Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Teaching My Daughter To Be A Man

Quite possibly the manliest motherfucker in history.

     Yeah. I know. I haven't posted in a while. Well, between the commercials, and the photo shoots, and the suiting up in armor and riding horses for a living (saving that for my next post), and the awesome daughter, and the girlfriend (also very awesome), I haven't had just a shit-ton of time to sit down and collect my thoughts in words. But last night I remembered an article I'd submitted to The Mid (an online magazine that sometimes buys my words, and pays me with actual money), that they rejected, on account of it didn't exactly gel with their whole "we're-all-about-middle-agers-but-mostly-female-and-mostly-feminist-and-also-men-shouldn't-be-too-manly" vibe. And then I remembered that I have a space where I literally do not have to give a fuck about what anybody thinks of me, or my words, or how I use them.

     So I'm reprinting that piece, unedited, here. You don't have to agree with everything (or anything) I'm saying. But I promise you: if you have a man in your life old enough to be introspective, he is thinking about this shit:

Teaching My Daughter How To Be A Man
Larry Brantley

Alright. Calm the fuck down. The title was provocative on purpose; I’m not actually teaching my 12-year-old daughter how to be a man. She is as girlie as a girl can be, and that’s her choice, and I’m all for it. But this morning I got to thinking about the very broad subject of manhood, and what it means to be a man, and in particular what it means to be a man in the 21st century.

I did a Google search that went like this: How do I teach my daughter about being a man? The results were edifying – and aggravating – for two reasons: 1) of the top ten results, seven of them were fucking lists, the form of writing that has become so very popular in digital media, because it’s easily digestible, and implies you can learn every damn thing you need to on any given subject in just a few numbers (full disclosure; I recently wrote a piece for The Mid that had the Ten Commandments To Not Being A Douchebag listed in it. Hello, pot. It’s me, kettle.); and 2) of the top ten results, nine of them were written by women.

All of these results had the same basic theme: this is what you need to teach your daughter in life. Very little of it had anything to do with boys or men, except for things like Don’t ever let any man convince you he has power over you. (Couldn’t you just as easily say the same thing about any woman?) Other “lessons” were along the lines of empowerment, self-sufficiency, speaking her mind, etc. But what was missing from all of these articles – every one of them – was any counsel on how to teach my daughter about how fucking confusing it can be to be a man in the 21st century, and how the very concept of manhood has been upended, and pilloried, and denounced as outdated, and sexist, and wrong. And no, that’s not everybody’s view of manhood, but if you disagree with me, then you live on a parallel earth where things are way goddam better, and you should stay there.

We live in the most resource-rich culture in the world. Our society is more gender-equal than at any time in human history. (I'm not saying we're finished with that fight; but do you really want to tell me that shit was better in Susan B. Anthony's day?) These are awesome things, and it’s a good idea to occasionally remind ourselves that one of the really big reasons we got to this point is that, way back in our collective story, there was a time when we didn’t have enough resources, and there were dangers on all sides, from the ravages of nature, to wild beasts, to other tribes who wanted to take our shit and kill us off. And it fell almost exclusively to the men to protect and provide: we evolved expressly to handle those kinds of things. Plus, we were expendable; we couldn’t (and still can’t) make babies, so we would cheerfully die in order that the life-givers could survive and procreate, and carry on the tribe. There was a time in our collective story – not too far gone, if you really think about it – when a man had to be good at being a man. The lives of his family and his people literally depended on it.

We live in a different age now. The Huns are no longer at the gates. Hunting and foraging are conducted in air-conditioned, well-lit buildings, with Kenny G playing softly in the background. The danger and dire need has passed, and now we hear a new message: you no longer need to be good at being a man; now you need to be a good man. And I will tell you honestly that we are struggling – mightily – to figure out just what the hell that means. For my part, I’m still working it out. I’ve certainly become more empathetic. I’m a better communicator than any previous man in my family line. I’m a good listener, and I understand the concept of emotional needs, and how to meet them in a society that now has the luxury of self-actualization, as opposed to self-preservation. But I’ve never gotten in touch with my “feminine side,” and for a very simple reason: I don’t fucking have a feminine side. I’m a man.

The other night my girlfriend said something to me that, for all of our gender-equality and self-actualization and modernity, blew me away in its honesty. This is a woman who is a vice president at a very up-and-coming company. She is capable, confident, and highly successful. Talk with her five minutes and you know she has her shit together. But as I held her on the sofa while we were watching TV, she said, simply, “I feel safe when I’m with you.”

The subject of masculinity can’t be condensed to a list. Boo and I are going to have very long, thoughtful, and fraught discussions in the coming years. But I think I’ve found a good starting point – a question I can pose of any future suitor, who would win my daughter’s heart away from me:
Does he make you feel safe?