BE A MAN, MY SON

February 2017

 Lately, I've been musing about the differences between boys and girls - I mean, beyond the obvious biological dissimilarities. My ponderings started when a friend sent me an article about "masculinity" courses being taught at some institutions. According to the teachers of these courses, (1) it's bad that boys and men usually don't share their more deep-seated or intimate concerns with their male friends, and (2) the reason that they don't is because it isn't manly. I think it's generally true that males are not great feeling-sharers, and I think it's sometimes true that it has to do with "manliness" issues. I'm not convinced it's all that bad.

   Males don't share feelings with males because they are males. When, early in our married life, I would get frustrated because Sally didn't see something, or react to something, the way I did -- when my words would start sounding like an imitation of Rex Harrison singing (from "My Fair Lady") "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" -- she would explain to me once again that women were different from men. I usually couldn't understand it at the time, but it is true. The reverse is true, also: boys and men are not built with a need to share everything. We're not holding back for any particular reason; we don't share because the need to share isn't there. (Maybe it would be good,  sometimes, if we did feel the need, but that's a different issue. My point is that it isn't a maladjustment for males not to share intimacies with other males. It's a male thing.)

    Now,  about this need to be "manly:" I have heard people say "be a man," or "man up." (Although, between parent and young child, I think I've heard "don't be a baby" more often.) I have known (a few) men who felt the need to be tough guys, and who tried to make sure their sons were just as tough. (I knew one career Marine who treated his three sons like members of his platoon, beginning when they were still in diapers.)  I've known (a few) boys and men who showed their "manliness" by drinking, swearing, telling dirty jokes, and treating every girl and woman not as a human being, but as a possible conquest. I've known (a few) men who became family tyrants by taking extra advantage of the (male-decided) religious idea that men should (just like God) have the final say in everything. Clearly, "acting like a man" can be an issue.

   On the other hand, I've said "a few" in almost every sentence above. It's been my experience that such males are in a decided minority. Most boys (and, later, men) I have known have been pretty much like me - not exactly like me, but in their own ways exhibiting similar characteristics. My Dad could have been a tough Merchant Marine/mechanic/machinist, demanding his three sons be tough like him. He wasn't, and he didn't. I'm sure he would have liked all three of us to have enjoyed his lines of work and shown more interest in them (only one of us did), but he didn't push it. He let us have our own interests, joining in with us on those things we liked in common. Because I was weak and skinny when I was a kid, I was always among the last picked in school physical education classes. As I got older and stronger, I could have overcompensated and become aggressive; I didn't. I liked to read, was early on very smart academically, liked to sing (solos and in choirs) and listen to all kinds of music (including show tunes!), and took drama classes. I never worried about anybody calling me a homo, queer, or pansy (there were no "gays" in those days), and I don't think anybody ever did. I've had many girl friends, and a few girlfriends. I've always liked girls and women because they're nice to look at, smart, funny, and obviously different than boys and men. Some of them kiss pretty good, and a couple of my early romances were (for the times) pretty exciting. Even so, I was a virgin when I married, have never had sex with another woman, and have only kissed one woman (the same one) on the lips in the last nearly 60 years. I admit to moments of lustful thoughts (President Jimmy Carter got in trouble for saying that, right?), but they were just moments. I'm a pretty cool guy, right?

   Obviously, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm trying to get across is that aggressive, obnoxious, macho-ism is not the masculine norm. It's also not genetic; it's all about choice. A man may feel a certain permission to be rough on his kids or his wife because he saw his father act that way. But that's an excuse: his father didn't make him be that way.

   If there was some way for us to go back in time, we would probably find that even most cavemen were not cave-men, at all; it was probably the very rare individual who carried a big club and dragged women around by their hair. (And what about the Marine with his three military-trained kids? He stayed pretty much the same overbearing asshole his whole life. All three of his boys turned out to be pretty nice men.)

    So, what about these so-called "masculinity courses?" Okay, I guess; anybody could probably benefit from a little more sharing. But if I've read the article correctly, the courses aren't aimed at a true target, and probably won't do anything for the man who feels alienated and cut off from his own  feelings. All men have issues - just like all women do - but most can't be treated by deep sharing with a buddy. That's a whole different story.


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