Big Bad Man

I’m not the man I like to think I am.

For a start I wake up and the first thing I do is check the weather. Fair enough you say, a lot of people do the same thing. Outdoor conditions can be particularly important to all sorts of people. Think gardeners and landscapers, greenkeepers, civil engineering crews, road marker, aborists, fitness buffs who like to jog, fishermen and all those who prefer to walk or ride to work. Even just making the call on what to wear or whether or not to swing an umbrella.

I open the curtains and look to the sky in order to gauge the suitability for putting on a load of washing or not. A family of six means pretty much a load a day. It sure piles up if you don’t get around to it or the weather holds you back. We don’t own a dryer, preferring to let nature do the job for us. Most of the time it works out fine, a lot of the time, it doesn’t. We live on the edge of a harbour and not far from the coast. Rain is an ever present threat. Worrying over a load of two of washing, however, is not how I picture myself, as a man, in this world. At least not how I used to. Reality came crashing home this week.

Our car has issues. Nothing major and certainly not anything I felt was beyond me to rectify. So, I dutifully dig out some tools, half of which I find have started to rust from lack of use. No drama, everything seemed to be working fine and I was sure I had everything I needed. Everything,  that is, apart from know how and skill.

I haven’t ever professed to being a mechanic. Not even a backyard one. You know, the guy who pulls everything apart, only to find he has no concept of how to put it all back together. I don’t want to be that guy. In the same breath I don’t want to be the guy who hands over the keys to another man, clad in overalls, grease and oil and other manly stains and all. My reticence has nothing to do with pride. I know my limitations and am big enough to admit them. The decision to have a go at the repairs myself was more one of budget.

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We ain’t broke. But we sure would be if we ran off to the mechanic every time there was an issue. Problem is, I haven’t had my hood under the bonnet of a car in many years and the problems we had with our car, didn’t even come from there. If you had asked me a few days ago what exactly was wrong, I would have fumbled my way through a garbled response designed to make you think I knew what I was on about but really, would be a series of terms vaguely related to cars, maybe even automotive engineering, just not necessarily anything to do with the problem at hand.

So before I delved into the world of nuts and bolts and circlips and calipers and hubs and stuff, I had to admit my failings. All I can say, is thank goodness for the modern internet age. YouTube was invaluable, a few geeky car forums and boom, at least was I soon able to sound like I knew what the hell was going on. But, as I quickly discovered, knowing and being able to do a thing about it, are two very different things.

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At least I was able to get a suitable amount of grime, dirt, oil and grease on my hands. And half way up my arms. I might have been clueless but with the car jacked up, the wheels off, bits and pieces I didn’t recognise and had no idea the purpose of strewn about, I certainly looked the part. I undid this, loosened that and in all honesty, made some progress. Somewhat surprisingly.

Problem was, I could get only get so far. Skills, ability, knowledge, put all of that aside. I didn’t have the right tools and even if I did, probably wouldn’t have known how to use them. Specialty equipment. The stuff of the trade, tools your average bloke doesn’t own and below average ones like me don’t even any use for. If I did, rush out and get this tool and that, I would be lucky to get one use of them, before I learnt them to a neighbour. You know the one, the guy who never returns it, then months later denies all knowledge, leaving you second guessing yourself that you didn’t just lose it in the first place.

What disappointed me as much as it elated me was the nature and scope of what I did achieve. Okay, whatever I did manage took much longer than it should have, without a result. I was able to do a couple of things I set out believing were well beyond me. Intricate, technical things the YouTube boffins told me anyone can do in their garage. Our car doesn’t even fit in the garage. Frustratingly it was some of the easier, simpler things which managed to foil me. This was the stuff any self respecting bloke should be able to do, and good keen man can turn his meaty hands to without a thought. Luckily I hadn’t gone so far as to not be able to put everything back where it belonged. Maybe time for a real man to sort it all out?

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In the end I threw my soft, delicate, dishpan hands up to the sky and admitted defeat. The skies above mocked me, letting me know it had been a good day to get the washing dry.

 

 

 

 

Caveman

Tonight is our chance, fellow men, to be just that, manly men.

It has been a bit of a bugbear of mine for a while now. The emancipation of man. Not humankind, men.

I guess first you have to ask yourself, as a man, do you feel oppressed, downtrodden, neglected, swept aside, ignored? Harsh language, even excessive maybe, but to my mind, a necessary question.

Manhood, for want of a better term, has been trapped in a kind of malaise, a trick of the space-time continuum. I feel it, not as a loss, but something missing nonetheless. A lack of definition, that quintessential ‘thing’ that it means to be a man, in this modern time of change.

For a large part this is a very personal question on a very personal level. I was raised in a single parent household, an absentee father very conspicuous by that very thing, his absence. Not a hurtful thing then, nor now. Just the way I grew up. My Mother was legendary in her efforts, as most single Mothers must surely be. But she was just that and no more…a hard working, dedicated and above all, loving Mother.

