I listened to a great interview this week. It was with an author who'd recently released a book on manliness, and his lack thereof. He'd written this book after finding out that his wife was pregnant with a little girl. He was immediately struck by the reality that he was not, in fact, a manly man. He didn't grow up doing manly things. He could barely throw a baseball, didn't know how to properly go camping, and had never been in a fight. Having a daughter meant that he would be her example of the kind of man she would one day seek, and feared that he would be found lacking.
This really made me think. What is "manliness?" My mind immediately flashed to flannel shirts, ultra-dark denim jeans, and a bottle of Brut cologne. The kind of guy that owned every tool, and organized them on some type of cork board in the garage. The kind of guy that owned lava hand soap. The kind of guy that has a legitimate need for steel toed boots. A woodworker. A scotch aficionado. A guy who would never use the word "aficionado." The kind of guy that would jog home from a vasectomy.
With this, I began to take an inventory of my own manliness. First up, showchoir, sequinie vest and all. Nope, anti-manly. Marching band: nope. Theater: lord no. This wasn't going well. I did play sports in high school.....but it was golf. Still, that's going in the manly column. Then my most manly achievement slapped me in the face. I was a deckhand on a buoy tender for my first year in the Coast Guard. It doesn't get more manly than that. Upon reporting to the unit you're issued a hard hat, life jacket, and chest hair. I was apart of a twelve man crew who worked 80 hours a week on a 60 year old boat to service buoys and lights marking the navigable channel of the Cape Fear River. Yep, chest hair. It was a work hard/play hard job where any visible cracks in your manhood would result in merciless taunting.
So we kept up appearances. While underway, none of us shaved. We tore the sleeves off of our coveralls and were covered in the filth that results from spending 15 hours a day scraping barnacles off of buoys with a putty knife. Damn, that's manly. Upon returning to homeport we looked more like refugees than sailors. We grunted, cursed, spit, and yelled. This was light years from showchoir.
After visiting a nearby shore unit our Chief decided that a movie night for the crew would be a nice, safe way to blow off some steam. So we piled into a liberty van and headed down to our local movie theater to check out the latest blockbuster. I was a civil war flick, whose name was familiar. But the problem was that we'd been working way too much to check out the reviews. None of us knew what we were in for. We had no idea that our civil war, shoot 'em up movie, came with a swimming pool sized shot of estrogen. That's right, we purchased our tickets, piled into the theater, and watched Cold Mountain.
If you've never seen Cold Mountain, let me provide you with a review. It was like watched the cutest puppy you've ever seen get continuously run over by a lawn mower for two and a half hours. It turns out, the civil war was pretty sad. Not phone-company-commercial sad. More like, the-complete-and-utter-absence-of-any-redeeming-qualities-sad.
Needless to say, our jovial mood was quickly squashed. With every death of a lovable character, we slouched deeper and deeper into our chairs. There may have been a sniffle or two, but I can't swear to the less than manly culprit.
As we silently walked back to the van once the movie ended, our shoulders were collectively slumped in dismay. The manliest crew on the manliest boat on the East Coast just endured a two and a half hour depressive chick flick. Not to mention that Jude Law's attempt at a southern accent was further insult to injury. He spoke almost every line in that movie with shockingly little movement of his jaw. His mouth was agape, and the words somehow poured out in a mushy fashion.
I laughed on the inside. Our manly facade was scraped away. No one boasted. No one bragged. No good-natured ribbing occurred at all.
But I was quickly shocked back into reality when one of my shipmates broke the silence by stating, "that war movie really sucked. Who picked that anyway?" No one confessed. Manliness restored.
I think that as a father my view on manliness has shifted again. What should I expect of myself? Where do I draw the line between compassion and authority? It not always so easily visible. Am I being an example of strength for my boys to rely on in hard times? Would they gain more from my vulnerability? God knows, they need look no further than this blog to see all the vulnerability they'll ever need.
Screw it, I'm going to home depot. I need a cork board.