Sunday, March 26, 2006

Found out a man ain't just being macho

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Joseph Bayly has some excellent thoughts on the societal current today against masculinity, which caused me to do some thinking on the subject myself. My oldest son just turned 17, and he's going off to college next fall, and I'm afraid for him because he's male in a culture that despises maleness. My next-oldest son doesn't live with me, but with his mother. The first I've only raised for the last three years; the second only during summers. How do you convey to a boy what a man is with that kind of time constraints?

Between the contradictory role models of "new-age sensitive man" and "clueless Tim-Taylor man," it's no wonder today's boys don't know what a man looks like. I'll give you a hint: neither one is accurate, because they're both self-centered and immature. The one is whiny, the other overblown, but both of them are completely missing what a man is and does.

So what does a man do?

A man works. Like a dog if necessary. Not just at a job, but at home, as well, because if anybody tells you that child-raising isn't work, they've been smoking the drapes. A man gets up in the night with a crying baby, or works a double shift, or makes trip after trip with the moving van. If it takes a lot of coffee, drink it. If you don't do it, it won't get done. Rest when things are finished, not when you're tired.

Erma Bombeck once listed off qualities her dad had had, and one of those was that he was always the one who went to the parking lot in the rain to get the car. That's a man. The women and children may stay under the shelter; a man may not. If someone's going to get wet, it should be you.

Ditto with disgusting things. Yes, I'm talking about diapers, but I'm also talking about things like stopped plumbing, pet messes, hairballs, and whatever's in that container in the back of the fridge. Clean it up, gag a couple of times if you must, then go wash your hands. God made your skin washable for a reason.

Tim the Tool Man notwithstanding, no man is born with a knowledge of gadgets and machinery. You acquire it a bit at a time. If you're lucky enough to have a father who is skilled at those things and available to teach you, great. If you're not (as I wasn't), you'll just have to figure it out. When I was in high school, my dad gave me a beater car, and I had to figure out how it worked. I'm still not a mechanic, but I've learned that a screwdriver and a wrench aren't magic wands. Read a manual if it helps, but if you can't, then take the thing apart and try to figure out which part does what. Never let "I don't know how" be an excuse for not doing something. Do or do not; there is no try.

As a man, you are stronger physically than women. You are also bigger than they are and hence intimidating to them, if only on a subconscious level. Never loom over them, never yell at them, never treat them as though they were men. (On the other side of the coin, don't condescend to them either. They're small, not dumb.) Bear in mind that you have all the equipment and strength necessary at any moment to overpower and violate any woman. It's therefore vital that you conduct yourself in a way that makes obvious that you not only wouldn't do something like that, but you'd step in front of a bullet or a grizzly bear to keep her safe. This isn't something you say out loud, but an attitude that stays in the back of your mind.

Men speak a different language from women. You should be able to handle "Woman" as a second language, but it's never going to come naturally to you. Don't make it your native tongue. Women talk through their feelings, but if you do it, it just sounds neurotic. Talk when you have something to convey to someone else.

On the same note, remember that men talk differently according to whether there's a woman present or not. If your vocabulary doesn't run toward vulgarity, good. If someone else's does, live with it. My father is a gentle, polite, soft-spoken man, and my mother knows for a fact that his language is invariably fit for the Ladies' Sewing Circle. She believes this because she's never heard him speak when there are no women around. Some of my most colorful phrases I learned from him.

Religion is not a female thing. I don't mean that it's supposed to be male-dominated, but it is male-led. Look around you at Mass, and see how many families are there without Dad. Don't let yours (when you have one) be one of them. Make sure your kids see you genuflect and kneel. Make sure they know you pray. They may appreciate their mother's faith, but it's yours they'll imitate. If you want to raise Godly sons, show them what one looks like.

Remember that although not every woman is potentially a wife or girlfriend, all of them are still women. Treat every female with the same respect and care you would show a woman you wanted to marry. Believe me, once you master this, you'll never lack for a date when you want one. Kindness, good humor and gentlemanliness aren't just for a girl you're hitting on. They can see through that a mile away. It's how you treat the ones you're not letching after that they'll notice. If you open doors and carry packages as a matter of habit, word gets around. After that, it doesn't matter if you look like Boris Karloff; you'll still be a hot property. And even if you're not looking for a woman at the time, what the heck? It never hurts to be well-liked.

Finally, as a great writer once said, "If my father was the head of the house, my mother was its heart." A man isn't the soft comforting lap the kids sit on to be rocked to sleep, or the kiss that makes owwies all better. He may be called on to do those things sometimes, but he's not really constructed for it. A man is the solidity in his family, the rock that can't be broken. He's also the wall that shields them from storms, and the roof that keeps their heads dry. Which usually means getting rained on or wind-beaten himself. If you don't do that, a woman has to, and it's something they're not constructed for.

That's the essence of being a man. Sometimes what you have to do sucks. That's the way it is. A man has both rights and duties, but when there's a conflict between them, duty always wins. Period. Your rights will be compromised over and over, but your responsibilities must never be. A man does what needs doing and worries about his rights some other time.

Don't be a guy. The world is full of guys. Be a man.*

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