You? Who Are You?

I was, and am today, a terrible driver. I’ve given up on improving; I just accept that driving isn’t my strong suite. In fact, I am so bad at driving that I am thankful for the “honkers” out there, they are a much needed source of direction for me. I fully utilize all aspects of the road design, including the rumble strips, which help remind me which lane I am in and that I need to stay there. It’s really always been this way and consequently, from the ages of sixteen to eighteen, I went thru a few different autos. I finally ended up in a 1988 Dodge 600, champagne color with burgundy interior. It was my Mom’s car, which I was given to “borrow” after wrecking my moms “other car”, but somehow ownership eventually passed to me. To this day, I have no idea where my parents sourced the unending patience to deal with all of my antics.

So back to car number three; a 1988 Dodge 600 is an ugly car to begin with, now add some fading champaign paint and a collapsing burgundy headliner, and you’ve got yourself a real piece of work. To add to the allure, the check engine light was perpetually flashing for one reason or another. I did most of my own mechanical work back then, breaks, tune-ups, and the like; but when it came to matters of the check engine light, I was out of my league. I remember on the fourth or fifth visit to the mechanic, he looked at me and said, “You know, the 1988 Dodge 600 is one of those cars that is just always going to have the check engine light on. I could keep charging you to fix sensors and change wires, but something else is just going to break a few weeks later. It’s probably no big deal so I wouldn’t worry about it.” Well I was certainly happy with that answer and “not worry about it” was precisely what I did until one day, driving down the road, after a large clunking sound, black smoke started pouring out of the tail pipe. I actually crippled into an auto mechanic shop where, after a two-minute examination, a mechanic proceeded to tell me that the engine was toast. He asked if there had been anything wrong leading up to that and I said, “you mean other than the check engine light being on?” I was happy that I could provide comic relief for those nice mechanics that day as they all had a really good laugh about it. I told them what the other mechanic had told me, to which he replied, “Son, when the check engine light is on … ‘somthins wrong and you need to check the engine.” And so it was time for car number four.

I thought about that story as I have been thinking of the post that should follow my last post, which I titled, Be Better Than Your STEREOtype. In that post, I presented for your consideration the idea that males tend to embrace these stereotypes for many reasons. One, there is some safety in stereotypical behavior. At least you can point to a handful of caricatures and stand behind the, “I’m just a guy, that’s how we are wired” defense. Moreover, I also presented to you that, in some ways, it is because we are just plain lazy and accepting the stereotypes is just easier than being an authentic individual. This post is going to take it one step farther.

If you find yourself being systemically stereotypical, I want to be the first to tell you that your check engine light is on and when the check engine light is on something is wrong. If you ignore it, a toasted engine may well be in your future. I’m not talking about periodic stereotypical behavior, we all do that; we all have our male moments now and then. I’m talking about stereotypes as a crutch, and I know that you know what I mean. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it will give a few practical use cases for what I am talking about. Let’s take three common stereotypes and look briefly at each.  The Emotional Simpleton, The Horndog, and The Over Achiever.

