Real Men Don’t…

About fifteen years ago, I was working as a trainer teaching networking, system administration, programming, and database stuff to corporate IT folks and other folks who just wanted to try something new. One day, as I was walking out the door, I stopped to chat with the front desk attendant and some of of the other instructors. Somehow or another the concept of real men came up and the front desk attendant – a young woman with high standards – said something to the effect of “Well, there are no real men around here.”

I nodded, smiled, refused the urge to pat her on the head, and walked out the door.

For the most part, I’d largely forgotten that little interaction until a certain jackass had to drag male responsibilities back into the forefront of my head. It was just one of dozens of interactions every guy has throughout life that all boil down to the confusing and often contradictory rules of being a man. Now, I know women have similar issues to deal with and I’m not trying to demean anyone by saying guys have it harder. That’s not the point of this post. Now that I’ve gotten the legal boilerplate crap out of the way, we can continue and realize that women are better suited to discuss women’s issues than I’ll ever be.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been told by everyone that this is what men are supposed to do. It’s a baffling field, running the gamut from stop crying even though there’s a gash the size of Missouri in your knee to my dad’s sage-like wisdom when I got my first car. It was a ’65 VW Beetle, if you must know, a real classic bug with no headliner, torn up seats, and a back seat that would flake to dust if you looked at it wrong. His advice? “Don’t get anyone pregnant in the back seat.” Of course this is the same guy who once told me I should ask out some girl we saw at a McDonald’s in Tempe. When I explained to him that I lived in New Mexico and would only be in town for a couple of days, he gave me another piece of sage-like wisdom: “You’re thinking buy; you need to think rent.”

Sigh. Perhaps if I’d had my ’65 Beetle with me at the time.

So, so far in life I’ve been told crying is unmanly, not crying is unmanly, women are apparently helpless in the back seats of Volkswagens, and I apparently have certain responsibilities as a man to watch my language so I don’t corrupt the youth of tomorrow. Certain kinds of coffee aren’t masculine (espresso comes to mind), certain drinks aren’t for men (Manhattans), certain colors are off limits, I shouldn’t each quiche (good thing, too. I can’t stand the stuff), emotions are a sign of weakness, and maps are for pussies. And don’t even get me started on asking someone else for help. That’s totally a sign of not being a man. Don’t get in fights. Don’t be afraid to punch someone who needs it. Guns are good. Guns are bad. Real men love Jesus. Real men don’t need Jesus.

Blah, blah, blah.

If you do a search for what it means to be a real man – even on Google (who knows all and sees all) – you’ll find a bunch of rhetorical nonsense about treating women with respect, being honest, being truthful, being responsible, being born in August (no joke, I saw a shirt with that once), loving God, not buying girls, balancing his checkbook, and apparently not letting women do things for themselves.

You thought I was joking about that, didn’t you?

Doing the stuff you promised to do is a good thing? You don’t say!

I guess no GIS for real man would be complete without Rambo.

Sorry, I’m not growing a beard. Too damned itchy.

Okay, so I’ll admit, some of these are good ideas. Not flying off the handle at every little thing is a good way to approach life, but that’s not a “real man” thing, that’s a “I’m a grownup” thing. Most of the advice about being a real man that I’ve seen comes down to interactions with women and, again, while some of it’s good advice, that all drops back into the “I’m a grownup” category because that’s how grownups are supposed to behave.

With all this crap circling us it’s no wonder no one knows what to do anymore. So, rather than give my own list of things that define what real men are, I’d like to start a movement where we chuck all that crap out the window and start fresh with “don’t be an asshole”. That alone should suffice. It’s simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t take much effort to put into place. You’re hurt? Go for it and cry, just don’t punch the belt sander because that’s asshole territory. Yes. My dad once punched a running belt sander. He lost most of his knuckles. He was basically a good guy, but he also gave me a lot of experience about what not to do.

So far, my son hasn’t asked me what it means to be a man. This is a good thing since I don’t have any concrete answers for him. I’ll probably make something up about waking up in the morning, waiting for the morning wood to subside, taking a long leak, and then drinking a beer while rebuilding a carburetor on a ’66 Impala. And then, after he looks at me like I’ve grown a second head or explains to me why no one in their right mind would want a ’66 Impala, I’ll take him aside and tell him the honest truth: Do what you feel is right and don’t be an asshole.

Crap. I’ve already doubled the rules. Better stop now before I start making up more nonsense about what makes a real man. Got any comments, recommendations, or ideas? Drop ’em in the comments. I dig comments and I’ll try to not be an asshole.

Book Review – A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan by Padraic Keohane

Padraic Keohane has a wicked sense of humor and a clever wit. He always has, at least as long as I’ve known him and that’s been quite a while now.

I reviewed one of his books – a collection of short stories – back before I had this blog up and running. That book, Stories of Sagacity and Wit, was a fun read and I highly recommend it. Padraic’s latest work departs from the adult level short stories and splashes head-first into the kids’ books department. True to form, he approaches his story from a different perspective than most and has given us a children’s book that would actually be fun to read to a kid. In fact, were my son still of that age group, he’d probably think it was a hoot. Nowadays, unless it’s King, Matheson, or Horowitz, he just ain’t that into it.

