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?
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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”