The Attack on Manhood.

Do not confuse the righting of a sinking ship, or just a plain old sinking ship, with a war on men. Or a war on white people. Or Christians. While there are indeed acidic antagonists who hate all of those things (men, white people, and religion) we should not confuse current efforts, or movements toward equity as a war against {insert demographic here}.IM_A0148

The truth is that white Christian men currently, and have historically, wielded disproportionate power in America. This power has been gained and sustained by money, cultural norms, and quite often by violence.

For centuries white Christian men have been able to do as they (we) please, only having to consider anyone “other” than themselves as a consolation, or out of what they (we) have perceived as our magnanimous generosity. This is not to say that white Christian men have run amok completely unchecked, just ask anyone one of them as they (we) have felt continually put in check, but those external limits on our behavior and power have been put in place and enforced, primarily by other white Christian men. We have lived in a world so completely our own that we have grown accustomed to it like a fish grows accustomed to water, and by growing, I mean gestation, as we seem to feel it natural at birth.

Though unlike fish, we do not need this currently constructed environment to survive. But sometimes, or most times, we think we do.IMG_6345

As the world shrinks, access to information increases, and the true diversity of the world becomes so ever more apparent, and present, many people realize that white Christian men do not hold a monopoly on goodness and wisdom and “how it should be”, and in America, all of those “others”, those who aren’t white Christian men, those who have been here all along but have just never been the ones running the show, start asserting themselves- white Christian men start to freak out.

Let’s not freak out.

Let us be honest with ourselves in a way that goes beyond reactionary defensiveness and blind lashing out at those rallying for change. The truth is that there are ridiculously few of “them” out there who are opposed to, or truly against, who we are. No. That’s not quite right. I should be more precise here. There are plenty of people against who we are, but they aren’t necessarily against who we claim we are, or who we strive to be. There are plenty against a lot of the things we do or have done, which isn’t the same thing- unless we unnaturally peg our identity to those things. So, let’s take stock.

Is manhood based on the color blue or our selection of shoes? While I have no desire to wear high heels, I do not think my manhood, or my male-ness, is really attached to my wingtips. I know many men who wear long hair, some of them wear it from their chin, and while I have a slight understanding of facial hair being associated with androgens more prevalent in males, I have never believed that my beard makes me a man or that a pony tail is influenced in any way by my genitals. Now I know that there are those who disagree. There are many men who not only prefer, but believe, that men should not wear makeup or skirts. I get it. I don’t feel comfortable in those things either. I am also not aware of anyone who is trying to make me wear those things.

Neither am I aware of how someone else wearing those things changes my manhood. Nor do those things contradict my Christianity. Choice in clothing or grooming is not the same as choice in sexual activity- and absolutely no one is telling me I must have sex with someone other than whom I choose, so I fail to see the actual connection between gender norms and my religiously dictated sexual conduct. I am a heterosexual white Christian man and no one that I have met is asking me not to be these things. At least not in “real life”.

But there are changes, many of which are quite contentious. Let us take for example, the Boy Scouts of America.

What exactly is it in the Boy Scouts of America, that is truly gender based?

My mother is a better camper than most of the “manly” men I know. So was my grandmother. Sleeping in tents, tying knots, shooting arrows, or earning badges in a quasi-militaristic organization that casually imitates Native Americans without truly investigating their culture has very little to do with my genitalia, my sexual orientation, or even the qualities I believe make a good man. In fact, many, possibly even most, of the qualities that I would claim make a “good man” have nothing at all to do with anyone’s genitalia or sexual preferences. In other words, most of the things, at least in my mind, that make a good man are really just things that make a good person. Honesty, chastity, benevolence, moral steadfastness, kindness, service orientation, civic mindedness, leadership, preparedness and progression, pretty much everything built in to scouting to build good boys, are the same things I try to teach my daughters.

No one is fighting that.

