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Macho studies at UCSD

Good man can ’fess up to emotions

A story shared between men, both in their 20s, both fathers: “I’m coming up Montezuma, and I see a pickup truck in the left-turn lane with its hazard lights on. I pull over to help push and see the pickup truck is stopped behind a Mustang. I get outang; this girl — about 20 — is poking around under the hood. Then I notice the guy, about the same age, sitting in the front seat. He’s just sit- ting there, not doing anything.” At this point, a tone of bemused wonder begins to creep into the speaker’s voice. “I say to the older guy, ‘Well, maybe the three of us can push it.’ He gets in back and gets ready to push, and the young guy, he’s not even getting out of his seat — like we’re going to push him and the girl up the hill and around the corner.”

“So I go around to his side and say, ‘Hey, could you get out and help us push?’ He doesn’t say yes or no, he just shrugs his shoulders and opens the door and sort of stands in the open door, pushing on the doorjamb. The old guy and I are in back bustin’ ass, bent over and heaving. It’s clearly full effort for us, because it’s pretty steep right there. So we’re pushing as hard as we can, and this guy’s sort of just half-heartedly leaning on his doorjamb!” The wonder gives way to outright astonishment. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. He could be seeing us bust our ass and still be too slow or too bashful or too whatever to imitate us?”

Finally, “We get the Mustang up the hill and around the corner and park it. I’m sort of scratching my head over the guy’s ineptness, but the old guy says to him, ‘Hey, you got a real strong back there, buddy! Maybe you should think about professional athletics!” He just starts ripping on him, and the thing is, the other guy’s, like, ‘Yeah, thanks.’ He was too stupid to understand that the other guy was being sarcastic. The girl was really thankful and everything, but the guy...

“It was sort of an eye-opener for me. Driving home, I tried to figure out, ‘How did that happen?’ When I see a car on the side of the road, and I pull over to help push or whatever, my dad always comes to mind. I’m thinking the guy must not have had a dad or something. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was the ultimate modern nonman. Totally unable to take control of a situation. Like, ‘Who does that anymore?’ ”the storyteller whines, aping the slacker’s tone. “My favorite part is the gal under the hood, and he’s sitting there. He doesn’t even get out and pretend like most guys would. He just sits there.”

It’s alarming when a man starts sounding wistful at age 28 — longing for the days when men had some idea of how to be men, days that could not possibly have been that long ago. For the storyteller, the incident went beyond seeking another path to fulfillment, beyond postmodern rejection of traditional gender roles, and into the realm of getting off your befuddled rump and coming to the aid of a damsel in distress.

Whither manhood? I wandered UCSD for an answer, wondering if the encultured, enriched La Jolla air would yield a different, more nuanced definition of a male than I might receive elsewhere. My first conversation is with Brian, a solid chunk of a man with wild blond hair and a heavy face. His comments are short and pointed. “A real man is someone who can provide for himself, take care of himself without other people.” Is a real man macho? “Macho is the ego part of manhood, and when you get the ego, you’re not really a man, you’re just a jerk.” What would he never do? “Go pick a fight with somebody, because that’s stupid, that’s showing off too much of an ego. If you get a big head, it’ll come back and bite you in the ass.”

I ask Brian where he formed his idea of what a man is, half expecting to hear him say his father. But no. “My grandfather. He believes in his faith, carries that out all the time. He’s a gentleman to everyone he ever meets. Never cusses or swears at anybody. Never picks a fight.”

Bobby and Jason

Jason and Bobby are more loquacious, more relaxed, more shrug-of- the-shoulders, grin and “bear” it.

Jason: “A real man? Well, there’s two types...”

Bobby: “The old-school type or the new.”

Jason: “The guy who’s super chivalrous...”

Bobby: “Who has honor. The man today is more of a pimp.”

Jason: “Yeah, and then there’s the type you want your friends to be like. The real man; it’s like, he goes to clubs and gets amazing and all that.”

Bobby: “It depends on the age group — the man I want to be now, or the man I want to be like when I’m a father. A lot more responsibilities when you’re older.”

Jason: “When you’re younger, you think being a man is how much booze you can drink and how many girls you can sleep with. I don’t think you understand what it takes, supporting a family and having a job.” Wild oats aside, responsibility and sex have a tendency to overlap at any age — people are complicated that way, with or with- out the prospect of a shot- gun wedding. What if a man gets a girl pregnant? Jason:

“It’s pretty much up to her, I would think. Right now, the first option would probably be abortion.”

Bobby: “That would be my choice, but I would have to respect her choice.”

Jason: “Of course. But then, there’s adoption and then there’s you have the kid if you have to. But if you do, you don’t back out of it. You accept it, and you pay for stuff and you help raise the kid. But I don’t know, at this age — if I were older and I got a girl pregnant, then I might consider keeping it more, but I’m in school, I’m barely making ends meet....”

