Just what the f&#^ is a “real man”?

One time I was leaving a friend’s house after a party. It had been a small affair full of people I knew well. As I was departing, he called down to me from the rooftop balcony: “Sorry we were too busy doing manly stuff tonight!” He was apologizing because he had spent most of the night playing video games, drinking, and trash talking with his drinking buddies. When one of his friends returned after dropping his wife at home and announced he would be needing their couch, his man friends jumped into action. That means they grabbed more beers and headed to the roof to talk about his controlling wife and reassure him he wasn’t a putz. (He wasn’t. She was being ridiculous as far as I was concerned.) Since none of those things really interest me, I gladly spent time visiting with “the womenfolk.” I didn’t realize, though, just how much his comment had bothered me until when over a year later I still find myself reviewing it in my head. Was I not a real man because I hadn’t partaken in their night of “manly stuff”?

Had that been a cut about me being gay? I wouldn’t normally think that about him, but I had to wonder. He is, after all, a typical “manly man.” Would a manly man be content sitting near the kitchen eating, drinking, and joking with a bunch of ladies?

A real man?

Earlier this week, I read an article on a blog that struck a nerve with me. It was a list of things dads should teach their sons. It had been written by a woman and set out to at least partially redefine what a “real man” should be. For the most part, it was well done, but some of the points she raised bothered me.

I guess I have a different take on the whole discussion. And, frankly, the whole topic really just kind of irritates me.

A Real Man

Should I beat my chest and burp loudly as I write this? Is the beverage I’m currently imbibing, a Negroni, manly enough? Probably not, although it is pure alcohol, so that should give me some man points, right? (And excuse me, but I don’t mix drinks by the tablespoon.) While I do like my gin & tonic, a proper martini, and shots of good tequila (got Patrón?), I really do like my fruity drinks. Mai tai, fuzzy navel, sex on the beach, Appletini, mango martini, watermelon mojitos. . . you get the point. My favorite beer is Guinness stout, which I guess allows me to still be called a man.

The whole notion is just so bizarre to me. So, here I am a sensitive, caring, compassionate man who doesn’t really play sports (because I have bad knees, I haven’t been able to play most of them since I was 11), hates watching them on TV (BORING!), really prefers biting sarcasm to boisterous trash talking, and most video games don’t intrigue me (I suck at them). And I’m raising a son (and have helped raise many others).

Dear gawd!

After reading the post earlier and getting ticked off and, once again, rehashing that stupid night with friends, I decided I needed to write my own list. Mostly just because I’m one of those people who does better getting stuff off his hairy chest rather than stuffing it inside.

Oh crap, I just divulged another part of my unmanliness—I believe communication is essential. I know. I’ll hand over my man card right now.

