In a recent post I wrote, "Masculinity is a confusing thing sometimes." It seemed like a throwaway line but it didn't feel like it. Every good man has times in his life when he wonders if he really is a good man. With the combination of stubbornness and self doubt that sits like an unlit Molotov cocktail in my gut, pretty much my entire adulthood has been that time in my life.
My son has a stepdad now. He has for a while really but it becomes official in a week or so. The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad was a crock because the poor dad wasn't that poor. Driving home to my crappy apartment in my truck that's missing the mirror on the passenger's side, it became pretty clear to me that I'm the real Poor Dad. Providing financially has traditionally been one of the hallmarks of masculinity. I provide though. My son has food and clothes and somehow is able to participate in any sports he'd like. Most of the time I don't think he notices much how we suffer financially. We get by with a little help from our friends and family and yes, his mom and stepdad too.
Still, sometimes my failings at the provider role get to me but then I remember I do provide. I provide my son with a voice that reminds him to wear socks and underwear everyday and brush his damn teeth. I provide him with an example that shows him to be himself and let the world think what they will. I provide him with a friend that he knows is always there even when I have to provide him with authority and punish him. I provide him with the confidence to question himself and everything around him and be a thinker. I provide him with someone to joke with and hang with and occasionally hug when he wants something. I provide him with the knowledge that money isn't everything and that the important part of Poor Dad is the Dad part. I provide him with a Dad and I feel manly because of that. Maybe that's what is masculine now.
There's a woman that I would like to be with that just doesn't go for guys like me. I mean she'll date us and be friends with us but she doesn't want to be with us in a relationship. She likes mechanics and manual laborers and guys that build stuff. She gets turned on by guys that do stupid stuff with vehicles and talk about getting in fights. Of course, I've done many stupid things in my life and I work a dirty, sweaty job but I don't talk about it much. It doesn't seem to me to be much of what makes me, me. Men have always defined themselves by their jobs. Ask a man what he does and he'll respond that "I'm a carpenter" or "I'm a plumber." He won't say "I work at..." He'll say "I am." I've always, instinctively, rejected that. A man that reads Walt Whitman can't define himself by what he does for a living.
Still, sometimes I wish I was more traditionally manly. I wish I enjoyed working on cars and fixing things around the house instead of seeing them as chores that have to be done. I wish I could carry myself in such a way that women would swoon because of how tough I appear. That women may not want to be with me, though, but her son thinks I'm awesome. He's good friends with my son but he wants to hangout with me sometimes even when my son isn't here. Sometimes he even asks me for advice and actually listens. I'm a positive in his life by just being me and I feel pretty manly because of it. I'll take a child's adulation over a woman going weak in the knees anytime. Maybe, that's a new sort of masculinity.
I write crap like this. I admit my vulnerabilities and that I question myself. Real men aren't supposed to and if they do they damn sure aren't supposed to admit it. Manliness is being cocksure and strong and never thinking you might be wrong. Action heroes are allowed a moment of introspection but they always emerge more confident with guns blazing. I emerge with words but they are rarely blazing. No matter how much I question myself, though, I keep on doing what needs to be done and in moments of crisis I'm actually pretty damned decisive.
Still, I do wish I didn't question myself so much, and that I wasn't compelled to share it so much, but I can't help it. I actually care if what I'm doing is right. I give a shit if I'm a good person. Knowing this, once they get to know me, makes people trust me. They know that I'm going to be a part of their life safely. Guys know that even if I were to develop a desire for their wife or girlfriend that I would never act on it and women know they can be around me without me doing anything they really don't want. I might not be the kind of guy that walks in a room and instantly makes anyone feel safer and more sure of themselves but I'm the kind of guy that people can confide in and feel good about getting advice from. People trust me with the safety of their secrets and their souls and I'm pretty proud of that. Maybe, that's a new way of being a man.
While I'm thinking of all of this, and questioning myself, I remember things, too. I remember having men with more money than my dad being great influences on my life. I also remember that never making me question my dad because he took care of me in ways no other man could. I remember those men and my dad when I think about men and their jobs and how they appear to women and children. I remember so many kids calling my dad, Dad and I remember my other fathers. I remember that the men I admire most did a variety of things for a living but were always more proud of the effect they had on people's lives and I remember that those men always ended up with beautiful women. I remember that the manliest moment I've ever seen was an old man crying and kissing his wife's forehead as he told the doctor she didn't want life support. I remember that Steinbeck and Hemingway questioned themselves and admitted their vulnerabilities and women swooned over them.
So I remember that this new masculinity that I think I have isn't that new and that I learned how to be a man from some damn good men. I remember that questioning myself is really questioning those men too but I remember that it's okay because I learned from them that being tough enough to question yourself is manly. I guess people just didn't talk about this type of true masculinity until it became the new masculinity. Either that or the loud, insisting, doubtless voices of boys claiming and pretending to be men just drowned them out. Still, I'm glad I heard them and learned how to be a man.