I want to get away from man’s relations with women to his relations with the world he confronts, if he confronts it at all. I want to touch the tiny spark, enshrouded by the diminutive modern zeitgeist, that drives men to yearn for glory in battle, to achieve greatness, to secure fame that will preserve their memory through the centuries. It is a spark that burns for conquest of some kind, even if it’s just the corner office. What’s worth fighting for?

Jason: “If anyone screwed my sister, I wouldn’t hesitate to hit them. I never get in fights, but I’d snap. Or your parents...”

Bobby: “Anything you stand for, if it’s being compromised in any way.”

Bobby provides my second encounter with the manly grandfather. “He was more of a model for me than my dad was. I never was close to my dad, but my grandfather always gave me lectures of what my responsibilities were and how I should do good, how I should live my life. My dad was more like, learn from his mistakes, see what I don’t like about him, and try not to be that way when I grow up.

“He’s a hermit; he doesn’t deal with emotions at all. My dad would rather not talk than talk. He just keeps it to himself. Some things you should keep in if it’s going to cause more harm than good, but I think talking about your emotions is better than keeping them in. He’s a good guy, though.”

I didn’t ask Bobby if his grandfather dealt with his emotions; I wish I had. At first blush, responsibilities and doing good, the subjects of his lectures, speak to conduct rather than emotional health. And it’s hard for me to imagine someone of Bobby’s grandfather’s generation warring against repression of grief. Granted, as each generation in a family becomes more prosperous and less concerned with simply keeping body and soul together, the battles become less exterior, less obvious. But is emotional well-being the great interior achievement, the work of civilized ages.

Max and Steve

Max and Steve sit on the steps above the outside eating area at the Price Center, surveying the goings on from up high. Max also looks to his grandfather for an example of manhood, because “he came from Mexico, and he grew up on the streets. He was basically a self-taught man and made himself into a really successful person, a chemical engineer. His parents - didn’t know about education; they were just going to have him work on the farm. He came over here, worked, supported my dad when he was going to college — he’s an engineer, too.”

Why do you think you look to your grandfather first, before your dad? “I think that’s because in our grandfather’s generation, times were a lot more difficult than in our generation or our fathers’ generation.” The dragon was still outside the door instead of within our breasts.

Steve answers another way. “I think that’s because you see your dad on a more personal level, see more of his screw-ups, all the little day-to-day things that happen. With your grandfather, it’s more, you see his reputation, what he’s already accomplished, whereas your dad might still be doing that.”

Accomplishment, reputation, triumph over adversity — these are the marks I expected to hear about. Max defines a man as “someone who just sacks up, just deals with life.” Steve adds that you become a man when you “realize it’s time to start getting it together, when you finally start taking care of your stuff.”

Danny and Matthew

I suppose that in such a worldview, the danger to manhood comes when your stuff is already taken care of, and you’re sitting at home with the family. That’s the impression I’m left with after talking with Danny, Matthew, and Kevin. Danny hunts after generational differences thusly, tacitly eulogizing the spark I seek: “There aren’t real definers for what being a man is in this generation. At least the generation before us had going to war. Every generation’s had war. Our grandparents had World War II, the last generation had Vietnam. So unless we go to war now, there’s not going to be [guys saying], ‘I fought in the trenches! I killed some people!’”

He defines manhood as “pride; the ability to take control of situations, control over his environment. Self-esteem.”Kevin counters, “I don’t think there’s any true definition of a real man. I’m not all into that ‘real man’ thing.Each person has their own definition to themselves.” Adds Matthew, “I’m more concerned about being a good person than being a man.”

Danny: “There are things associated with being a man,chivalry and courage and all that, but…”

Kevin: “I think those should be associated with a good person.”

So is there no difference between a good man and a good woman? “In an equal, ideal society, no,” answers Kevin. “When it comes to relationships, I guess there has to be a difference, and a woman plays a woman’s role, but I don’t think I could define what a man is as opposed to a woman in an equal society. I think, growing up in a society of political correctness, we’re being told that to be anything more, to be anything rugged and individualistic, is sometimes a bad thing. I mean, you have to be sensitive to all issues. There’s no problem with that, but it’s kind of changed the way we look at being a man.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it has taken away some sort of ideal that each person is supposed to be. Breaking down ideals is not a bad thing, but they’ve been broken down over time to where everything’s supposed to be equal now.”

Does that leave you confused? “Definitely.”

Danny comments, “Especially in the sense of chivalry. It’s almost like being a gentleman is an insult to a woman now. A lot of times things like opening a door for a woman are seen as an admission that women are the weaker of the species or something,when, in fact, it’s just courtesy. It’s almost part of manners now.”