The Emotional Simpleton

Emotional SimpletonThis is, by far, the most destructive to real manhood, and we see this stereotype portrayed everywhere; it is ubiquitous. This is they guy who has the range of emotions equivalent to that of a small mammal … either docile and compliant, busy eating, sleeping, or scampering about. The Emotional Simpleton has many variants some even being painted by well meaning men trying to explain men, and our differences to women; however in that effort a great disservice has been done, the oversimplification and the provision of an excuse for males to stop the onward progression towards manhood and rest in their undeveloped emotional simplicity. The reality is that you do have a multitude of emotional states, they alarm bells should be going off if you find yourself only able to discern a very small few of them. If you look back on a day or a week and think about how you felt and only come up with happy, sad, hungry, and sleepy ….  congratulations, you are able to experience the same range of “emotions” as the average two-year old. If this hits home with you … the check engine light is on my friend. Emotions are like taste; really the tongue has only four “taste centers”, sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. During a lifetime; however, an adult begins to be able to use those centers working together to experience millions of flavor combinations. Some of these are wonderful, some are daily and boring, and some are downright unpleasant. It’s the same with emotions. As a man, you exist is any number of highly complex emotional states, but many times are unable to experience your own emotional existence. Partly because you’ve been given this crutch of emotional simplicity, it keeps you safe, it keeps you from the potential that you just might feel something awful but you also just might feel something amazing. It’s also due to the fact that, for us, discerning and understanding our emotional states can be exhausting. A huge part of the journey from male to man involves a season of introspection wherein you simply must discover your own emotional construction. How do you really feel about things? Could you imagine cutting into the finest steak at the finest steak house you’ve ever visited and in response commenting, “hmmm, salty”, then having a taste of a very fine and expensive cabernet and commenting, “hmmm, bitter.” As you leave the restaurant, there is a line around the building and someone asks you, “how was your dinner?” To which, you reply, “bitter and salty.” Could you imagine? Yet that may well be the track you are on at the present. Only at hand is your life not a steak and some wine.

The Horndog

The HorndogI’m internally conflicted on this, to some degree, because it represents some dangerous ground. I’ll ask for a bit of leeway as I deal with this particular stereotype. Also, know that I have several posts planned to deal specifically with our sexuality, what it was meant to be and what it has become. There is a lot of ground to cover here and a very specific way I happen to believe that it needs to be covered. The reality is that for all of the well meaning efforts of so many, for all of the “internet filtering”, and “eye bouncing” prescribed for men to deal with sexual temptation … not much is being done to address the root issues of misplaced male sexual energies. St. Augustine wrote, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.” If you know anything of Augustine’s life, you know that he, of all men, knew what he was talking about. This quote is apropos given the fact that I have claimed introspection and emotional awareness as a major step in the journey from male to man. Furthermore, I’ll draw a line in the sand and tell you that misplaced sexual pursuits will derail that effort every time. As men, our desire for women is the most primal thing, after food, and can become a chief distraction that limits our growth and delays our maturity. Now before you gather the mob, hand out the pitchforks, and light the torches … I am NOT saying that sexual pursuits are all bad, they aren’t at all, in the right context and held in check. One of my life’s greatest joys is the pursuit of my wife, but I also know that if I don’t hold that desire in check, even as a married man, I could easily spend all day every day, every ounce of creative energy, chasing that hot blond with those legs that seem to go on forever. I know, for sure, that I could devote myself fully to that, and only that, pursuit.  Even as a married man, I could fall right into stereotypical horndogish behavior. I love the poetry of William Blake, and in his poem, Broken Love, he writes:

‘Till I turn from Female love
And root up the Infernal Grove,
I shall never worthy be
To step into Eternity.

But those are the words of a frustrated and broken hearted man, I love the poem, but don’t believe the message. With regards to this stereotype, here is my thesis statement. As males, we are designed to crave female love, affection, and physical encounters … As men, we have learned the fine art of ruling our nature instead of being ruled by our nature. The stereotypical hordog paints a picture of men as incapable of high-order thinking and feeling; running around like a dog with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. The worst part is that women tolerate this behavior with comments like, “that’s just how guys are made.” I saw some woman post a picture on Facebook of a woman saying, “every time a man sees a beautiful woman, his ability to reason decreases by 50% … per boob.” That’s what we have become in this world, and we should be infuriated. Worse still is that males embrace this stereotype as a crutch, then hide behind it, “I’m a guy, what do you expect?” Now if you read my first introductory post, you know that I don’t claim to be perfect, nowhere near perfect in fact. But I will be bold enough to say that I believe I have figured some things out and I can’t wait to share them in this forum in the weeks and months to come. Just to get you thinking, I will present to you that prolonged emotional simplicity, the first stereotypical dilemma, leads to, among other things, misunderstood sexuality. The two are more connected than you might imagine.