Real man

  • Respect. I see plenty of talk about how a real man respects women, cares for them, protects them, etc. I’d like to take that up a notch. How about someone who respects others period. I would stand up for a woman, another fella, an animal, or a principle. A real man respects others in word and deed. I also don’t see a woman as being so frail that she needs my protection. He keeps his promises and isn’t afraid to admit when he’s wrong. He doesn’t feel the need to exert his strength or authority over another person because he’s bigger, stronger, smarter, whatever. He can listen to the other side of an argument, weigh it out, and proceed with an informed opinion. He doesn’t need to be feared.
  • Cries. Yeah, I said it. A real man cries. I’m not talking about bawling when you discover you’re out of beer in the fridge. (Although, really isn’t that one justified?) I don’t always cry when I’m hurting, but when I’m frustrated oh the water works just may flow. I have been known to need Kleenex while watching some rather touching YouTube videos.When I held my precious Pepe in my arms as we rushed to the vet after he suffered head trauma, I wept. A lot. In fact, I bawled. I knew what the end result would be. I looked into his eyes and asked “Why, Pepe? Why did you have to be so aggressive with that other dog?” He had been my true best friend for a decade. He was there there to cuddle with me and lick my face in my deepest, darkest moments since the day I came out to my wife and stepchildren, when I knew I was going to have to tell my eldest son he wasn’t coming back home ever, and when my father took his own life and I felt abandoned by him and the rest of the family. During those moments when I felt almost completely friendless, unwanted, and discarded by everyone I knew, Pepe was there. And now I was on my way to speed his journey out of this life. And I didn’t care who saw. I wept again as I pet him, saw the look of trust in his eyes, and reassured him he was such a good boy and I loved him so very much while the veterinarian infused his veins with a deadly cocktail. I talked softly to him as I watched the light go out of his eyes. Something I had done countless times with humans as a hospice chaplain. But this was different. I have lost a lot of people over the years, but losing Pepe was my most painful moment of unadulterated, raw grief.A real man is able to acknowledge his emotions and allow them to manifest. For heaven’s sake don’t utter the phrase “Big boys don’t cry.” Ever. Instead, teach your children that perhaps we don’t cry when we spill our drink or drop our ice cream, but when we’re sad, feeling hurt, etc., it’s totally okay to shed those tears. They’re there for a reason, bud.
  • Secure in his sexuality. I don’t care if you’re straight, gay, bi, curious, whatever. Be secure enough in who and what you are that you aren’t offended when another guy compliments you. What’s your problem? Do you see a gay guy throwing chairs across the room when a woman comes onto him? I’m so elated anyone finds me attractive, I couldn’t care less what type of plumbing they have. Take a compliment, dude. Be like Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets after his gay neighbor informs him he “loves” him (after Jack’s character does a huge string of wonderful things to help him get back on his feet): “I tell you, buddy… I’d be the luckiest guy alive if that did it for me.” If your boy wants to wear a pink tutu, buy him the pinkest tutu you can find. When your daughter wants to play with a tractor or a chemistry set, get them for her!
  • Isn’t completely clueless. Know when your wife, girlfriend, partner, friend, buddy, et al, needs to just vent. Put down the damn tool box and quit trying to fix stuff! I know women can be extremely mysterious (despite how much they insist they aren’t), but I’d say about 95% of the time when a lady is talking about something that bothers her, she just wants you to listen and validate her feelings. If someone wants advice, they’ll make it clear that’s what they want. Guys want this, too, but many are too dang afraid to admit it. Tired of how your wife bitches about you not cleaning up after yourself? Clean up after yourself! That can go up under Respect as well. Pay attention to the small stuff, because they sometimes are really big. You look at your partner every day yet you don’t recognize when they’ve had a haircut? Come on! Your wife or husband is wearing a newer item of clothing, or one that just really enhances their beauty, tell them! (Just be careful to not say it like “You look really handsome/beautiful today.” You’re asking for trouble if you say that.)
  • Earn the right to call yourself a father. You know those kids you “helped” create? (Let’s face it, you really didn’t do much.) Take care of them! Your wife/girlfriend/whatever is not your damn maid or the kid’s nanny. And if you’re a same-sex couple, it still applies. You don’t get to have the title “Dad” just because you unloaded some sperm at the perfect time and your “boys” just happened to make it into an egg and start life. A dad is involved in his children’s life. He helps put them to bed, bathes them, plays with them, wipes his fair share of snotty noses and feces-filled diapers (nappies for you Queen’s English speakers), and so on. “But I bring home the bacon!” Congratulations! But your job still ain’t done.
  • Celebrate your children. I had the opportunity to stay with the parents of a friend in Australia. I was almost moved to tears as we sat around the dinner table as they shared stories about their kids. When the father told me his son was a professional ballet dancer, he had the same look of pride in his eyes as when we discussed that his daughter was a doctor. Be as excited with your son or daughter’s art show or ballet performance as you are when they score their first goal or touchdown. Yeah, those things can be boring as hell. Suck it up. Give your boy’s girlfriend (or boyfriend) the same “you better watch yourself” look that you would give the young man (or woman) courting your daughter.
  • Be aware. I’m sorry, but there is no freaking excuse for you to forget the birthdays of your loved ones or your anniversary. It’s especially nonsensical in this day and age of technology. Between Facebook, online calendars, alerts on your phone, etc., you have no excuse except that you’re a lazy arse. These things are important. Make an effort.