Matthew: “I was at a party a month ago, and I opened a beer bottle for a girl, because I saw she was looking for something to open it, and I had a key chain with a cap opener on it. I didn’t ask, I just reached over and opened it. She got upset with me; she thought I was trying to make a move on her or something. I was just trying to be polite.” Kevin: “I think men are supposed to be, not more aggressive, but the people who instigate any type of move. That’s what maleness is about, being the person who instigates things.But now the roles are being reversed, so the man can sometimes not know where to go. I don’t mind it, but it does lead to confusing situations, where you’re supposed to draw the line between being a male and being a sensitive male. You haven’t look at each situation.”

And so we come back to sensitivity, to emotion, to the interior struggle for well-being. “It’s not like you’re going to sit around the locker room and be, like, ‘Damn, I saw that French movie last night; it was so sad, I was crying in the theater,’ ” says Danny. “Generically, that would be looked down upon as not manly, but I mean, lately, it’s becoming more of ’fessing up to your emotions; actually being in touch with your emotions takes more courage.”

When he hears this, Kevin backs off his refusal to define a man. “I think that’s a good definition of a man — if they can ’fess up to emotions. To totally dismiss them is two-dimensional. I think when I was younger, if I ever thought about a man’s man,it would probably be my grandfather.… He was very rugged and individualistic, but I saw that leading to someone who was very closeminded and not very sensitive to other people’s feelings.

“As I grew up — I still love him, of course — I see how that rugged individualism and trying to be a man led to problems in the family. Never expressing yourself until really, really late— that causes all sorts of family problems. We never knew how he felt.… That type of repression totally blows up on you, leads to situations where families separate because of it, when they find out how the person always felt.

“You have to have the ability to confront other people. If you can’t do that, that doesn’t show much character. You don’t have much character if you can’t deal with fears like that.My dad was the total opposite of my grandfather, and that’s why I ended up idolizing my dad a lot more, once I figured out that definition of a man.”

Danny concurs.“That goes back to hiding emotions as a symbol of manhood, at least in our parents’ generation and our parents’ parents’ generation. With my father, it’s difficult for him to come to terms with his emotions, especially sadness, because he did have a rough childhood. You can see how at the time it was looked down upon to get your emotions out, and now it’s kind of affecting him. So you see what was considered manhood before, and you realize that’s not exactly where you’d like to be.”

How exactly is it affecting him? What exactly is the problem? “I think part of what makes us human is to share our emotional states with other people. If you keep sadness or joy or something stuck inside, then it’s like you’re not really communicating with other people. You can’t identify with other people. To me, that’s part of being a man, I suppose: identifying with others and sympathizing with others’ situations. If you never communicate with anyone, if you keep everything to yourself, I would say you’re not much of a man.”

I get a variation on the theme of emotional well-being and openness when I ask a table full of women about what a real man does and doesn’t do.They focus immediately on how men relate to themselves; in particular, how boyfriends relate to themselves. Carrie, gently grinning and demure, opens with “A real man doesn’t play games with girls, play games with their minds. A real man can talk honestly about feelings. He won’t have to impress his friends somehow.”

Several others comment; their thoughts are summed up by Michelle, the most forthright and brassy of the bunch, who fixes me with a matter-of-fact gaze from behind her lavender-tinted glasses: “They have to impress their friends so much, they can’t be cool to you. When you’re by yourself, they act like amazing people; every little thing is so wonderful. When they’re with their friends, they don’t even know you. They don’t give a shit. They try to be cool.” In the company of men, women suddenly become the embodiment of their emotional lives and are consequently repressed. The battle for emotional honesty is lost — it is a secret these men do not share with one another.

I’m astounded that any woman would put up with such treatment, and to some extent, so are they. As Carrie says, they long for a man who,“if his friends are giving you a hard time about something, doesn’t just stand there grinning like an idiot. He says, ‘Guys, leave her alone,’ or ‘Back off,’ or something.” Still, there is a limit to emotional honesty — men are expected to maintain some degree of restraint over their passions. The question “Does a man cry?” is first answered by a hail of yes’s, but then come the qualifications:

“Only with you.”

“Not too often— he - doesn’t make a habit of it.”

“Not if he bawls, but if he has a tear, and you can tell he’s choked up, that’s just the cutest thing.”

“Especially if it’s about you; then you know they care.”

“If you’re on the verge of breaking up, and they cry, then you know they really care.”

And however much emotion they desire from men, for some, suffering the suffering that is passion is still receptive, still— biologically, at least — feminine.

Elisabeth: “I think of my dad almost as a girl in a way. It’s weird, because he’s really tough and macho, but he’s very much sensitive like a girl. I mean, he won’t cry or anything like that — I saw him cry once in my entire life. He’s very religious, and my sister hired a stripper, so he cried over that.” Grief washes over, informs, consumes, acts upon the yielding soul.