But I do acknowledge that boys and girls are different. I acknowledge it enough, and here is me exposing my own needs or feelings, that I long for and appreciate male spaces in my life. Sometimes I like to hang out with other guys. I’m a cis gender heteronormative straight Christian white male and carry with me plenty of the social preferences that go along with those norms. Sometimes I wanna hang with the guys. I get it. That is me. And I am not being attacked.

What is under attack is the infrastructure that gives me, and those most strictly like me, disproportionate privileges.

The Boy Scouts have been in a long decline for a lot of reasons beyond American gender norms. While many of the principles of scouting are not, nor have ever been overtly race or class based, the delivery and socialization of scouting absolutely has (just like most things in America). Yes there is a push against gender exclusivity today, but we are also more urban, more international, more technological, less economically homogenous than in the past and more adults spend more time working, and children have more organized activities than existed when the Scouts were founded. All of those things have led to declining participation in the Boy Scouts.

There is at this same moment, as in all moment spast, a lack of true equity for girls. When it comes to what the Boy Scouts do (or have done), or the resources the Boy Scouts have on hand, there is no true female equivalent.

My daughter has no interest in selling cookies in front of Target (and I know the Girl Scouts do more than that) but she would probably love to get SCUBA certified at a huge discount like I did when I was a Boy Scout. But she doesn’t, nor do I as her parent, have access to that. In this case the only difference between the programs offered and the benefits involved, is that boys get to and girls do not. I am not opposed to boys SCUBA diving. Letting my daughter do the same would not constitute an attack and masculinity. Those two should not be confused. In addition, my church is one of, if not the, biggest supporters of the BSA and while I know my faith values my little girls, I also know that it does not offer anything for them that is quite as robust or well-funded (even with the current BSA decline).

Does this mean my girls should join the scouts? I don’t know. I don’t really have any interest in them doing so, but if someone else did, or does, that does not constitute an attack on me or who I am.

But it isn’t just the scouts, nor is it just my church, rather we are experiencing a broader nationwide shift in power. Or at least a shift in perception, as most of those who have historically held power still hold it, though I am not one of them, and many people who are the most like me- can feel it. But just like stepping on a nail with bare feet, we jerk our knees without having to think- because we feel it.

The only problem here is that we haven’t stepped on a nail but rather we have been shod in power our entire existence and suddenly now our boots are off and we are being made to feel the pricks and prods of those on whom we trod. We are not knee jerking at nails but rather reacting to women, black people, Hindus, non-English speakers, immigrants, and on, and on, and on. Our boots are off and our white Christian manly feet are tender. It is unfair that for centuries this country has been primarily, if not explicitly, just meant for me, and if I am in any way trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent, I will step up and adjust to what is right rather than kick barefoot against the pricks.

Because in the past, despite my lack of elite status or a well-stocked wallet, I have never had to struggle shoulder to shoulder with all those “others” but rather I have been wearing well insulated boots which allow me to stamp on top of all of “them” while competing against other white Christian men for my American dream.

Those boots are not “who I am” and being asked to take them off is not an attack. It is simply doing what’s right.

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I Have

As I watch so many people post #metoo, I look back on my youth and I think I was, and try to be now, one of the good boys- and this terrifies me because I was horrible. If I was a good kid, and I know how bad I was, how much worse were, or are, the others? And even now, like someone carrying a benign cancerous tumor, I wonder how healthy I really am.idahobeach

I grew up with strong female role models, grandmothers, mother, four sisters, and my father demanded the women in his home be shown respect. So much so that the only time I can recall my father ever raising his arm as if to hit me, was when I made a flippant remark toward my mother. I had not defied her, but simply been less than respectful. Dad would not stand for that. I had women teachers in school who were formidable and bright, I knew and believed that the smartest students in my grade were all girls, and in church I was taught of the existence of a divine feminine, a Mother in Heaven.

And still, in my mind, women became objects.