real man

  • Teach your kids to stand up for themselves (and others). And show them by example. I’m not saying you should train them to be jerks, but teach them how to be their own advocate and make darn sure you act like one as well. No, you shouldn’t stand up for them when they’re wrong. Stand up for what’s right. When they have an issue with someone else, listen patiently, and encourage them to deal with it on their own. Help them problem solve, role play, whatever it takes.  If that’s them, fine. If it’s their teacher, coach, mother, boss, whatever, stand up for what’s right. It isn’t your job to fight their battles for them. It’s to equip them with the necessary tools so that they can take care of things themselves when they’re older.

    Teach them to stand up for the downtrodden, for those who are “weaker” than them, and so on. When you witness an injustice and keep silent, guess what your kids will do. A real man doesn’t take advantage of someone’s weakness. Instead, he helps them find their inner strength and helps them stand taller. Your kid can’t throw a ball despite how many times you try to help them? Find what they’re good at and nourish that! Is it really so bad if your son is a fine dancer and your daughter is the football team’s quarterback?

  • Doesn’t take himself too seriously. Life is short, bro. Come on. Be silly. Go skipping with your son or daughter. Embarrass the hell out of your kids by singing Barbie Girl as loud and as awful as you possibly can. Every so often, snort loudly when you laugh. Teach your daughters to burp as loud as they can. (Boys already come programmed for this task, along with joyously releasing eye-watering deadly farts.)
  • Don’t handle your children with any preconceptions. This may surprise some people, but I honestly hope my son isn’t gay. Not because there’s anything wrong with it (hello!), but because it’s a hard life. But I’ll embrace whatever he discovers he is. Since the day he moved into my home, I have never assumed his orientation. “When you meet a boy or girl you want to kiss. . . “ and so on. I make darn sure that whatever comes out of my mouth does not imply any expectations when it comes to orientation, career choices, etc. I never mention girlfriends or girls without mentioning boys as well. And I mix them up so that girls don’t always come first in our discussions. I want him to know by my actions and words that I accept, honor, and celebrate whatever orientation he locks into. That comes to having children as well. “One day, if you decide to become a parent. . . “ He may not want children when he’s older. I want him to know that’s okay, even though I secretly want at least a dozen grandkids.

    Tigger has some fashion choices that drive me crazy. If you’ve been on our Facebook page, you’ve seen his ridiculous white head covering that makes him look like Captain Underpants. I despise it. It looks ridiculous, and it’s so stained it looks filthy. People constantly stare at him when we’re in public. But it’s “special” to him, so I keep my mouth shut and ignore the temptation to help it become lost. If he’s comfortable with the weird looks he gets, why should I care? Teaching him to be his own person and not be a sheeple is one of the most important jobs I have.

  • Real man?Don’t be one of those asshats who dictates to their kids what job, education, or career their kids should pursue. Instead, a real man wants his children to pursue their passions and to be ridiculously happy. Be it flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s (“Be the best damn burger flipper you can be!”), painting, dancing, or becoming a doctor, lawyer, or demolitions expert. If they want to be a professional clown who travels throughout Central America “like some dang hippy,” support it, encourage it, and applaud loudly at their performance. A real man wants his children to blossom into their own person and doesn’t feel shame because their kids haven’t met someone else’s expectations.
  • Honors women. Women are absolutely incredible. They may not be as physically strong as many men, but everything else they can do is absolutely remarkable. A woman can take the most mundane event and turn it into a glamorous celebration. Their bodies take a liquid, turn it into a human, nourish it, change for the birth, and create actual sustenance for the child within their womb and for many months after the birth. They can juggle more things at one time without skipping a beat than most of us men could ever dream of. They’re often wiser, smarter, and better at problem solving than we are. When they love, they tend to do it with every cell of their body. They find joy in spoiling and caring for the people they love. If you have a son, teach him just how wondrous women are and how they should be respected. If you have a daughter, teach her just how amazing she is and can be. Teach her to live according to what makes her joyful and to ignore the arbitrary limitations set for her by a misogynist society. Help her see that her future is only limited by her the boundaries of her imagination. Teach your kids to respect and treasure their mother by doing so yourself.
  • Sees beyond the superficial nonsense. A real man looks beyond the glitter, large breasts, perfectly toned body, large bulge, etc., and sees the inner beauty of someone. To get past the facade and delve into the intelligence, wit, resourcefulness, compassion, inner strength, of another person takes real skill. A real father teaches this same talent to his children. To quote Dumbledore from Harry Potter, “It is our choices. . . that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” A real man lives this and guides his children to see others through the same lens.