Yet action is expected and counted on for security. Continues Elisabeth, “I feel safer when my dad’s in the house versus just my mom.Maybe it’s the stereotype. My dad’s a Marine, too, so that’s a little bit extra. But when my dad went away to war a while back, I was so scared to go home all the time. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel safe, because my mom was a scaredycat. Then, with my dad home, I could go to sleep better at night. Guys show no fear. Sometimes, I think women can get scared more; they’ll think about things like,‘How can I get away?’ when the guy will just face it. Like, if somebody were coming into the house, they would just go and face them. A woman would escape or something.”

This is the balancing act for these men: to be courageous but not macho, to defend their women but not strut about like cocks in the barnyard, to be emotionally reserved yet emotionally honest, to carve out a masculine identity without an established societal structure. Whatever the challenges of this new, level playing field,men may still cling to certain of the old pillars. When I ask if the girls expect the guy to ask them out, the group answer is yes. Says Carrie, “I could never ask a guy out. I don’t think it’s wrong for a woman to do if she wants, but, personally, I could never do it. I think it’s really hard for a guy to have to put his ego [on the line]; men’s egos are so fragile.…”

Lilia adds,“You’re taking the same risk as a guy does.”

Someone asks if guys like to be asked out.

Michelle: “They love it! How flattering is that— a girl asks you out?”

“But what if he doesn’t want to go out with her?”

“I’m sure a girl wouldn’t ask a guy out unless she knew there was a chance.”

Andrea offers another difficulty. “If you start out with the initiative, asking for a date, that could imply that you’re going to be the independent one in the relationship right off the bat, and some guys are threatened by that.”

Speaking of initiative, do you expect the guy to make the first move toward physical intimacy?

Elizabeth: “I think it’s kind of mutual.” But then she adds, “I guess people always assume that guys know more about what they’re doing than girls, and [often], they do, because they’ve done stuff earlier in life than most girls. Of course, there’s always the girls they did it with,but…”

Michelle breaks in. “Getting back to the asking someone- out thing — I feel more guys would say yes than girls, because in my experience, guys don’t care what the girl looks like. If they know that she’s into him, they know they’ll be able to get some easily.He knows that by the end of the night, she’s into him,obviously, he’ll get some.A girl’s different.Most girls that I know, that’s not the first thing on their mind.”

What’s a girl thinking when she says yes?

“We’re going to go out, but I don’t want it to be like, ‘I have to get some.’”

While Michelle is talking about the man looking forward to sex, Carrie comments, “That’s not a realman quality.” I ask her to explain.“A guy that will get together,hook up with any girl, no matter what she looks like, just because they can get some — that’s not a real-man quality. I think the guy should only be intimate — or even close to intimate— with somebody they really can see themselves caring about.Not just because they’re thinking with their penises.” Much ground has been given since the days when a man was expected to be intimate only with a woman he was prepared to be faithful to for life— now all that is required is that he can imagine some future emotional involvement. But there is still that feminine longing for some connection between love and sex, that expectation of entanglement.

But if sex is easy to get, why not get it? “I guess the guy needs to have an understanding of what the girl is thinking. You can tell if the girl’s just into it for the physical aspect, or maybe she’s trying to get to know him and see what can happen, and he’s just looking at her,waiting and wondering when he’ll get to have her clothes off.He needs to have respect for her feelings and what she might be interpreting.…”

I feel the lowest common denominator in me rising,the imp that assumes the basest motivations and reasonings on everyone’s part, especially the part of young men.What do you say to a guy who says, “If she lets me, what’s the problem?”

“I think that’s because some girls — and I think guys understand this — think that if they let a guy do…certain things,that he’ll like her. That’s just a thing that girls think in their heads. That’s why the next day, there’s always, ‘Why hasn’t he called me yet?’ Because girls don’t learn that — we equate sex with love,and so we can’t fathom how someone could be physical with someone and then not have any feeling for them at all.”

But if girls know guys are like that, why do they give it up?

Michelle steps in. “Because they keep thinking,‘ Maybe this one will be different.’ ”When I ask if any of the girls have had an experience with that different guy, the guy who calls after the one-night stand,loud voices disavow any actual experience in that department, although Michelle grants that “We’ve all had times where we’ve hooked up with a guy or whatever, and then he does call the next morning. But I don’t think we’re old enough to have that kind of situation”— outright sex. “I think of that as something you do in your 30s, like, you just sleep with people.”

Some things I heard in my search for manhood’s essence didn’t seem all that different from the answers I might have gotten in other times and places.“Gentleman” still calls to mind a man of manners, a chivalrous man who holds doors and pays for dinner, as opposed to a man of a certain breeding and formation, for whom such mannerly activities are merely a symptom and not the thing itself. Manhood— whatever its emotional baggage — still means integrity, power to control one’s circumstances, and courage, if not necessarily physical prowess.Gender roles,however assaulted in the imagination and understanding, are still in practical force. The man my Mustang-pushing storyteller grew wistful for may still be out there.