I had no idea how to talk to girls. I couldn’t do it. I was so caught up in an internal inferno of sexual desires, hyper male competitiveness, and crippling pubescent insecurity that I could not deal with anything beyond myself in the presence of a girl. All I could see was the shape of her body. All I could think of was whether or not she wanted me in the same way I might want her and if so what were the physical possibilities and how could I really know what she thought, or wanted, and how could I get there.

Sex was everywhere and in every thing. It was in the music I listened too, the shows I saw on tv, in my science text books, in Sunday School lessons, in the jokes my friends and I told each other, and most of all, it was in my head and all throughout my body. It was simply a part of the atmosphere, like oxygen or carbon. There were other things there too, like ozone, STD’s, and god given commandments against fornication, but somehow there was so much sex that if it didn’t crowd everything else out, it at least engulfed it, like an oil spill covering a beach. There might be a bird on that beach, but it would be an oil covered sex bird.

And this was before the internet.

The other things, the ones that were not sex, were either trivial, like algebra, or important, like football. Football was power and glory both on the field and off. It rewarded strength and violence with points on the scoreboard, and it brought me, or anyone associated, an elevated status among our peers. It wasn’t just football, there was basketball and baseball too, and all were important, almost “most” important. And they were really meant for boys. There were of course girls’ teams and even a separate girls’ gym. It was smaller and less elaborate. The girls sports did not have cheerleaders or dancing girls at half time. The sports I played did. The boys with status played and the girls wore short skirts and cheered us on. It was how the school, and the community, were set up. It did not matter that the girls teams won more games and garnered more awards, the pageantry and focus was on us- the boys.

And I bought it all.

Because of all this, and because of me, I went on dates, and took girls to dances, and talked to girls in class and on the phone and all the while I am not sure I ever truly treated them, or considered them fully, as people.

They were body parts. They were trophies. They were potential reflections of myself. I did not go on dates to share ideas or witty banter. I did not have a relationship because I valued the companionship of this other person’s soul. I surely did not share my soul with any of them, I was simply navigating the build up in the teen movie relationship where looks and status are the driver and there might be some words or events that crescendo in what it is all really about anyway- which is the kiss, or depending on the movie, sex. That was the win, the goal, the point.

This was me and I do not think I grew, or evolved, or was taught, out of that mind set and attitude. I wonder, or fear, that I might not have ever changed at all had I not detached from society all together for a full 2 years. For me that is what it took. I went away to a new geography without my friends where I knew that for a solid 24 months I would not go on a date, hug, or even hold a girl’s hand. I did not listen to the radio or watch tv. I wore uniform clothes in a uniform style where status, sex, or social rewards were completely off the table and my only true focus, was talking to people about what was important to them. That time taught me a lot in a very fundamental, very foundational way.

I went through a 2 year hyper masculinity detox, and in large part, I think it worked. I hope it did. But when I came home, it was all still there, it was all the same, it was just me that changed. It was like I had been washed free of the oil slick but no one had touched the beach and I was back. So I wonder how clean I really am and want to know how much oil I swallowed with all those years of swimming. I wonder how clean I ever really got because that 2 year detox wasn’t built “for that”. There was no lesson or curriculum deconstructing paternalistic hyper sexualized masculinity. There were lessons that related, or maybe correlated, but brushing against is not the same as confrontation. Correction and eradication, while related, are not the same.

So as I see people post #me too or #I have and I consider them and I reflect on me, I know that I have a part to play. I know I have been, and probably am, part of the problem. Sexual harassment and objectification isn’t a them problem, or a girl problem, or a Hollywood problem, it is a me and us problem. And when I reflect on my own experience and heart, knowing my own truth, my own sincere desires for goodness, I have to admit- I have.

