Guys like talk about the halcyon days When Men Were Men. The era when all food was cooked over an open flame or by a quiescent woman in an apron. The time, gone but not forgotten, when you could wave your genitals at a secretary on the off chance she was into it. The period when every boy was born knowing how to throw a perfect spiral, or else he was left on a hillside to be raised by squirrels. Apparently, there is a set of definitively masculine experiences that we’re missing out on. When this topic of conversation arises, I tend to keep quiet, because the type of person who espouses this opinion is often the type of person who might hit someone who disagrees with him. But any time someone brings up the time When Men Were Men, I feel extraordinarily glad I didn’t grow up then.
The mythology always takes on a similar form. A Man regretfully shakes his head and laments the decline of Masculinity. My father, he intones, worked for the post office for sixty years. He hand-ground trees into wood pulp for use as envelopes. Then he delivered those envelopes barefoot over a hundred miles of gravel roads. He continues: My father’s father fought in the second World War. He hung by his ankles out of a fighter plane and punched Nazi missiles out of the air. He pauses and sighs deeply. I don’t know much about my great grandfather. Few records remain from his village in Siberia. Rumor has it he was literally an austere, mile-wide stretch of tundra that afforded no comfort to regional flora or fauna.
I appreciate these Men from bygone days, but what a relief to not have to be one of them. I’d be awful at log cabin building or bare-knuckle boxing or bathtub gin distilling. All the things I’ve been led to believe were the norm for Capital M “Men” of yore add up to a pretty brutal existence. Waking up in the morning to drink black coffee out of the pocket of a pair of overalls. Loading cinderblocks into boats for fourteen hours a day. Then heading to a second job standing guard at a bald eagle pen in a nearby zoo. Finally, at two in the morning, the Man heads home, where he stares wistfully into the distance past his two sleeping children for a few seconds before passing out in a twin bed three feet away from his wife’s twin bed. They have been married since high school and make physical contact only on birthdays and the fourth of July.
I envy the fortitude those guys had, but I’m so happy I am not expected to be one of them. I’m a wimp. I like air conditioning and fruity beverages. If my toilet breaks, I have zero impulse to try and fix it myself. I call someone to do it for me. And then someone comes over and installs a new flusherizer (or whatever that part of a toilet is called) while I eat pizza and feel vaguely guilty that I have no practical skills. That’s how I like it.
It’s great that there are guys who work with their hands and reset their own broken bones with wood and twine. And it’s also great that there are other things that guys are allowed to do. There were no caveman bloggers. Those fellas hunted or they died of starvation because they had too much pride to live on berries that their wives had gathered. No thanks!
Men can still be men. But it’s kind of nice that they can also be more like Muppets or whatever it is I am. Being a man nowadays isn’t the same as being a Man once was (or at least what we’re led to believe comprised Manhood) in a practical sense. There’s less required dead-eyed stoicism at the birth of a child or shooting of sick dogs behind a shed. But the essential characteristics of manhood remain. Having principles. Taking responsibility for one’s life. Working towards difficult goals. Plus, there are still Men who roam the earth, fixing transmissions and aggressively hanging up phones to prove a point. They’re out there enabling my lowercase mansculinity. And I salute them.
But the time When All Men Were Men, if it ever existed at all, terrifies me more than living amongst dinosaurs.