Which is a pity, because A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan was a fun read. The general gist is Billy sends a Christmas wish list to Santa, but transposes some letters and hilarity ensues. Without digging too deep into the weeds, what you get is a story about the ultimate force for evil making the ultimate force for bike riding and giving it away because he’s really not that bad of a guy.

Aside from the obvious spelling lesson, there aren’t any treacly lessons about this, that, or the other thing snuck into the story, it’s just a fun little story about a kid who accidentally asks Satan for a bicycle. If you have young ones – and they have the right sense of humor – you’ll likely find this book is a blast to read to them.

“Billy is a good boy, but not a good speller. He wants a bike for Christmas, so naturally he writes to Satan. Will the devil and his crew get into the Christmas spirit? An illustrated storybook for the older kids and adults.”

Get your copy on Amazon

Assholes: Where to Find and How to Deal With

I think by now it’s a given that Twitter has a huge segment of people who fall into the “asshole” category. There are a lot of people who revel in being jerks; it brings them some measure of joy to tear people down to the point that they take their ball and go home. When you have people leaving the platform because they can’t deal with the bullshit, you’ve got a problem. And not just people like me – I could leave and no one would care – but names who make national news when they leave.

Whether or not Twitter will ever address this is up for debate, but my guess says they’ll continue to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own.

Don’t get wrong, not everyone on Twitter is a flaming sack of crap. There are plenty of talented, decent, entertaining folks out there just doing what they do. I’ve found most of the writer communities have been chock full of great people, so maybe it’s just who you follow and what you seek out that determines your joy-joy level.

So far, I’ve been lucky to avoid most of the nonsense. Save one person who tried to start a fight about whether or not a black dragon was Dungeons and Dragons copyright violation (the dragon was black, as in the color, not the Black Dragon from D&D), I’ve been free of bullshit. Even that chick was probably having issues that day and deleted her tweets within a couple of hours.

Then, earlier this week, I stumbled across an odd tweet to me: “Your tongue should be cut out”. Naturally, given the nature of the authors I tend to pal around with, I assumed it might have been someone goofing. The account in question, though, was just some random schmuck from Oklahoma. It turns out he was at least partially serious; some tweet I posted had horribly offended him and rather than doing the rational thing and just blocking me and moving on with his life, he thought offering up some mutilation was a better option.

The tweet in question was, I admit, pretty profanity-laden. But in a world where politicians can spin whatever lies they want without repercussions, I feel saying “fuck” a few times is pretty tame. It was a tweet for one of the writing games I regularly play, #SunWIP. The games give you a theme and let you to write something to that theme or use something from whatever writing project you happen to be working on. In this case, I made something up on the fly for a theme of “regret”.

Honest disclosure: I actually like saying, “Fuckin’ A, bro.”

Most people liked it or at least found it mildly amusing. Do a little deep thought and you’ll find it’s really nothing more than a reinterpretation of “actions speak louder than words”, just with more fucks in it. I have plenty of fucks to give and I’m not shy about sharing them.

So, aside from the cursing, it’s a pretty innocuous tweet. I didn’t call anyone out, I didn’t directly attack anyone or anything, and I didn’t try to spread a bunch of lies to distract from an ongoing investigation into foreign interference in a recent campaign and election. Which made it all the more surprising to have someone tell me my tongue should be cut out, especially since I typed this with my hands, not my tongue.

Now, let me back up a sec and explain something. Cutting out tongues is nothing new; it’s been used for centuries (or longer) as a punishment for everything from blasphemy to just talking about things you shouldn’t be talking about to flat-out punishment for back talk. It’s a brutal thing to do to someone, the kind of torture you really only expect from ISIS extremists who don’t have handy access to a cage and some gasoline. And, let’s be fair here, advocating it is some pretty sick shit.

Still, while my first instinct when I found out this dude was serious was to tell him if he came at me with a knife and a pair of tongs it would be the last thing he ever did, that would have escalated things. And, to be honest, some jackoff sitting in his trailer in Oklahoma isn’t much of a physical threat to me here in New Mexico. So, I tried something different.

Image and name blacked out because reasons.

Amazingly, he backed off. We’ll still never likely see eye-to-eye about language, but at least it didn’t devolve to childish name-calling or empty threats about fucking each other up.

The takeaway from this, at least for me, was that the old adage about it being easier to avoid a fight than to win one rang true. I doubt I changed his viewpoint about anything and he didn’t change mine, but at least the exchange didn’t come to blows over the Internet. Everyone walked away safe. No harm, no foul.

This kind of thing is bound to keep happening, it’s just something you should expect as more and more people learn your name and realize that something you did is the absolute worst thing that’s ever happened. Yes, that tweet is going to bring down Western Democracy and it’s way, way worse that 9/11. Expect that people have no sense of perspective and you’ll be ready for the worst of it.

I love Cyanide and Happiness.

But I did find it interesting that he was going on about the children and what it means to be a man. I really wish people would stop dragging that tired old “won’t someone please thing of the children” crap into every argument about stuff they don’t like. Just say you don’t like it. If something offends you, it’s you that’s offended, not the children. Children dig cursing. Trust me, I was one.

As for what it means to be a man? Well, maybe this is just me, but if your first response to something you don’t like is to advocate mutilating the perpetrator, you might want to take a good, hard look in a mirror and evaluate yourself before you go off on someone else. Maybe the person you’re wicked pissed at is an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you need to be one, too.

That said…

To be fair, I’ve curtailed most of my yelling at other cars.