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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Judge, Jury and Man

Dear Dad,   
                 I have been observing the interactions between men doing manly things for some time now. Like an anthropologist, I mentally record repetitive behaviors and unspoken traditions. I have found that there is a common misconception in modern lore that suggests men judge each other based on size and power. This just isn’t true. Men do not judge each other the way that women or famous Germanic psychologists think they do. Nor do men judge each other the way women judge one another. Men judge each other based on general preparedness towards daily ’manly’ trivial tasks. I want to talk about two separate experiences I have recently had that support this hypothesis. I think Dad, that if women knew this about men a lot of domestic disputes could be avoided entirely. 

               A few days ago I gathered up all my guns and headed out to a local firing range to meet some friends. A shooting range is typically a getaway, a place for men to show off their skills. We always pretend that the weapons just need to be sighted in. The truth however is that guns are loud and scary, and therefore manly. Throw in the competition angle and you have got yourself a recipe for man gathering. My friends met me at the appointed hour (never late) and we began to assemble our arsenal. One of my friends brought out a couple of assault rifles. I had to turn my head to wipe the tear of happiness from my eye. The smell of the gun oil and the silence that would soon be shattered, created an atmosphere of pure joy. That’s when it hit me. My two friends would watch me shoot these assault rifles for the first time. I can hold my own with a hunting rifle, a pistol or even a shotgun but I had never before fired an assault rifle. As I picked up the first gun, I could feel their eyes boring into the back of my head. You see men don’t judge you by the size of your gun, or even by how many guns you have. The judgment comes when you are loading the weapon or how you hold it. Did you flinch when the gun went off?  It’s all about preparedness. We laugh for weeks about the guy that put the ammo in backwards, or the guy who fell down when the shotgun hit back a little too hard. It’s not even important to hit the target the first time. It is very important though to adjust your aim after missing. Men notice if you miss in the exact same manner over and over again. Fully conscious of the stares, I went through the first twenty shots before finally hitting a target over a hundred yards away. The enjoyment I felt at the decimation of a gallon jug only lasted a second. The jug flew through the air and landed in an awkward, hard to see spot. I only had 10 shots left and my friends were still watching, fully expecting me to hit home again. I did, and with just one shot to spare. I quickly and surreptitiously fired that shot into nothing, as if to say ‘My work here is done.‘ I certainly didn’t want the pressure of hitting the target a third time with just one shot left. The test was passed. I was judged and found guilty. Guilty of being ‘THE MAN.’ Next week I am going to barbecue at the range. I cannot think of a manlier way to spend the day.

               The very next day I joined yet another friend on the launch of his new boat. A boats maiden voyage is a great thing to be a part of, and because the seating is limited it is an honor to be invited. So we two men headed to the lake with boat in tow. Upon our arrival at the boat access ramps, we found the parking lot full. Men were milling about preparing to leave or waiting their turn to launch. My compatriot jumped out of his truck and got into the back of his boat and I slid into the drivers seat. I found myself in the unique position of driving someone else’s ‘baby’ and backing a trailer down the ramp with a crowd of men waiting breathlessly for me to fail. Already nervous because the boat and trailer were brand new, I eased the truck backwards at a steady five miles per hour. Not too fast, not too slow. I knew what the spectators would appreciate seeing. I wound up too close to the curb, but I was committed. The worst thing I could have done was to pull forward for a second start. As the boat entered the water millimeters from the curb, I heard my friend shout out to our neighbor launchers, (there were two ramps side by side) “It’s hard to find good help.” There was some light laughter and I knew that I had narrowly avoided being the butt of many lake side jokes. Seconds later my friend jumped up in alarm and yelled for me to pull the boat back out of the water. I pulled forward a few feet and turned in my seat. His face beet red from embarrassment he climbed into the back of the truck and tried to whisper to me that he had forgotten to put the plug in the boat. It was too late, the damage was done. The knowing smiles on the other anglers faces told all that the judging had commenced. I however felt redemption in the face of adversity. It is no small thing to triumph at a task in the presence of your peers.

              So you see now what I mean. Men can get stressed over a trivial daily exercise. Especially when other men are present. This is why we don’t ask for directions. We don’t care that we are lost. Other men won’t judge us for getting lost. Everyone gets lost. We don’t want another man to have to tell us that if we had driven just two more miles down the stretch of road we were already on, the solution would present itself. That is what embarrasses us. Men are supposed to be problem solvers. The ultimate man is probably a cross between ’Indiana Jones’ and ’Sherlock Holmes.’

              A few weeks ago I wrote you a letter referring to my ineptitude when working on cars. That did not bother me. It would have been embarrassing though to write you and say that I didn’t even try. For the most part women don’t get this. My wife doesn’t understand why I own tools I have never used. She doesn’t get that I cannot be the ‘guy’ who always needs to borrow tools. I need to be the ‘man’ who loans them out. When your neighbor knocks on your door to borrow a deep well socket, you don’t bring it to the door. You invite him in, you show him your tool emporium, you bask in the glory of it. It doesn’t matter that he knows how to use the tool. He wasn’t prepared. Is it embarrassing to call a friend with four wheel drive to un-stick your car from the mud? Sure, a little, but it is nowhere near as embarrassing if when he shows up he doesn’t have to get out of the truck. You being the prepared man that you are, have the tow chain in hand and hook it to both vehicles yourself, in the proper place. Redemption, respect, they go hand in hand. Men know this. This is why men get mad when they are forced to try and retry parallel parking in a tight space or when they need to ask someone for directions, or when they can’t find the tie-downs they need to help a buddy move. This is even the reason so many men who hate helping a buddy move, still own a truck when they have no other reason to own a truck. A well prepared man is a manly man. We are raised this way. A man always has a pocketknife. If you don’t have one when you need it, then you run the risk of other men assuming you are effeminate. Ask yourself this, have you ever judged a man on the size of the deer he shot? How about on the story he told you about getting the deer back to camp? He forgot his rope, his four wheeler ran out of gas, he didn’t field dress it before trying to move it. Those are the things we judge. This is why we don’t like shopping. A man wants to walk into a store, grab what he was there for and be out in ‘8 seconds’ or less. As a matter of fact everything we do (except for one thing) is done as fast as possible. Life is a rodeo. You ever struggle tying on a fish hook?  Out come the excuses followed by the frustrated swears. I won’t bother trying to explain this to my wife again, she listened to my hypothesis for a minute and dismissed me Immediately as incorrect. The Image we have of judging by size or style is so deeply ingrained in society that many women will never understand.

              Well I can say that my last two trials ended well. I came out a man, judged by a jury of my peers. It is only a matter of time before I find myself once again the defendant pleading for a second chance to prove myself. All I can do in the mean time is be prepared. If my wife loves me she will help me be prepared. I need a new fishing pole and I could really use a leather punch. I don’t yet know what leather needs punched, but I’ll be damned if I am going next door to borrow one.

                       your boating, shooting, fully prepared man of a son.

1 comment:

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...

A second chance is what most men never get.