Mancation IV: a bromantic getaway

We selfied our way up the California coast.img_1304

It has taken me some years to accept the selfie as a photographic genre. Normally I prefer the standard ask a stranger to push the button, or perhaps a staged self timer on a tripod method of putting one’s self in the image. But in the spirit of true manliness and adulthood, I have relented.img_1344

Sometimes I kid myself it is strictly a visual form of journaling, more akin to record keeping than vanity. But really, it is just me refusing to act like a dignified grow-up. Or as some would say, a “man”.img_1506

What better way to record and commemorate Mancation 4 (or IV because as the Super Bowl tells us, Roman numerals are manlier) than to take self portraits via a method made famous by pre-teen girls and the Kardashians?img_1646

3 dudes on the PCH, one of America’s most romantic byways? Selfie. 3 hetero guys buying cream puffs at a bakery in Solvang? Selfie. 3 bearded fools in San Francisco? You got it; selfie.img_1704

Okay, two bearded fools and a scruffy guy. Feel free to confiscate my cool card- I don’t think I ever had one. But my man card holds firm. Come and pry it from my Charlton Heston hands.img_1952

We took 3 1/2 days, a rental car, and a complete disregard for planning and hit the road.img_2132

Mancation IV is in the books.

Mancation I

Mancation II

Mancation III

On Fatherhood: Miracles

 

Let me first state that the first order of good fatherhood, and the only one on which I can claim expertise, is finding and keeping the best woman possible. In my experience this is best achieved through dumb luck, hard work, and a belief in miracles. You see, fatherhood is a series of miracles.

The first miracle of fatherhood happened in my life when my wife agreed to marry me. There is no real explanation for how or why this happened, but I can testify that it did.times square

I realized the second miracle approximately three months after the birth of my first child. It was late one evening, I was holding this small person in my arms, looking into her deep brown eyes, and I realized that this child was in fact, alive. It was true. I watched as she breathed in, then out, then in again. She spit up on my shirt. She was definitely still alive; a miracle.

This was not the miracle I expected.swingy

The child was very expected. Say what you will, it is very hard for the birth of a child to sneak up on anyone. We had two years of time to become a good team, then nine months of incubation, all followed by a very dramatic episode that resulted in a very small, very alive, little girl. Thousands of years and billions of births came before us, so none of these things were unexpected. These were very natural, very intentional, very, yes, expected. They were also very external.

The miracle I did not expect was so unexpected, and here is the strange part, that it never actually happened. That is right. The unexpected miracle was realized when the miracle I did expect didn’t happen.

Sitting there, looking at this beautiful little life, I realized I was still just me. I wasn’t different. Inside I still felt like I did three months, nine months, Two years ago. I did not feel more loving, think I was any smarter, no cosmic shift, I was still me. Just-me.

And after three months, she was still alive.

A miracle. workthebag2

That was nine years and another kid ago. The miracles keep coming.

Watching kid number one at the bar in ballet class I see an unmistakable, undeniable grace. Her mother, despite being the best woman I should have never caught, does not have that grace, and I am still just me. Watching kid number two sit on the naughty step after throwing a shoe, I see a sort of bravery, the sort that looks a person ten times her size directly, unflinchingly, in the eye. She does not cringe, she does not shrink; she is absolutely not me. But I am still me.

That is the unexpected miracle.

After all these years I still feel like me and they are not just OK, they are great.

Now sure, I have changed, I have grown, but nothing miraculous. It has all been very labored, very progressive. A natural growth that comes from repetitive actions and climatization. Remember miracle number one?IMG_0604

A large part of what makes her great is that she does not do everything. Parenting is meant to be a team sport and she is the John Stockton of motherhood. She can shoot just fine but she is great at passing. Thanks to her ability I can change any diaper at any time. I know all the words to Good Night Gorilla, can make a pony tail, and have an arguably miraculous ability to leave the house five minutes late for school yet still drop the kids off ten minutes early. All the while I am still just me and she knows it.

That is the miracle of fatherhood.

We are not granted magical powers. We do not rise in esteem through our skill or our innate qualities. We are not transformed from without, nor do we experience this huge flash from within. Most of the time I experience a sort of nothing. A sameness. Normality.

But if I try. If I show up and then show up again. I get to see miracles.

Not some form of super me. Just me.

And still; miracles.IMG_6732