Before we start, can I just say how weird it is to be thinking about Carl Sandburg while walking Mrs. Wigglebottom only to come in and find that Ryan wrote about Carl Sandburg last night? Am I reading his mind? Is he reading mine? If so, poor Ryan. I give the impression that my mind is constantly racing with kinky things, but really, it’s a lot about whether the cats have food and if I remembered to turn the stove off.
Anyway, I was thinking about men this morning. Actually, I was thinking about an offhanded comment that Exador made a long time ago* about me being one of those women who can’t make up their minds about what they want in terms of men.
I don’t think this is true, only because I’ve never sat down and articulated for myself what I wanted in a man, so I’m not sure one could then fairly say I’ve changed my mind.
But I was watching some show on MTV2 this weekend about the crisis of black masculinity and how all these black entertainers grew up without positive male role models, especially fathers.
I’m not going to argue with that or dispute it; I don’t want to get off track. But it seems to me that the problem is larger than that–that it’s not clear for anyone what it means to be a man and how to transmit those values to young boys. Instead, we have, I think, what Snoop accurately observed, boys teaching boys how to be men.
When did it go wrong for men? I know some of you have your fingers hovering right above the “f” key, ready as soon as I’m done to blame the feminists for the muddle that is trying to figure out what being a man means and how to be it.
But I was thinking about the men in my family and what that must have been like for my great grandfather to be raising his family in an old house that was also a chicken coop and barn on the land of some other man.
That’s what got me thinking of Carl Sandburg–“Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs.” There was a moment when being a man meant being Midwestern, or like a Midwesterner.
And for a generation of men, sandwiched between the Wars, being Midwestern meant failing–that you would do everything you could, work from sun up to sun down, and there wouldn’t be enough money or the crops would fail or the bank would close anyway.
We’ve never had to face this head on, because the story we tell is that we “fixed” the Depression by saving the world and coming home and having a bunch of babies and throwing our energy into fighting communism.
But I think that knowledge is still there, itching at the back of our brains, that you can do everything a man is supposed to do and you can still have to pack up your 12 year old son’s meager belongings and send him out to fend for himself because you can’t feed him.
I mean, I think that implicit in the definition of “man” is a guy who provides for the people he cares about. The Depression made that impossible for a lot of American men. But the story we tell never acknowledges that. And I think that remains a large problem.
So, I guess this is a long way around to asking what do you think makes a man? And how do you learn those things? And what do you do when those things don’t work?
*I do this–you say stuff to me you don’t mean for me to take too seriously, and I do. Nashville Knucklehead said to me the other day “Why do you feel so guilty?” In context, it made sense. But something struck me about it in a larger sense, too. I don’t have an answer, but I’m chewing on it.