We need a better model for manhood

The Silhouette (McMaster)

HAMILTON (CUP) – Being a man isn’t easy. It isn’t harder than being a woman, but it certainly isn’t a carefree way to navigate through life. And nobody hands you a manual when you turn 16 that tells you how to do it.

For all the talk that’s bandied about around finding strong female role models, very little is ever said on the struggle to find a decent model for manhood. And while it is important for girls to have strong, capable women to emulate, it is no less important for boys to get their heads right on what they are supposed to grow into.

All we have is a lot of effete preening, and cliché pseudo-manly posturing, masquerading as masculinity. What we don’t have is anything to get men and manhood back to some reasonable state of respectability. Because right now, we’re just boys, caricatures of men who will probably never be the real thing.

At one time we knew how to be men. At our age, and even younger, people were making the transition to adulthood and manhood with dignity and responsibility. God knows how they learned to act properly and we didn’t. I would guess it is largely because we stopped paying attention to the examples set by our fathers and grandfathers. Masculinity for them was a compendium of wisdom preached from atop barstools by old men who had been around and knew the score – men who worked, drank, talked and cursed the way men should, which is to say, very well. And they never complained or bragged about any of it.

At some point we started to ignore their brand of advice. We took, instead, to Maxim magazine and Entourage and soulless, shallow, gutless portrayals of children in men’s clothing as our templates for manhood. We lost our way. We started taking fashion advice from Justin Timberlake. Shaky ground indeed.

Drowning in Axe body spray and hair gel left over from Keys to the VIP, suffocating in “bromance” and Judd Appatow’s slacker bullshit, we never had a chance.

The thing is, achieving real masculinity, the basics of what being a man is really all about, is not so difficult a concept to understand. It’s about honesty and decency. It’s about believing in things and standing up for what you believe in.

It’s about fighting – not being violent, going off half-cocked because someone knocks into you at a bar or getting loaded and looking for someone to hit – but fighting for something you value. Fighting for something or someone who needs defending.

It’s about being principled, and every once in a while taking a beating over those principles. Then it’s about taking your lumps and always getting up ready for more because no man is ever a loser so long as he keeps getting up.

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to achieve but it is. I know I’m not perfect; I’m not the epitome of the good and decent man. I’m not even close. But goddamnit, I’m trying. I’m trying to get back to some faint code that meant something to men like our dads and granddads.

Maybe that ideal of the good and decent man never existed outside of old black and white movies.

Maybe it has always been a construct, a shadow that boys used to chase and have long since abandoned. But whether that ideal is attainable or not, it’s an ideal worth aiming for. There is nothing wrong with being a man and there is nothing wrong with being proud about it. But you ought to at least be a good man, a reliable man, a principled man – everything a real man should be.