None of Us are Made the Way We Used to Be: Apparent Human Devolution in Males
This meditation was inspired in part by the conversation I had with my mother in which I explicitly told her I was getting therapy and hopefully medication for my chronic depression. Mom, understandably was a bit uncomfortable about it, but when I explained my motivation, in short- the problem was getting much worse and I felt it was begin inning to interfere in my ability to be a good husband and father, she gave it her blessing and admitted: “I’m part of the old school. We just didn’t do those things then… And I guess we could of done better but we tried our best; if nothing else your intentions are good so no harm can come of it.”
I spent the next several minutes exonerating my mother from responsibility for my failings,(I had to we were raised catholic) because I sincerely think my parents tried hard and did a good job at raising me (I would have been far, far, far worse without them) because I feel my faults are only partly genetic, but almost entirely from my admittedly flexible moral fiber and the fact that I’m a bit of an asshole.
Now this really got me to thinking. I look back at my late beloved grandfather (whom I use as a yardstick for the measure of man) and my late father (whom I use to measure mere mortal men) and in many ways, despite work & intention, feel I don’t really measure up to those two giants. I mean to my knowledge, even from reading his journals after he died, my grandfather never seemed to know the meaning of doubt, let alone anxiety. I mean he worried appropriately about making ends meet, but he never found himself waiting for hours in a government building in order to get “state assisted” therapy and hopefully antidepressants.
He was a man who just exuded complete and uncertain confidence, NOT cockiness, sincere confidence, and was a man who was quite justifiably adored by friend and family alike. His moral compass was unwaverable, and he commanded the immediate respect of others when he just walked into the room. This coupled with Herculean physical toughness (he had biceps that swelled like softballs well into his 60’s without much exercise) made him a titan in the eyes of all even as he declined and eventually succumbed to his death of a brain tumor around 10 years ago. I still think daily that my children’s lives are cheated forever for never knowing him. My friend Gregg described the man succinctly to Shu by saying “Imagine a guy who Michael Corleone would refuse to involve in the slightest moral ambiguity out of his immense respect for him.”
This being said, what is the measure of a man in the 21st century? I’ve ruminated on this before and I still am far from answer. I mean when I was a kid and was complained of bullies, my grandfather taught me how to box and my dad taught me how to tape up a roll of dimes “so they don’t spill all over the place when you sucker punch the motherfucker in the teeth.” Despite the fact that the advice worked, you give a kid this kind of advice nowadays you end up in court.
In my own way, through no intention of my own I’ve lived my “Fight Club”, macho bullshit, tough guy “Cred” between where I grew up and spending a few years as a bouncer; but it still falls short of the epic melees experienced daily by my patriarchs. I look to my 2 sons, and without malice I look on the 18 year old as a bit soft, but would probably rise to the occasion in a pinch and then I look at my 11 year old who starts Middle School next year as a walking target.
Charles (the 18 year old) got by fine but I have no idea what to tell his brother. I hate to admit it but I’ve been desperately training him to be kind of invisible (which is working miserably; partially because he’s somewhat autistic but able to be mainstreamed-school wise) while when I was growing up the advice would have been to keep taking on the biggest bully, fighting as dirty as humanly possible until he gives up or you “break the fuckers jaw” and if that doesn’t work, sneak up behind the big guy when no one’s around and “Halloween sock em” then give the same treatment to each of his cronies the same way. Now you’d either get shot or arrested for the same thing.
I’m up for nights on end worrying about my youngest son and the target on his head; my daughter triggers a different series of neurosis. But my point is that each generation of men seems to be weaker, mentally, somewhat physically and certainly morally by an exponent. Where is our integrity or at least willingness to get a little dirty. An old school union teamster, named Eddie, whom I was lucky enough to make close acquaintance with years ago, and if he’s still alive bless him, said “The reason the unions are so weak now is that nobody has the balls to take a beating or spend the night in jail for the union.” We need those kind of balls again in labor disputes; because back in the 50’s and 60’s strike and fight were almost synonymous and if you enjoyed your weekend thank the unions.
Labor propaganda aside. Where are men now in our nation? What does it even mean? I’m also not being a bigot, some of the toughest, most together men I know of my generation are homosexuals. I mean what does “manly” even mean anymore. I was brought up with it meaning, you provide for your family, you protect family and friend, you stand up especially when it might mean your detriment for what is right and you behave in a way that brings no disrespect to you or your family.
I freely admit I haven’t always lived up to these, in fact I’ve often come up short; but at least I have that yardstick to measure myself by. I honestly don’t know if I’m giving my boys any unit of measure, but I’m trying.