My Mum is a woman, funnily enough. A strong and capable one. However, as Eric Clapton said in his epic track Motherless Children, sister will do the best she can, but there are so many things a sister can’t understand.  

So what is it to be a bloke then? Define manliness, being a male.

It is easy enough to throw all the cliches out there, the stereotypes. There is nothing wrong with that kind of response, don’t get me wrong. After all, a stereotype can only come about because of what is deemed a norm in society. Being stereotypical is not inherently a bad thing therefore, it is just the common thing.

Personally I can’t help but feel that a great deal of the definitions already out there, telling us what it is to be a man, are made up by women. We, as in us, as in guys/blokes/dudes/fellas/bros have been convinced that what a woman would like to see or have in her man, is what defines him as being male.

And too many neo-liberal, politically correct, wishy-washy, feel gooders have meekly caved to that premise.

Before you all start (I use the term ‘all’ euphemistically-six followers does not an ‘all’ make), I am not referring to feminists or feminism. If I was referring to one or either of those things, I would have said one or either of those things. I sincerely believe that the ideal of feminism is not to denigrate, isolate or deflate men and manhood. Feminism, as has been established, is about equality and that is not what I am trying to drive at here.

Perhaps I am talking more about identity. Manhood is so diluted I feel it is difficult to actually pick where the issue begins and ends. So let’s take a look at the things, in this country at least, that might readily be and have been, associated with maleness.

Rugby – too broad and wide ranging an impact on this countries collective psyche, be it for or against, for me to want to delve into here. Besides, I made a vow never to touch religion in my blogging. Leave rugby alone then, set aside with the note of Colin Meads being the iconic image our national manhood benchmark could be set at.

*The above is done in the manner you might test for the most intelligent animal on the planet, excluding primates for having a perceived unfair advantage.

Colin Meads gives us terms like big, strong, tough, resilient, powerful. There are many other figures like that, presented to us in popular culture. Hollywood loves the strong, silent type. Think Russell Crowe in Gladiator, all long, slow and I am sure, deeply meaningful silences. The picture of a man being heroic, stoic and resilient. Of being right, morally superior.

But Hollywood also loves an anti-hero. The morally confused but ultimately good guy, the Han Solo. No better example than Chris Pratt’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy. The ‘cheeky chappy’ that the Brits fall so in love with. Robbie Williams.

Or are we meant to be Chris Hemsworth? All bulging muscles and gym honed body, not a hair out of place, smooth skim, maybe some designer stubble just to man things up a bit, a perfect fitting suit with matching accessories. But take a look at the images that come out from that guy. I have no idea how much he is told to do it, coached to, how much he is ‘touched up’ in an editing booth/suite or there is a little bit of his own thing going on, but those beautiful blue eyes are hard, piercing, just a little bit sinister, like there is the hint of an edge underneath all the metro-sexuality. A hint of manhood? Of manliness?

All that is more of what we, as men, are told to be. What we are fed by the image-makers, shaping far more of our society than they have the right to. We lap it up, don’t we? It sells watches and cars and beer. So enough of Hollywood and the marketing people, who will just take us to the other extreme with their next breath, giving us guys swinging chainsaws wearing short shorts and steal-capped work boots, wiping the sweat from their grime covered brows as they set about tackling ‘manly’ tasks.

Hair product means nothing to me and many like me. I have no hair. I have one suit in my closet but rarely do I have the opportunity to wear it.

Looks aside, imagery aside, what of intellect? What about emotive qualities and content? What about sheer personality? We are fed the idea that the academic is awkward, a clumsy and shuffling fool, bumbling about from one mishap to the next. Just remove his glasses and you have a hunk. Or has he got elbow pads sown into his sports coat, a peppered beard and silver hair, chin in hand as he leans in to listen, only breaking away so he can top up your Central Otago Pinot.

Either way, great strides apart from a sheep under each arm, straddling a fence in the middle of a paddock in rural New Zealand. But any less masculine for it? David Beckham, does he manage the cross over? Model, sport-star, bit of a poxy ponce, attentive Dad…

So much of what it means to be a man, the identity of manhood, has changed, dramatically, from generation to generation. How we are portrayed, how we are perceived, how we act and think. Some is voluntary and for the better. Some is placed up us and even then, quite possibly an improvement.

I have only asked half the question, let alone found any answers. I was kind of hoping you ‘guys’ could do that for me. With me.

Actually, I have raised more questions than I ever intended so I will, for now, leave it here where it lies and come back to it, perhaps as a bit of a recurring theme…

SO tell me, are you less of a man because you can’t service the car? Change the tyre even? Should we all be taught to shoot and stab, reclaim our role in the hunter/gatherer partnership? Does fumbling with the knot on the fishing line make you feeble, effeminate? Do real men eat quiche? Cry?…

Most importantly maybe, does raising my kids, being the home hubby, the go to carer, make me more or less of a man? I know my answer to that one.

To be continued…

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