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Little apes on a little rock in a sea of nothingness

Scoobert Doobert, Sorry It’s Over, Nortec Collective, Stephen Pearcy, Mrs. Henry

A story shared between men, both in their 20s, both fathers: “I’m coming up Montezuma, and I see a pickup truck in the left-turn lane with its hazard lights on. I pull over to help push and see the pickup truck is stopped behind a Mustang. I get outang; this girl — about 20 — is poking around under the hood. Then I notice the guy, about the same age, sitting in the front seat. He’s just sit- ting there, not doing anything.” At this point, a tone of bemused wonder begins to creep into the speaker’s voice. “I say to the older guy, ‘Well, maybe the three of us can push it.’ He gets in back and gets ready to push, and the young guy, he’s not even getting out of his seat — like we’re going to push him and the girl up the hill and around the corner.”

“So I go around to his side and say, ‘Hey, could you get out and help us push?’ He doesn’t say yes or no, he just shrugs his shoulders and opens the door and sort of stands in the open door, pushing on the doorjamb. The old guy and I are in back bustin’ ass, bent over and heaving. It’s clearly full effort for us, because it’s pretty steep right there. So we’re pushing as hard as we can, and this guy’s sort of just half-heartedly leaning on his doorjamb!” The wonder gives way to outright astonishment. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. He could be seeing us bust our ass and still be too slow or too bashful or too whatever to imitate us?”

Finally, “We get the Mustang up the hill and around the corner and park it. I’m sort of scratching my head over the guy’s ineptness, but the old guy says to him, ‘Hey, you got a real strong back there, buddy! Maybe you should think about professional athletics!” He just starts ripping on him, and the thing is, the other guy’s, like, ‘Yeah, thanks.’ He was too stupid to understand that the other guy was being sarcastic. The girl was really thankful and everything, but the guy...

“It was sort of an eye-opener for me. Driving home, I tried to figure out, ‘How did that happen?’ When I see a car on the side of the road, and I pull over to help push or whatever, my dad always comes to mind. I’m thinking the guy must not have had a dad or something. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was the ultimate modern nonman. Totally unable to take control of a situation. Like, ‘Who does that anymore?’ ”the storyteller whines, aping the slacker’s tone. “My favorite part is the gal under the hood, and he’s sitting there. He doesn’t even get out and pretend like most guys would. He just sits there.”

It’s alarming when a man starts sounding wistful at age 28 — longing for the days when men had some idea of how to be men, days that could not possibly have been that long ago. For the storyteller, the incident went beyond seeking another path to fulfillment, beyond postmodern rejection of traditional gender roles, and into the realm of getting off your befuddled rump and coming to the aid of a damsel in distress.

Whither manhood? I wandered UCSD for an answer, wondering if the encultured, enriched La Jolla air would yield a different, more nuanced definition of a male than I might receive elsewhere. My first conversation is with Brian, a solid chunk of a man with wild blond hair and a heavy face. His comments are short and pointed. “A real man is someone who can provide for himself, take care of himself without other people.” Is a real man macho? “Macho is the ego part of manhood, and when you get the ego, you’re not really a man, you’re just a jerk.” What would he never do? “Go pick a fight with somebody, because that’s stupid, that’s showing off too much of an ego. If you get a big head, it’ll come back and bite you in the ass.”

I ask Brian where he formed his idea of what a man is, half expecting to hear him say his father. But no. “My grandfather. He believes in his faith, carries that out all the time. He’s a gentleman to everyone he ever meets. Never cusses or swears at anybody. Never picks a fight.”

Bobby and Jason

Jason and Bobby are more loquacious, more relaxed, more shrug-of- the-shoulders, grin and “bear” it.

Jason: “A real man? Well, there’s two types...”

Bobby: “The old-school type or the new.”

Jason: “The guy who’s super chivalrous...”

Bobby: “Who has honor. The man today is more of a pimp.”

Jason: “Yeah, and then there’s the type you want your friends to be like. The real man; it’s like, he goes to clubs and gets amazing and all that.”

Bobby: “It depends on the age group — the man I want to be now, or the man I want to be like when I’m a father. A lot more responsibilities when you’re older.”

Jason: “When you’re younger, you think being a man is how much booze you can drink and how many girls you can sleep with. I don’t think you understand what it takes, supporting a family and having a job.” Wild oats aside, responsibility and sex have a tendency to overlap at any age — people are complicated that way, with or with- out the prospect of a shot- gun wedding. What if a man gets a girl pregnant? Jason:

“It’s pretty much up to her, I would think. Right now, the first option would probably be abortion.”

Bobby: “That would be my choice, but I would have to respect her choice.”

Jason: “Of course. But then, there’s adoption and then there’s you have the kid if you have to. But if you do, you don’t back out of it. You accept it, and you pay for stuff and you help raise the kid. But I don’t know, at this age — if I were older and I got a girl pregnant, then I might consider keeping it more, but I’m in school, I’m barely making ends meet....”

