What I’m about to tell you cuts a deep swath between what you were and what many of you are becoming.
Most men don’t have the balls to say [out loud] any of what I’m about to tell you, but saying it is the only way to help catalyze change in what’s often a foot-dragging passage into twilight.
Over these past decades I’ve learned a few things about being a man that weigh on all of us after enough water’s under the bridge.
The first is the personal assessment quiz, where we sum up all of our perceived accomplishments and hope that our backstories are sellable on the open market.
I say ‘open market’ because unless you live in a vacuum, you have an audience that determines your viability. I know. This sounds like every psychiatrist’s worst nightmare, but it’s still true.
We live in a society filled with people, not open land filled with livestock.
Remember, this is a blog about urban life, not rural isolationism.
In this world, our world, we need to matter. Some call it relevance. And while many claim this to be an exercise in pure nihilism and self-destruction, it’s critical to our emotional well being that we see our lives as having been well spent.
The resulting self-esteem becomes our fuel, our motivation to go on long after the glory years of imagined immortality and endless promise have passed.
But let me reiterate that we must pass muster with the world around us before we get the fuel. We can’t just fantasize it into being.
The world around us is a cold, objective force. It sees us as fully formed entities, each with a script in our hands that we read to ourselves before closing our eyes at night, hoping our dreams don’t contradict the plot lines.
Appreciating the gravity of this is an essential part of maintaining dignity no matter how much you try to ignore or deny it.
Okay, so let’s say we’re happy with what we’ve done with our lives up to this juncture. We have financial security and we’re proud of what we’ve done.
Now we have to figure out how to maintain what we’ve built so it doesn’t all come crashing down on top of us.
I’m talking about our physical health, and more specifically, our physical being; how we see ourselves relative to those around us, no matter what their age.
Like everything else in my life, I need to feel in possession of myself physically, to be physically strong, in control, and able to defend myself.
I’m sure that more than a few of you reading this will wonder why men our age [Baby Boomers] should give a crap about what sounds like an older man’s delusions of grandeur, but I don’t know any of you.
The men I do know care. A lot. They don’t want to be walked all over like party confetti. They live with purpose and dignity.
And while a few engage in endurance sports, especially anorexics, who swap one addiction for another, the answer lies in the weight room. Yes, being a man means lifting heavy weight. I know I know. I’m a superficial jackass who has no idea what brings true fulfillment to anyone but myself, but you’re still dead wrong.
Many of the men I’m around are luminaries in their respective fields, ranging in age from late 40’s to early 80’s. But one thing they share is a desire to build and/or maintain physical strength. In other words, no matter what they’ve done, if they’re wasting away it’s irrelevant. Soon, self esteem will erode away all that they’ve built, and they’ll end up dead long before you read about them in the obituaries.
This brings to mind a guy in my gym in his early 80’s who is not only a celebrated surgeon, but a world champion masters power lifter.
You think he feels irrelevant?
The respect he receives from people around him is palpable.
My motto: Be strong, live well.
Our personal lives are the final cog in our wheels of fortune. While I cannot pretend to speak for gay men and their relationships, I do know a thing or two about living with women, which is kind of like living with an extraterrestrial biological life form, identical human DNA, notwithstanding.
Like #1 and #2, how we feel in the context of our relationships is inextricably tied to how we feel as men.
The first thing we men know about ourselves is that our egos are fragile, particularly when we feel vulnerable. Thus, we need our masculinity validated daily. We need to feel loved; we need to feel attractive; and we need to feel capable.
That’s a lot of need, but miss an ounce of it at your peril.
Memorize this list so you don’t lose it:
A] Admire Us.
Compliment us on the things we’re good at and our physical qualities. Beat on us and we’ll stop making the house payments.
B] Brag on Us
The first time I heard a woman complaining about her husband’s “many” shortfalls, I suggested he leave her. In my mind, she breached the trust and left him out to dry.
C] Ask For Our Help
Ask us to show you how to do something or to give you advice on a tough situation. We’ll be more than happy to show you, believe me.
D] Never, Ever Cut Us Down No Matter What.
Make you man feel like an idiot and he will show you the door. Men have massive egos. Why this is I don’t know, but suspect it has something to do with having to kill things so the rest of his primordial family didn’t starve to death.
Never, ever discredit us or make snide comments about our appearance, abilities or performances, particularly around others.
E] Learn How to Listen.
Men may not be as talkative as women are, but we still have things to say and emotions to vent or bad days we want to discuss. While we’re more about fixing things than just talking for the sake of being heard, sometimes we like being heard so we can justify fixing things.
F] Respect Us.
Respect builds the foundation of our relationships. Without it, we will look for it elsewhere, believe me. Incessant nagging comes to mind. It’s like rat poison for human relationships.
G] Believe In Us
We want the women in our lives to be our biggest cheerleaders. We’ll do anything for someone who believes in us. Even if what we try to do doesn’t succeed by someone else’s standards, the fact that we gave it our best shot deserves praise and love.
H] Do Little Things For Us
Whether you leave a love note somewhere we’ll find it, stuff an Oreo under our pillow…or just wear something that we can’t seem to live without, JUST DO IT!
As men get older it’s even more important to affirm us. First, because we are no longer 25. Second, because no matter what we act like, we’re no longer in college and running track for NYU.
Of course, back then we were flat broke, our trust factor was zero, and and our apartments resembled the wolf dens you see at natural science museums across the country.
As women who’ve spent your fair share of time with men, you already know all these things.
This is just a reminder.