The Great Grizzly Hunt
Getting punched in the face sucks. Having someone’s fist slam into your skull doesn’t feel awesome. Experiencing the pain of your lips grinding into your teeth is less than a good time. Fighting, in general, is pretty terrible. As much as we culturally love watching two greased-up, shirtless gladiators swap licks in the UFC ring, the rest of us could probably do without our half-assed Mortal Kombat moves. The feeling of your hands aching when connecting to another person’s body doesn’t feel like a silent communion but an alchemy of the internal. That’s one of those things about being a man we’re supposed to love, that we can take a punch, that we never cry, or that nothing hurts inside. We’re supposed to dig the grave and throw dirt on the casket in all aspects of our lives. We’re supposed to know how to change oil, love the smell of napalm in the morning, know how to sear a steak for maximum flavor perfectly or be able to throw a football through double coverage and into a receiver’s hands on the twentyyard line down from the forty.
Life isn’t one-size-fits-all, though. Some men jump at the sound of fireworks or love to fiddle with their hair before going to get gas. Some dudes like to get in the kitchen and whip up a batch of blueberry scones for a dinner party, while some like to make their lawns perfect within a ruler inch. Some men hide in the bottom of a bottle, the silent sips of beer at a bar in resolve to break whatever’s howling inside. Some cry alone in their car at the far end of the parking lot. Men drop from heart attacks, a goner from keeping the hurt buried within their bellies - they’re taught that if they show anything but rage, they’ll never be able to feast on the weak around them as they dance upon a parade of skulls, clawing toward their goals, looking for that hot tub of chaos in the sky.
Being a man is patience when the kids want to know your secrets: how to execute a perfect grilled cheese with just enough butter-to-bread ratio, always using American cheese, or how you can get the lawn mower to pull on the first start. It’s telling your kids jokes they’ll remember fifteen years later randomly at the gas station as they’re filling up the gas tank.
Masculinity is more complicated in a world of changing optics. In this era of everything happening, live and in vivid technicolor, highlighting your mistakes at every turn. Masculinity is at least owning yours and helping lift others when the train goes off the tracks. It’s not just opening the door for others at the restaurant or putting your cart back but being open to hearing about what you’ve done wrong or how you could be better. Being masculine isn’t being able to open a Miller Lite with your teeth but the ability to admit you don’t know something. It shouldn’t be, “Watch how I throw a strike,” but instead, “Let me show you how to throw one, too.”
Being a dude is weird. We’re not all grizzly bears or lions with puffed manes screaming at the sky. Some of us move like silent wolves, while others are turtles on their backs because the wind blew just a little too hard.
A real man doesn’t care where you pee or how you self-identify. Or who you kiss, how you kiss them, or what you do behind closed doors. A real man shouldn’t care if his kids or wife eat before he does. He should care about his community, that the guy with the scribbled sign gets a cup of coffee on a cold day and that the veteran doesn’t wind up holding his own sign on a street corner, either. He should care that people on the margins get a chance to get their paycheck.
Manhood is complex and confusing a lot of the time. A real man will never label himself an “alpha” because if he does, he’s certainly not leading the pack but begging for a spot near the rear. We don’t need to gnaw raw meat or flex for the camera but show up when it matters. Being masculine doesn’t come with instructions, but it doesn’t mean pumping your chest at the first sign of strife. Watch out for little kids in the street, not for likes on Instagram. Spread love, not an ethos of “me first.” There’s enough of that. Just ask your mom, sister, or girlfriend.
Masculinity isn’t screaming with a painted face, shirtless and hammered at the Bears game, but being a rock for your gay daughter in the face of bullies. It’s also knowing when to read the room and realize the club we grew up in is no longer the same club we’re a member.