For the past forty years men have been blamed for everything from head lice to the atomic bomb. And the sensibilities passed down to us from countless generations have been denounced as the source of our planet’s woes.
A revolution was certainly needed to help us challenge and rethink our world-view. But we didn’t need the reign of terror that swept indiscriminately over everything that we valued about being men.
Nowadays many of us suffer a collective amnesia: we’ve forgotten what we like best about being a man. Thinking that we’re being progressive we naively mouth the trendy bromides and disparaging cliches that have colonized the public imagination. And we participate not only in condemning what is dishonourable in men but also in depreciating what is worthwhile.
We are a heritage building that’s been gutted and prepared for demolition. And while the deconstruction crews go about their business many of us wonder if there’s anything worth preserving. It’s with this question in mind that I display some of the nobler features that have graced this building so that we can reflect on what we want to conserve.
I recognize that there are shadows in the architecture of this structure. But I will not belabour what others have so forcefully exposed. I acknowledge that each man may not possess all the characteristics I write of below. And I recognize that women also, within the framework of their socialization and genetic heritage, possess and express these qualities in their uniquely female way.
Men are responsible
We expect to be judged by our actions and the outcomes of our actions. And we are constantly reminded of this by the mantras or our gender: “The world doesn’t owe you a living.” “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
It’s what we do, not what we say that gives us our acceptability. The words “provider” and “protector” hold special meaning for us, and have for millennia acted as the measure of our honour. Above all, we are not permitted the luxury of blaming others for our failures: “The buck stops here!”
Men are taught to play fair, accept rules, and abide by judgments
For men, sports are more than recreation. They are a pattern for social living. We have devised a careful system of rules that gives each of us “a sporting chance.” Like life, sport has protocol, traditions, demands, justice, etiquette, victory and defeat. it’s the paradigm for masculine life. Master the rules, and you assure survival for yourself and your family. Break the rules, and suffer the consequences.
Remember? “Never hit a guy when he’s down!” “Play fair!” “Don’t argue with the umpire!” As one man said about Boxing: “A little guy can step in between two angry giants trying to kill one another, and they will almost always step back and listen to what he has to say.”
Men like sex for its own sake
We don’t have to feel romantic or have talked intimately before enjoying our partner. We fully embrace our lusty here-and-now rush of desire without any prerequisites. Male sexual response is often visceral. Things don’t always have to be going right for us to enjoy her.
Men have staying power
We value courage, determination and steadfastness. We remind ourselves that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Men endure: “Take it like a man” is the banner under which we deal with adversity, and the discomforts of a demanding and uncertain life. We understand that we do not have options as men – we have duties and societal expectations. We believe that “a man is as good as his word.” Boys pledge their commitment with “cross my heart, and spit to die!” In other words, “I will do whatever it takes to fulfill my promise – no matter what.” Through our ability to endure we offer security and reliablity to our wives and children.
Men get to the point
We communicate directly: “man to man”, like “straight shooters”, “from the hip.” We’re good at sweeping away the clutter of conversation and move quickly toward solutions by getting to the bottom line: If there is a problem, we fix it…end of story. We don’t bear complainers lightly: “Don’t whine, do something about it!” What’s more important is not how you feel about a problem, but what you intend to do about it.
Men empower children
When we play with our children we combine risk with physical protection. One author observed that when kids go sledding with dad, they like it when he lets them all crash at the bottom of the hill. We let them set the pace but pull back when things seem to be going too far.
We safely encourage our children to stretch their physical boundaries without risking their lives. “Afraid to climb that Jungle-Gym? You can do it! I’ll be right underneath to catch you.” Fathering has the feel of coaching, and the voice of mentoring. We give children judicious opportunitites to experience the outcome of their behaviour so they can learn from their mistakes. Fianlly, we understand that the purpose of all this fathering is letting go.
Men are strong
In times when protection and reassurance is needed, the solid physical presence of a man holds no equal. His wife feels safety and comfort in the strength of his embrace. His children feel secure, and delight in the feel of his muscles and scratchy beard. The timbre of a man’s voice suggests strength, and the way he physically launches himself into activity inspires resolve. By controlling our emotions during a crisis we bring order and stability to uncertain times. Need your refrigerator moved? Ask a man.
Men are curious, inventive and adventurous
We are restless to explore and discover. We want to see what’s beyond the next horizon; we want to expose the mysteries of the universe; build a spaceship to Mars; challenge authority; and prove that space is not the final frontier.
Within us live the spirits of Tom Sawyer, Einstein, DaVinci, Mahatma Gandhi, and a pantheon of other vibrant men. In the face of tyranny we are defiant and ready for combat. We are dreamers, lovers, artists, scientists, and builders of magnificent structures. We constantly try to “Push the envelope” so we can discover what will happen “if…”
Men are sacrificial givers
In peace and war, we are willing to forfeit our lives for the women and children we love. During flood, plague, famine, earthquake and other natural disasters it is assumed we will lead, protect and continue to provide. We give by solving problems with inventions like the telephone, the airplane, electricity, birth control pills, microwaves, and countless other innovations.
Built into a man’s role is the task of bodyguard: we are expected to take the bullet. We have spent millennia creating a code of conduct designed for service: when the ship is sinking, it’s “women and children first” to the lifeboats.
Men make good friends
Under normal circumstances intimate male friendship takes time. But when it blossoms it’s solid, enduring, trustworthy, loyal and hearty. We encounter each other exuberantly with solid handshakes, with backslapping affection and with butt-patting encouragement when we hit a “homer”. As boys we became “blood brothers” by deliberately cutting our thumbs, mixing our blood, and swearing oaths of allegiance. When we lose our temper, we often do so in a flash and then it’s done because we hold the friendship to be greater than the issue that divides us. In war our unspoken motto is “all for one, and one for all”. And when it’s over we never forget those who have fallen.
Some social critics declare that because men have historically held most of the political and economic power they must accept blame for most of what’s wrong with our world. if this is true, then we must also accept praise for most of what’s right with it. We have given abundantly to the unfoldment of what is highest and most noble in the human race. The social structure that has contained our spirit is in need of a Reformation and a Renaissance, not a demolition.