About a week ago at 5:30am my boyfriend texted me from Alaska saying “I just cut down a tree!” My boyfriend and I texted a bit more about the size of the tree, the type of tree, and how the tree deserved to be cut down (you know, for swaying and stuff). Eventually he texted me something like, “I feel so manly” to which I responded “I am proud of you, but tree or not, I have always thought of you as manly.”
This line of texting got me thinking… how do you measure a ‘man’?
By cultural stereotype, real men do things like… degrade women, shoot at stuff, swear, drink, use chain saws, drive something loud, and beat up stuff. Wow, that sounds awesome….
My father, by many stereotypical measures (not the ones I just listed), is incredibly masculine. Over Easter we shot clay pigeons with 12 gauge shot guns. After we finished shooting we put the three shot guns back in the gun cabinet – which my dad built. We then proceeded to sip beer and watch a war movie on my dad’s big screen tv, while discussing the hour long shooting venture that just occurred. I have seen my father cry three times – all three from incredibly tragic events. My father is a caricature to many of my friends. “Oh Steve…” my friends say, as they watch my father drive his F-250 while blaring country music and driving down the highway going 80 to a hunting lesson for his loyal red Labrador passenger.
When it comes to being manly, I have never heard by father say anything about his actions being tough or masculine. I have never heard my father say “I shoot guns and hunt because that is what men do.” When it comes to what is not manly, I have never heard my father tear down another man for doing something society deems “feminine.” While I have heard other fathers call men “pussies” or “fags” for piercing their ears or wearing capri pants, I have never heard my dad use derogatory language about the actions of another man.
On the measure of a man, my father has only told me there are two things that make someone ‘manly’.
At one point, my father was discussing a guy he knew who was treating his wife poorly – for no apparent reason other than selfishness. My father did not degrade the man or tear him down. The only words my father said were, “Some men do not understand that real men take care of their business.” Point taken.
At another point, my father lost a business he built from the ground up in a terrible series of events. Asking my father about how he was feeling his only words were, “The real measure of a man is not whether he falls, but how many times he is knocked down and gets back up.” Point taken. Single tear begins rolling down cheek….
My boyfriend does not shoot guns – although he can. My boyfriend does not drive a big truck – although I am sure he could if he felt like it. And, come on, cutting down a tree in the Alaskan wilderness with a hatchet is TOTALLY awesome. But I have always thought of my boyfriend as manly. To me, my boyfriend is manly because he takes care of his business and he gets back up when he is knocked down.
However, when I think even more about my father’s measures – I am not sure they are exclusive to males. To me, the best people – he, she, ze, his, her, zim – are the people that take of their business and the people that get back up when knocked down.
In a world of possession, making sure we are responsible and take care of things can feel like a huge task. Life can throw challenges at us where we respond by feeling bogged down, tired, beaten, discouraged, depressed, heartbroken, and every other cruddy emotion in the world. What will matter is not the car we drive, the stuff we shoot, or the trees we cut down. What will matter are the people we take care of along the way, and our ability to endure the challenges we encounter. Those two things – to me – are how you measure a man. Well, I should say, those two things – to me – are how you measure a person.