I want to get away from man’s relations with women to his relations with the world he confronts, if he confronts it at all. I want to touch the tiny spark, enshrouded by the diminutive modern zeitgeist, that drives men to yearn for glory in battle, to achieve greatness, to secure fame that will preserve their memory through the centuries. It is a spark that burns for conquest of some kind, even if it’s just the corner office. What’s worth fighting for?

Jason: “If anyone screwed my sister, I wouldn’t hesitate to hit them. I never get in fights, but I’d snap. Or your parents...”

Bobby: “Anything you stand for, if it’s being compromised in any way.”

Bobby provides my second encounter with the manly grandfather. “He was more of a model for me than my dad was. I never was close to my dad, but my grandfather always gave me lectures of what my responsibilities were and how I should do good, how I should live my life. My dad was more like, learn from his mistakes, see what I don’t like about him, and try not to be that way when I grow up.

“He’s a hermit; he doesn’t deal with emotions at all. My dad would rather not talk than talk. He just keeps it to himself. Some things you should keep in if it’s going to cause more harm than good, but I think talking about your emotions is better than keeping them in. He’s a good guy, though.”

I didn’t ask Bobby if his grandfather dealt with his emotions; I wish I had. At first blush, responsibilities and doing good, the subjects of his lectures, speak to conduct rather than emotional health. And it’s hard for me to imagine someone of Bobby’s grandfather’s generation warring against repression of grief. Granted, as each generation in a family becomes more prosperous and less concerned with simply keeping body and soul together, the battles become less exterior, less obvious. But is emotional well-being the great interior achievement, the work of civilized ages.

Max and Steve

Max and Steve sit on the steps above the outside eating area at the Price Center, surveying the goings on from up high. Max also looks to his grandfather for an example of manhood, because “he came from Mexico, and he grew up on the streets. He was basically a self-taught man and made himself into a really successful person, a chemical engineer. His parents - didn’t know about education; they were just going to have him work on the farm. He came over here, worked, supported my dad when he was going to college — he’s an engineer, too.”

Why do you think you look to your grandfather first, before your dad? “I think that’s because in our grandfather’s generation, times were a lot more difficult than in our generation or our fathers’ generation.” The dragon was still outside the door instead of within our breasts.

Steve answers another way. “I think that’s because you see your dad on a more personal level, see more of his screw-ups, all the little day-to-day things that happen. With your grandfather, it’s more, you see his reputation, what he’s already accomplished, whereas your dad might still be doing that.”

Accomplishment, reputation, triumph over adversity — these are the marks I expected to hear about. Max defines a man as “someone who just sacks up, just deals with life.” Steve adds that you become a man when you “realize it’s time to start getting it together, when you finally start taking care of your stuff.”

Danny and Matthew

I suppose that in such a worldview, the danger to manhood comes when your stuff is already taken care of, and you’re sitting at home with the family. That’s the impression I’m left with after talking with Danny, Matthew, and Kevin. Danny hunts after generational differences thusly, tacitly eulogizing the spark I seek: “There aren’t real definers for what being a man is in this generation. At least the generation before us had going to war. Every generation’s had war. Our grandparents had World War II, the last generation had Vietnam. So unless we go to war now, there’s not going to be [guys saying], ‘I fought in the trenches! I killed some people!’”

He defines manhood as “pride; the ability to take control of situations, control over his environment. Self-esteem.”Kevin counters, “I don’t think there’s any true definition of a real man. I’m not all into that ‘real man’ thing.Each person has their own definition to themselves.” Adds Matthew, “I’m more concerned about being a good person than being a man.”

Danny: “There are things associated with being a man,chivalry and courage and all that, but…”

Kevin: “I think those should be associated with a good person.”

So is there no difference between a good man and a good woman? “In an equal, ideal society, no,” answers Kevin. “When it comes to relationships, I guess there has to be a difference, and a woman plays a woman’s role, but I don’t think I could define what a man is as opposed to a woman in an equal society. I think, growing up in a society of political correctness, we’re being told that to be anything more, to be anything rugged and individualistic, is sometimes a bad thing. I mean, you have to be sensitive to all issues. There’s no problem with that, but it’s kind of changed the way we look at being a man.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it has taken away some sort of ideal that each person is supposed to be. Breaking down ideals is not a bad thing, but they’ve been broken down over time to where everything’s supposed to be equal now.”

Does that leave you confused? “Definitely.”

Danny comments, “Especially in the sense of chivalry. It’s almost like being a gentleman is an insult to a woman now. A lot of times things like opening a door for a woman are seen as an admission that women are the weaker of the species or something,when, in fact, it’s just courtesy. It’s almost part of manners now.”

