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.
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.