Father's Day — in the US, at least — is quickly approaching. So it's somehow appropriate that I've got a hankering to talk about men. Nothing salacious, mind you … just a post on the enigmatic state of being a guy today.
I've said it before: men and women are different creatures. I know this, perhaps, better than I know most anything. As a gay man, I am inexplicably drawn to that elusive quality that makes men … men. It's certainly not anatomy; nor our job or the way we dress; nor our mannerisms or the roles we play in life. But there is something — something preternatural — that resonates within us, Male and Female.
So if it's not any of that — if our eternal gender is something so obfuscated by culture and genome — why care? Why all the fuss? I can't speak definitively, of course … but I've got a hunch.
Culture, in many ways, is part of a complex survival mechanism. It gives us the tools to both survive and thrive within a given context. Sure, it's imperfect, but it's powerful all the same. So being able to internalize and transmit ones culture is a sign of ones spiritual/psychological fitness in much the same way that symmetry in physique is a sign of ones genetic health — and it carries with it the same heady allure.
But something happened over the last century. Culture became unhinged, in many respects, from reality. The feedback loop which kept most aspects of a given culture intimately connected to its milieu was co-opted by technology and our own counter-culture drive. For the time being — blessed, as we are, with practically free energy and blinded as we are by technology — culture isn't a matter of survival. It's an accessory like shoes or cufflinks. So now we pick and choose from myriad cultures the shiny bits that intrigue us, while ignoring the repercussions.
Men no longer enjoy the confidence of living within a cohesive culture.
Sitcoms tell us that men are buffoons. That we are hapless, witless, feckless creatures — outshone in every respect by women (which, I suspect, is equally annoying to women). We're told that we think about sex constantly and engage in sex at such an early age that by junior high, the virginal male is social equivalent of a third nipple: pathetic and ineffectual. Other players tell us that average men sport genitalia of equine proportions and are either bronzed and polished gods or hirsute demigods. Still others feed on our sartorial sensibilities and dress us up in costumes unbefitting men who actually work and live in anything but Second Life™. I could go on … but you get the idea.
And that's just in secular life … General Authorities and their comments about the spiritual superiority of women and the odd and pervasive comments about wives always being right are as emasculating as the sitcoms. Moreover, the rhetoric of role-playing and stewardship — which I believe obliquely addresses eternal principles — is stuck in Mid-century America. With the Beavers.
But there's hope.
A nascent man movement in the US — which has roots both in religious circles and the secular world — seems to be scratching at the surface of the problem … and blogs such as The Art of Manliness and Rules for My Unborn Son are fine products of this renaissance. It's a hard thing, though, to refashion something so complex and nuanced as culture from scratch. It's a bit like the scientists of Jurassic Park fame attempting to recreate dinosaurs from incomplete DNA, spittle, and hubris. We're bound to create a few monsters along the way. It's not a natural process, after all — cut-off as we are from the bright and instructive light of life outside our technology-induced stupor. Which is why I think that the Church's role could prove pivotal. And the Proclamation on the Family is a good start. But I fear that we won't really understand the value of that document for some time — burdened as we are by the muddy mandates of memory.
So that's it. Like so many things in modern life, what it means to be a man is much less clear — but if we're careful and given to inspiration, we'll exit the other side of this fog better men, better sons, brothers, and fathers. Which is to say, in so many words, happy Father's Day (whatever that means).
NB: This post is cross-posted from Dude, please join us over there to comment!