Matthew: “I was at a party a month ago, and I opened a beer bottle for a girl, because I saw she was looking for something to open it, and I had a key chain with a cap opener on it. I didn’t ask, I just reached over and opened it. She got upset with me; she thought I was trying to make a move on her or something. I was just trying to be polite.” Kevin: “I think men are supposed to be, not more aggressive, but the people who instigate any type of move. That’s what maleness is about, being the person who instigates things.But now the roles are being reversed, so the man can sometimes not know where to go. I don’t mind it, but it does lead to confusing situations, where you’re supposed to draw the line between being a male and being a sensitive male. You haven’t look at each situation.”

And so we come back to sensitivity, to emotion, to the interior struggle for well-being. “It’s not like you’re going to sit around the locker room and be, like, ‘Damn, I saw that French movie last night; it was so sad, I was crying in the theater,’ ” says Danny. “Generically, that would be looked down upon as not manly, but I mean, lately, it’s becoming more of ’fessing up to your emotions; actually being in touch with your emotions takes more courage.”

When he hears this, Kevin backs off his refusal to define a man. “I think that’s a good definition of a man — if they can ’fess up to emotions. To totally dismiss them is two-dimensional. I think when I was younger, if I ever thought about a man’s man,it would probably be my grandfather.… He was very rugged and individualistic, but I saw that leading to someone who was very closeminded and not very sensitive to other people’s feelings.

“As I grew up — I still love him, of course — I see how that rugged individualism and trying to be a man led to problems in the family. Never expressing yourself until really, really late— that causes all sorts of family problems. We never knew how he felt.… That type of repression totally blows up on you, leads to situations where families separate because of it, when they find out how the person always felt.

“You have to have the ability to confront other people. If you can’t do that, that doesn’t show much character. You don’t have much character if you can’t deal with fears like that.My dad was the total opposite of my grandfather, and that’s why I ended up idolizing my dad a lot more, once I figured out that definition of a man.”

Danny concurs.“That goes back to hiding emotions as a symbol of manhood, at least in our parents’ generation and our parents’ parents’ generation. With my father, it’s difficult for him to come to terms with his emotions, especially sadness, because he did have a rough childhood. You can see how at the time it was looked down upon to get your emotions out, and now it’s kind of affecting him. So you see what was considered manhood before, and you realize that’s not exactly where you’d like to be.”

How exactly is it affecting him? What exactly is the problem? “I think part of what makes us human is to share our emotional states with other people. If you keep sadness or joy or something stuck inside, then it’s like you’re not really communicating with other people. You can’t identify with other people. To me, that’s part of being a man, I suppose: identifying with others and sympathizing with others’ situations. If you never communicate with anyone, if you keep everything to yourself, I would say you’re not much of a man.”

I get a variation on the theme of emotional well-being and openness when I ask a table full of women about what a real man does and doesn’t do.They focus immediately on how men relate to themselves; in particular, how boyfriends relate to themselves. Carrie, gently grinning and demure, opens with “A real man doesn’t play games with girls, play games with their minds. A real man can talk honestly about feelings. He won’t have to impress his friends somehow.”

Several others comment; their thoughts are summed up by Michelle, the most forthright and brassy of the bunch, who fixes me with a matter-of-fact gaze from behind her lavender-tinted glasses: “They have to impress their friends so much, they can’t be cool to you. When you’re by yourself, they act like amazing people; every little thing is so wonderful. When they’re with their friends, they don’t even know you. They don’t give a shit. They try to be cool.” In the company of men, women suddenly become the embodiment of their emotional lives and are consequently repressed. The battle for emotional honesty is lost — it is a secret these men do not share with one another.

I’m astounded that any woman would put up with such treatment, and to some extent, so are they. As Carrie says, they long for a man who,“if his friends are giving you a hard time about something, doesn’t just stand there grinning like an idiot. He says, ‘Guys, leave her alone,’ or ‘Back off,’ or something.” Still, there is a limit to emotional honesty — men are expected to maintain some degree of restraint over their passions. The question “Does a man cry?” is first answered by a hail of yes’s, but then come the qualifications:

“Only with you.”

“Not too often— he - doesn’t make a habit of it.”

“Not if he bawls, but if he has a tear, and you can tell he’s choked up, that’s just the cutest thing.”

“Especially if it’s about you; then you know they care.”

“If you’re on the verge of breaking up, and they cry, then you know they really care.”

And however much emotion they desire from men, for some, suffering the suffering that is passion is still receptive, still— biologically, at least — feminine.

Elisabeth: “I think of my dad almost as a girl in a way. It’s weird, because he’s really tough and macho, but he’s very much sensitive like a girl. I mean, he won’t cry or anything like that — I saw him cry once in my entire life. He’s very religious, and my sister hired a stripper, so he cried over that.” Grief washes over, informs, consumes, acts upon the yielding soul.

