Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Being a Real Man

I need to figure out what it means to be a man so I can teach my boys. I'm neither stupid nor conceited enough to think that their success as men will exclusively be a result of what I teach them; each of my sons is his own individual. But, if I don't have the definition straight in my own head, how can I teach them anything?

I know it isn't fashionable these days, but I respect toughness. I also respect courage, intelligence and honesty. (I know -- these things are corny, too. Alas, in some ways, I have just been scraped off of the cob.)

There are a lot of guys out there with forceful attitudes and loud voices who couldn't stand up for their families if a fight became necessary. There are a lot of thugs out there who pick fights to compensate for their own little-bitty...hearts. There are a lot of guys out there who think making money makes them men and there are plenty of others who make very little and act as if those who make a lot of coin are categorically "soft." I'm reminded of an exchange in Spielberg's Jaws:
Quint:You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. You've been countin' money all your life.

Hooper: Hey, I don't need this. I don't need this working-class-hero crap.
And under no circumstances does being a man depend on the volume of one's sexual conquests. (You'd think this era was as passe' as butterfly collars and velour, but over my years as a musician, I have seen it is not so for some of my fellow males.)

Kwai Chang Caine, from the 70s show, Kung Fu:
The best example
of a man ever on presented on television.
He's the one TV character
I would gladly see my sons imitate.
And "gay" or "straight" does not enter into it, in terms of conduct in the world, by the way. (It may seem strange to some blockheads out there that I think gay men are neither excluded from the responsibilities of toughness, courage, intelligence and honesty nor precluded from being considered men simply because of their sexual orientation. No one gets a break from my exceedingly arrogant evaluations. Everyone has an equal chance to be a spineless loser, in my eyes...)

I like the old fashioned stuff, though -- holding doors and watching language around ladies. I won't apologize for that. You can't make me.

In the end, though -- I mean literally, in the end -- one's manhood may just come down to how he says goodbye to the world. You see, for many of us, there is a final examination to this course of life. In the end, a real man is able to admit his mistakes and to "rage against the dying of the light," for sure. But the real trick is that he accept, with dignity, the love and help of others, I think.

Here is an example of a man who gets an A+ on the final, despite the fact that he was a bit of a classroom behavior challenge at times -- an example, by the way, that affected me deeply as I read it. (Okay, I teared up. I'm man enough to admit it.)

Pop icon Glen Campbell is still performing, despite the onset of Alzheimer's disease. This excerpt, my friends, sums real manliness up, as far as I'm concerned:
While most people with Alzheimer's drift in and out of lucidity without fanfare, you know exactly when Campbell has hit a rough patch. He'll be playing a song on guitar that he's played a gazillion times, like "Wichita Lineman," then all of a sudden hit a bad chord or forget the lyrics. It's like a light switch.

In concert, fans are happy to fill in the gaps when he has a senior moment, singing his lyrics back at him until he finds his way again. Campbell's wife, Kim, watches serenely from the soundboard, knowing full-well that these incidents will occur from time to time. But the whole family has made peace with it, including Campbell.

He tells CNN, "I am content with it. Don't cry over spilt milk. Get up and be a man and do what you have got to do."
That's the stuff. Here's hoping I have a sliver of that courage if life calls for it, someday.

Some people get out of the exam, at the end, I suppose. My own grandfather died in his sleep in his favorite chair. But we can't count on that, can we? Most of us fellows (and ladies, too) find ourselves, at some point, having to "get up and be a man," even when getting up takes half the day and a helping hand.

(You could argue, by the way, that women wind up, more often than not, being called upon to "man up" more often than men -- for various reasons, not the least of which is when their men don't.)

Keep at 'em, Glen.

What the heck: Jimmy Webb's great song, "Wichita Lineman," done by Glen Campbell at the peak of his abilities. (Try to ignore the fact that one of the evening-gowned backup singers is about a broken stiletto heel away from complete tone-deafness. Look up "sharp" [and I'm talking sound, not style]) in the dictionary and her picture should be beside it...):


  1. I was feeling quite cheerful at the start of that post; now I'm feeling quite fearful. I have absolutely no ability to stand up and be a man, although am quite good at quivering like a jelly.

    1. Sorry to have brought you down, Z. But if it is any consolation, consider the fact that Campbell spent a good portion of his life hiding from his problems behind drugs and alcohol (decidedly unmanly behavior)-- he emerged later from quivering in fear and, finally, stood tall in the end.

    2. I made it sound like he is dead. What I meant is, he is finally standing tall, in his last days...