As I was preparing this rant, I thought I would ask Tigger what he thought a real man was. His initial response was “Someone who can cry.” Then he asked me if this was geared for the States. I replied that it was for everyone in the world.

So what does Tigger ultimately think makes a real man?

“He has a penis.”

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  1. Here, Here!! Well done, what a great post. It drives me nuts when people post BS pics and descriptions of what a ‘real’ man or woman is on their page. Why they feel the need to set up ‘exclusion zones’ is beyond me. Cool tutu by the way!

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    • Yes, it is quite odd and damaging! There are so many better things to focus on.

      I loved that guy in his tutu. Really cracked me up.

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  2. Such a nice read!

    You also almost had me in tears about Pepe. At the same time this isn’t really saying much since I’d definitely be the first to cry over being out of beer, not because I like beer, but because I cry over almost everything! Regardless, it was still very touching.

    When (or if) I have a son one day, I want them to know and be every one of these!

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    • Even though this happened over 3 years ago, it is still hard. He was definitely the hardest grief I’ve experienced. I couldn’t keep completely losing it in front of Tigger so sometimes when I knew I needed to absolutely bawl and not have to worry about triggering his sadness, I’d step in the shower and lose it. He was a one of a kind pup.

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  3. Talon, I laughed out loud at your photos even as I was reading and thinking how eloquently you wrote this. I agree with Theodora, drink more Negronis. 🙂

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    • Glad you enjoyed it and got some good laughs, too. Definitely planning on more Negroni writing.

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  4. I really despite those kinds of comments when people infer that just because I’m gay, I’m a “woman” or effeminate. I’m a man, dammit!

    Also: I’ve seen recently quite a few stories pop up about gender-neutral toys for children. I think it’s a trend toward the positive!

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    • I’m with you, Adam. In fact, it has even bugged me in the past when gay friends would call me “girlfriend” or something. I have a female friend who used to call me that and “sister,” and it just grated on my nerves (and I knew they weren’t meaning it to be mean or offensive). Just because I like guys doesn’t make me a girl!

      Definitely seeing a good trend that way. And kids are speaking up which I love even more! I see some stores getting away from gender-specific toy aisles as well which is a great start.

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  5. I love this, Talon! You sound like a superb dad, by the way. 🙂

    One of the things I hate the most is when people try to put you into boxes and tell you what you’re supposed to be like. Gender stereotypes hurt both men and women, and I frankly don’t understand why they’re still around. Every person should be free to explore different facets of his or her personality and be whatever he or she wants to be, regardless of gender.

    I find your exchange with Bethaney above interesting. I lived in Australia for 5 years and I’ve been in Canada for close to 3 years now. I actually feel like North American men are more pressured into being “manly”. Just the way the men dress here hints at an effort to look “manly” — they wear dark, basic clothes and deviating from this strict dress code could get comments like “those yellow pants are so gay” and “white Havaianas are for girls” (really happened, by the way). And I feel like Aussie guys are more comfortable expressing their affection for one another.

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    • It definitely is strong in North America. I see it all the time on Facebook. A guy will be joking and have a “girlie” shirt on or expression, and his friends will comment “gay” and so on. Aussie men are definitely not as hung up as North American men in terms of putting their arm around you or something, but there definitely is that unstated atmosphere of being “a proper bloke.”

      Thanks for the great compliment, too!