The Over Achiever

The Over AchieverNow we will talk about a third common stereotype, the over achiever. Again, this is sensitive territory and I’m sure I’ll step on some toes. And again, a topic that I plan to deal with in detail at a later time. In this stereotype there is truth; However, in that high achievement is a fundamental drive of males in general and can become a very useful tool for real men as well. Unlike emotional simplicity and sexual ballyhoo, the drive for achievement can be an important motivator on the journey and a pillar of real manhood. But that is not the picture painted in the stereotypical over achiever. That picture is much more nefarious indeed. In this stereotype, we find a hyper-competitive male with unchecked ambition and with an impunity that comes from the belief that the end truly justifies the means. Our society is all too ready to cast a wide net with which to catch all men into a school of achievers for achievements sake. Yes, we are made to achieve; however, a real man knows the difference between achieving and making a difference. In this case as well, I will present to you that this stereotype has its roots in emotional simplicity. As I have said, much of my spare time these days, and even some I can’t spare, is spent with guys on the journey from male to man and the issue of drive and achievement often comes up. The crutch is that we do it to provide for our family. The reality is that we REALLY do it to feed our ego and subdue our own nagging insecurities. The reality is that we over achieve because in the deep down places that we haven’t bothered to explore there is a fundamental belief that we really aren’t good enough at all. But embracing the stereotype, “I’m just a guy, that’s what we do” is a lot easier than asking the question we should all be asking … “why do I do what I do?”

And that leads me to close my short exploration of three common stereyotpes that we should take on holistically, as a gender, as real men, and individually as potential warning signs that there are areas of our lives worth exploring.  I’ll never forget a time, as a young man, re watching Alice in Wonderland.  I can’t remember why, perhaps it was on and nothing else was, but I’ll never forget it.  I’ll never forget the scene when The Cheshire Cat looks at Alice Cheshirefrom his perch and says to her, “Who Are You?”  For some reason, those words reached right into my soul and I was overcome with the most fearful of sensations.  I watched as Alice struggled in her reply, “I hardly know sir, I’ve changed so many times since this morning.”  This answer displeased the Cheshire and he demanded that she explain herself to which she replies, “I can’t explain myself.”  At that, the smiling cat absolutely demands, “YOU?  WHO ARE YOU?  I’ll never forget the feeling that day; I wondered how I would answer that question.  I knew I couldn’t answer that question.  I knew that myself, I had changed so many times just that morning.   I knew that something out there, something in this world or beyond was demanding an answer … WHO ARE YOU?  The American writer Dorothy Parker is credited with saying:

When I was young and bold and strong,
The right was right, the wrong was wrong.
With plume on high and flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
But now I’m old – and good and bad,
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say the world is so,
And wise is s/he who lets it go.

I was young once, and everything seemed so black and white, but despite all the urgings, never answered that question … who are you? And now I’m older and good and bad are indeed woven in a crazy plaid, but here I part with Mrs. Parker, I refuse to accept that the world is so … I refuse to let it go. I stepped out from behind the stereotypes and into the journey of a lifetime to answer the question of who I am, who I want to be, and what needs to happen in between. As I do with each post, I wholeheartedly ask you to consider joining me on the journey from male to man. At the same time, invite other dudes you know to join in as well. Just copy this link [ ] into a text or e-mail and invite your friends to join the revival. Remember, someday there will be enough of us to make a difference.

3 thoughts on “You? Who Are You?

  1. Another good post. The part of Alice makes me think of a similar time growing up when I was introduced to Supertramp “The Logical Song” it as well resonated during a time of soul searching in my life. The words still strike a reality about searching for who we are…

    “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical. And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
    joyfully, playfully watching me.
    But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
    logical, responsible, practical.
    And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
    clinical, intellectual, cynical.

    There are times when all the world’s asleep,
    the questions run too deep
    for such a simple man.
    Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
    I know it sounds absurd
    but please tell me who I am.

    Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
    liberal, fanatical, criminal.
    Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
    acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

    At night, when all the world’s asleep,
    the questions run so deep
    for such a simple man.
    Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
    I know it sounds absurd
    but please tell me who I am.

    Keep up the good work, brother.



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