—although I do recommend those to all—but with his students and the colleagues he has taught. For Harry, to teach was to heal the wounds of the world.
We need you more than ever, Harry. But, this time, the rest of us will just have to do it ourselves.
Thanks, my friend, forever.