Yet action is expected and counted on for security. Continues Elisabeth, “I feel safer when my dad’s in the house versus just my mom.Maybe it’s the stereotype. My dad’s a Marine, too, so that’s a little bit extra. But when my dad went away to war a while back, I was so scared to go home all the time. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel safe, because my mom was a scaredycat. Then, with my dad home, I could go to sleep better at night. Guys show no fear. Sometimes, I think women can get scared more; they’ll think about things like,‘How can I get away?’ when the guy will just face it. Like, if somebody were coming into the house, they would just go and face them. A woman would escape or something.”

This is the balancing act for these men: to be courageous but not macho, to defend their women but not strut about like cocks in the barnyard, to be emotionally reserved yet emotionally honest, to carve out a masculine identity without an established societal structure. Whatever the challenges of this new, level playing field,men may still cling to certain of the old pillars. When I ask if the girls expect the guy to ask them out, the group answer is yes. Says Carrie, “I could never ask a guy out. I don’t think it’s wrong for a woman to do if she wants, but, personally, I could never do it. I think it’s really hard for a guy to have to put his ego [on the line]; men’s egos are so fragile.…”

Lilia adds,“You’re taking the same risk as a guy does.”

Someone asks if guys like to be asked out.

Michelle: “They love it! How flattering is that— a girl asks you out?”

“But what if he doesn’t want to go out with her?”

“I’m sure a girl wouldn’t ask a guy out unless she knew there was a chance.”

Andrea offers another difficulty. “If you start out with the initiative, asking for a date, that could imply that you’re going to be the independent one in the relationship right off the bat, and some guys are threatened by that.”

Speaking of initiative, do you expect the guy to make the first move toward physical intimacy?

Elizabeth: “I think it’s kind of mutual.” But then she adds, “I guess people always assume that guys know more about what they’re doing than girls, and [often], they do, because they’ve done stuff earlier in life than most girls. Of course, there’s always the girls they did it with,but…”

Michelle breaks in. “Getting back to the asking someone- out thing — I feel more guys would say yes than girls, because in my experience, guys don’t care what the girl looks like. If they know that she’s into him, they know they’ll be able to get some easily.He knows that by the end of the night, she’s into him,obviously, he’ll get some.A girl’s different.Most girls that I know, that’s not the first thing on their mind.”

What’s a girl thinking when she says yes?

“We’re going to go out, but I don’t want it to be like, ‘I have to get some.’”

While Michelle is talking about the man looking forward to sex, Carrie comments, “That’s not a realman quality.” I ask her to explain.“A guy that will get together,hook up with any girl, no matter what she looks like, just because they can get some — that’s not a real-man quality. I think the guy should only be intimate — or even close to intimate— with somebody they really can see themselves caring about.Not just because they’re thinking with their penises.” Much ground has been given since the days when a man was expected to be intimate only with a woman he was prepared to be faithful to for life— now all that is required is that he can imagine some future emotional involvement. But there is still that feminine longing for some connection between love and sex, that expectation of entanglement.

But if sex is easy to get, why not get it? “I guess the guy needs to have an understanding of what the girl is thinking. You can tell if the girl’s just into it for the physical aspect, or maybe she’s trying to get to know him and see what can happen, and he’s just looking at her,waiting and wondering when he’ll get to have her clothes off.He needs to have respect for her feelings and what she might be interpreting.…”

I feel the lowest common denominator in me rising,the imp that assumes the basest motivations and reasonings on everyone’s part, especially the part of young men.What do you say to a guy who says, “If she lets me, what’s the problem?”

“I think that’s because some girls — and I think guys understand this — think that if they let a guy do…certain things,that he’ll like her. That’s just a thing that girls think in their heads. That’s why the next day, there’s always, ‘Why hasn’t he called me yet?’ Because girls don’t learn that — we equate sex with love,and so we can’t fathom how someone could be physical with someone and then not have any feeling for them at all.”

But if girls know guys are like that, why do they give it up?

Michelle steps in. “Because they keep thinking,‘ Maybe this one will be different.’ ”When I ask if any of the girls have had an experience with that different guy, the guy who calls after the one-night stand,loud voices disavow any actual experience in that department, although Michelle grants that “We’ve all had times where we’ve hooked up with a guy or whatever, and then he does call the next morning. But I don’t think we’re old enough to have that kind of situation”— outright sex. “I think of that as something you do in your 30s, like, you just sleep with people.”

Some things I heard in my search for manhood’s essence didn’t seem all that different from the answers I might have gotten in other times and places.“Gentleman” still calls to mind a man of manners, a chivalrous man who holds doors and pays for dinner, as opposed to a man of a certain breeding and formation, for whom such mannerly activities are merely a symptom and not the thing itself. Manhood— whatever its emotional baggage — still means integrity, power to control one’s circumstances, and courage, if not necessarily physical prowess.Gender roles,however assaulted in the imagination and understanding, are still in practical force. The man my Mustang-pushing storyteller grew wistful for may still be out there.

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Also, one wek you listed ELEVEN winners! 5 for xword an 6 for Sudoku. How come you do something like this?

June 22, 2014

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