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  6. Tigger’s response is the best…and I happen to agree. While all the things you lay out are nice attributes to have, I actually think that they can apply to everyone, male or female. The penis thing is just incidental.

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  7. Compassion, being aware and clued into the needs of others and respect are all huge for me. I think your list should apply to all human beings.

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  8. I guess the saddest thing is that, sometimes, mothers (and in my experience, single mothers) internalize these misconceptions about “real men that don”t cry” and pass them down to their son, perpetuating them. Perhaps because somehow they lack self-confidence?

    On a brighter note : Talon, you’re probably the best dad I’ve ever met. I mean it!

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    • I think it’s just part of the whole cultural thing that needs to be changed. I’d rather see a focus on being real people than real [insert gender].

      And thank you for such a wonderful compliment!

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  9. Fantastic read! 🙂

    The whole concept of masculinity is so strange and up until recently I assumed it was the same everywhere.

    In the States, a ‘real man’ builds things, likes fast cars, has muscles, eats steak and is detached from emotion. At least that is how masculinity is most commonly displayed and encouraged. It was interesting to see when I moved to Thailand that the ideal, masculine man in this context was thin, frail, passive and without muscles.

    I really like the list you have written. I think it applies to all people too, not just men! 🙂 We could all do well in allowing ourselves to express our emotions, respect one another, etc

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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    • Most definitely agree the list could really apply to anyone of either gender. Instead of focusing on being a real man or real woman, how about we all just focus on being real.

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  10. Love. This. Yes. and Tigger has it right, eh? What drives me crazy is that people think being uncaring and rude is important. UGH. Bravo!!!

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  11. As the mother of a boy, I totally agree!!! These are all the things I’d want him to grow up to be. One of the reasons I struggle to identify with in NZ culture is the whole concept of “manly men”. There’s a big push there for men to be into rugby, drinking, outdoorsy stuff which I just can’t connect with and I don’t want my son to feel that push either. One of the main reasons we travel is because we don’t feel like we really belong in that kind of a culture and don’t want our son to grow up thinking that’s how you’re supposed to act if you’re a dude.

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    • I saw that a lot in Australia, too. They both seem to have the same concept of what a proper bloke is. Good on you for seeing a different way and pursuing that for your child (and future one!).

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    • He totally nailed it. Glad you liked the photos. I had fun searching for them. When I saw that 1st photo, I KNEW I had to put it in the post.

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  12. I love how you intermixed sarcasm and humor here and yet still made such a good point. Although Tigger seems to have summed it up quite concisely.

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    • He pretty much nailed it. LOL Glad you found it informative and entertaining at the same time.

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  13. awww, Talon-I love this! But I must admit that Tigger’s final answer wins the prize-haha, I was laughing really hard! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your feelings-this was amazing-xoox, Chelsea

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  14. Talon, I so appreciate this post. All those “Real Men” posts drive me nuts too. Your post, however, nails it. Thanks for taking the time to process all this and share it with the rest of us.

    From one real person to another, thank you.

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  15. I think Tigger sums it up the best at the very end.

    I know what you mean about the whole ‘real man’ thing. It irks me when a woman sees an attractive gay guy and utters something along the lines of, “what a waste”, too, although that one does depend on context.

    Post a Reply
    • Yeah, I kind of get that “what a waste” comment. I’ve said that about straight men before. LOL It definitely depends on context, though.

      Yes, I thought Tigger’s summary was absolutely spot on.

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  16. Sigh….my hero! You hit this one out of the park…unfortunately we have become such a self-absorbed society (“it’s all about me, all about I, all about number one, oh me, oh my”) that I fear such rational thoughts (and way of living) is losing ground.

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  17. Brilliant.! Gives me hope for humanity. Sharing! 🙂

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  18. “The whole notion is just so bizarre to me.”

    That’s because it IS bizarre, Tal. And anyone with half a brain knows that.

    Post a Reply


  1. Travel Blog Love: November, 2013 | Besudesu Abroad Travel Blog - […] asks Just what the f&#^ is a “real man”? and his son Tigger cleverly replies to this complex question with one…

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