Dear Peter –
My brain was obviously on hold when I read your email requesting an article for the Men’s Issue. Somehow, I got the impression you wanted a learned treatise on men’s issues.
For two weeks, I Googled like a madman and slogged through mountains of books, magazines, and journals, chasing down every nuance of thought on the subject.
I even learned the difference between “mansplaining” and “manspreading”.
I was 32,327 words into my essay before realizing my mistake. By then, my grey matter was operating more like Dagwood Bumstead’s than Neil Degrasse Tyson’s. Clearly, it was time to simplify.
After sealing off numerous blind alleys, I was left with an extremely short list of men’s issues – just two items.
The first isn’t even a men’s issue, per se, but a human issue: the less-than-stellar job the males of our species have done over the millennia as self-appointed Rulers of the Universe.
The second cuts to the heart of the matter: when push comes to shove (which wouldn’t happen without so much testosterone), the stark reality is that no one has ever conclusively defined just what the hell a man is, anyway.
I happen to be a cisgender male who endured the ravages of puberty in an era when role models for manhood lay somewhere between James Arness on Gunsmoke and Robert Young on Father Knows Best.
Sixty years, five children, and five grandchildren later, I still don’t have a clue what it means to be a man. That’s a major issue, Peter — a men’s issue.
In the ‘70s, no self-respecting guy wanted to be considered an M.C.P. (male chauvinistic pig), but being a S.N.A.G. (sensitive new age guy) seemed a little too Alan Alda.
Besides, Marshall Dillon never dissed Miss Kitty the way Hawkeye dissed Hot Lips Houlihan. So, how’s a man supposed to know how to talk, how to walk, how to behave? Most important, what uniform should he wear?
For most of my working life, I wore that ubiquitous phallic symbol, the necktie. I can do a Windsor knot with my frontal lobe tied behind my back. I tried to keep my whiskers trimmed and my eyebrows under control. But I never had the singlemindedness, the budget, the condo, or the crystal cocktail shaker to be a metrosexual.
On the other hand, I also enjoy flannel shirts, dungarees and welloiled boots, and sometimes sport a beard of biblical proportions. But I’ll never pass as a lumbersexual. The only bar brawl I’ve been in was a total misunderstanding.
Occasionally, I’ve wandered into the backcountry with a rifle, more for the canoeing than the killing. I’ve never worn a stitch of camoufl age, or taken a selfie with a newlydeceased member of a threatened species.
While I possess washboard abs and buns of steel that James Arness would envy, the modesty I learned from Robert Young keeps me from flaunting them.
If I couch-slouch with a brewski or two, it won’t be in a man cave with a fl at screen the size of Niagara Falls. And I’ll be binge-watching Downton Abbey, not whatever organized gladiatorial combat is in season.
I’ve never hit a line drive, tossed the old pigskin, or come anywhere near the crease. Sport just ain’t my thing (although I had to feign a passionate interest in football to survive two years in Regina).
Still, my eyes get moist with the first strains of our national anthem at the Olympics. And I’m not ashamed to admit that three of my private pleasures are ironing, washing dishes, and knitting.
Here’s my conundrum, Boss: Despite all my Googling and ruminating, I still can’t shed much light on the issue at hand — what does it mean to be a man?
The bottom line is, if you want to assign the piece to another writer, that’s OK.
I’m obviously not the right man for the job.