Rob's Soapbox Archives
Monday, July 26th, 2009
WHAT DID JOHN WAYNE READ?
The state of manhood in America has been going downhill for decades; I had hoped we’d peaked with the age of “metrosexuality,” a few years ago in which men were openly encouraged to wear make-up, paint their nails and even occasionally wear skirts.
The truth is though that while metrosexuality may have been the peak of the arc of the destruction of American men, the trip all the way back will take a long, long time.
There have always been two perfect examples in my mind of what a man should be; John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. Between the two of them, all facets of manliness were covered. Wayne provided the classic quiet toughness of a man in charge and afraid of nothing. Sinatra showed how a man cares about his appearance, treats a lady and his most loyal friends and enjoys the finer things in life.
So as I recently thumbed through an issue of “Maxim Magazine,” something struck me. The article was some stupid topic reprinted a million times in the past 3 decades in every publication from Playboy to Men’s Health; it was some dopey list of things every man should know and covered such mundane things as “how many times to flip a steak while grilling it” to “how often motor oil should be changed.”
I began to think; most of the places young men go now for entertainment and infotainment are nothing more than how-to-be-a-man shows, articles and discussions.
How to grill, how to dress, how to change a flat tire, when to remove your hat, how to hold a door open for a woman, how to replace a garbage disposal, how to wash a dog, how to build a fire, how to open a champagne bottle, how to bait a fish hook, how to drive a boat, how to parallel park, how to drive a stick shift, how to throw a curve ball, and on and on.
You know? All of the things boys used to be taught by their fathers and the influential men in their lives.
That entire list of how-to’s are things I knew when I left home at 18. Certainly I have gotten better at each of them through trial and tribulation but the thought or need to refer to a glossy paged magazine for the basic steps of how to begin any of them never occurred to me. But then again, I had a dad and a grandfather and a couple of uncles who between them all, knew all of those things and were ready willing and able to pass them along to me; if for no other reason than so I knew it; I had experienced it; I wasn’t and wouldn’t be intimidated by it. This is what a man used to be; someone who would confidently accept a challenge or a task and solve it or overcome it. Today, if a young man must catch a fish to survive he is going to curl up in a fetal position and mutter softly “Long John Silver…”
Being a man isn’t defined by driving a manual shift transmission daily; it’s having the ability to do so if you’re ever asked or needed.
I remember being 21 years old and visiting New York for the first time; I stayed with friends on Long Island and everyone wanted to go into Manhattan but no one wanted to take public transportation and certainly no one was willing to drive; not the 30 year old guy who owned the house I was staying in, not the 25 year old brother and not the 60 year old father, all of whom had lived there their entire lives. So I volunteered. Why? My father had taught me how to drive in San Francisco; (big city driving in a stick shift, by the way), didn’t scare me. That’s part of being a man; stepping up, solving a problem and providing the way for others who are less than capable or willing or confident.
So what the hell has happened? It’s not that men were once all John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. My father is far from either of them, but still knew enough to show me the way on all issues ranging from beer to classical music to grilling to car repair to home improvement to crisis management to chivalry. What he didn’t know he confidently left to other men in my life, which is where I learned to fish, shoot a rifle, throw a curveball, and smoke a cigar. That’s what men and fathers used to do; prepare the boys in their lives for all things that may occur because in our society when all hell is busting loose, we genetically and instinctively look to the men in the room to stand up and begin solving the problem; where will we look tomorrow when the room is filled with penises but not one man?
Today we encourage our boys to stack cups, play soccer and paint their nails. Meanwhile, while exposing them to those “new frontiers,” we don’t expose them to the basic fundamentals of manliness. We’re told that sports and fighting and red meat will just make our boys angry and repressed and stoic. Yes, God forbid we raise a young man to know that there’s a time and a place for emotions and the battlefield of freedom is neither. God forbid we teach our boys that while everyone else in a room is crying and screaming someone must stand as the calm in the storm and lead the way…much better that we teach our boys to “express themselves” by stacking pink cups as the building burns.
So today magazines raise our men (for by the time the males in our culture are actually reading these publications and watching Spike TV they are already young men), and they publish mundane takes on fundamental basics of life. There is more to grilling a steak than salt and pepper and knowing how and when to turn it; there is a passion that comes only from being shown the passion. There is more to firing a gun than playing Grand Theft Auto; there is a respect and a level of power that comes only from being shown the respect and power.
Alas, there is more to being a man than standing around waiting for someone else to solve a problem, protect you or define your next move. There are plenty of effective ways to be a man; wearing makeup and asking a magazine to name the three stooges for you is none of them.