Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Open Love Letter to Men

Dear Men,

Recently, a female acquaintance commented that I seem to bowl better in my Thursday night mixed league than in my other three women-only leagues. I told her that year to year, I have the highest average (not to mention the most fun) when I bowl with men. She seemed perplexed, perhaps naturally, so I hastily blurted, "Well, I just enjoy the company of men more, present company accepted, of course!"

Truth is, I bowl better with you guys. I like the no-nonsense approach you have. I like the way you incessantly analyze the ball trajectory against where you stand against the current oil pattern. I like how you exercise your minds until the world makes sense. I like how you keep the cattiness down and gossip to a minimum - it might interest you, but not for two hours like it does the women.  I like the way, when I throw a gutter ball, you look me in the eye and say, "What the hell was that?"  Without smiling. I don't want to be coddled; I want to be expected to get my shit together by the next turn.

The world does make better sense around you men. When it's ugly, you know exactly why. Sometimes, you're the cause of the ugliness, but if you don't own up, you do manage to make each other pay in the end. I like the way you confront each other. Women smile to your face while plotting your future pain just because they don't like the color you wore yesterday. But a man? He'll make you miserable right on the spot, without apology (at least not immediately - that would be pointless), and he'll have a damn good reason to do it. A reason that is, well, reasonable.

Men are rarely intellectually lazy. They can't afford to be, because they have to earn a complete living. The least educated knows his way around an engine, crop fertilizers, a meth lab. Men take real joy out of verbal sparring - some annoyingly have never learned to combine that urge with self-control. But all that jousting forces them to use their brains, constantly. They don't give each other an inch, or a break. Just a good hard contest.

Men value things like integrity and honor and courage. Check out some novels written by women - they also present some higher ideas - often love, sacrifice - but it will be those written by men who contain sweeping and profound truths about the human condition.  Men ponder these things - with regularity. Men tend to contemplate and comprehend patterns of the universe, realities of war, subtleties of affection, hope, loss . . .

Men spend a lot of effort and time shielding their loved ones from difficulty. I see this a lot - and it often goes unnoticed. Their female companions take it for granted. Women whose fathers, boyfriends, brothers, husbands all protected them, rarely note the ways in which they are shielded from too much hardship. Those of us who have had little such care or protection in our own lives, though, notice it all the time, everywhere, with so many men.

Women often have some shield to hide behind, some safety net to catch them. Most men don't. So you have to be brave - there isn't another choice. And you are brave, so often, and often in quiet ways. Every once in a while, one of you will do something spectacularly and idiotically cowardly - being men, you always go big - but when that happens, your fellow men call you out on it loudly. You don't get to pretend it didn't matter. It will always matter if you behave as a coward, when you're a man. For that reason, you must be terrified when fear comes. Women fear other things, men fear themselves most. That's what I would guess.

Men don't pussyfoot around. They insult you, they tell you off, they acquire disgusting habits. With men, you get exactly what you see in front of you. There isn't a lot of secrecy, manipulation, backbiting. It's all laid out on the table. When I was 30 years old, I informed a doctor that I liked to be given the respect of being told the truth up front. So he looked me in the face and told me, two days before emergency surgery, that I would be wise to "put your affairs in order this weekend", because my life as I knew it might be over. Or simply over, actually.  I trusted him from that moment. Here was a person who put sentiment aside and prepared me for reality to hit. My mom on the other hand told me, "I know everything will be all right, honey."  I wanted to scream, "NO YOU DON'T."  I did not trust her advice, believe me. Even today, when a female friend coos, "It'll be all right."  I feel little but rising disgust at her disingenuousness - but I know that's a learned trait in females.

I like the way you smell. I love your cologne, and your skin. I love the stubble on your chin. I love the ease with which you swing an ax - and the joy you have in doing it.  I love the way you set a fencepost straight and then pound it in. I love the way you hold fast to the rope and squint up at the rearing horse above you, knowing your brain will keep you from being trampled. I love the way you love that suicide bike you refuse to sell. I like the way you snap the briefcase closed and swing it off the desk. I love the way you smile at your daughter across the table. I love the way you throw a baseball. I love the way you smooth your hair back and turn your face up into the shower after an exhausting day. I love the way you plan surprises, and how you worry about whether your wife, or kids, or grandkids will have to pay too much tax on your holdings when you die before them.

Oh, I know some of you cheat, many lie, too many of you walk around thinking your dick is bigger than it actually is - both figuratively and literally. I know some of you are inexplicably and unforgivably selfish to the core. I married one of you once, and that twenty years was enough to last a lifetime.

In today's world, too many of you are being maligned. You're blamed for that which isn't your doing. You're shamed for carrying testosterone. Your natural instincts are treated as threats to be suppressed. Today we refuse to acknowledge that your hunger for progress built empires, your beautiful curiosity and need to conquer brought technological innovation, your soaring spirits brought the biggest piece of the world's great literature, art and music; your tendency to protect what you love fought and won wars for peace we take for granted now. How many of you willingly ran toward a sword, a spear, a fire, a gun, a bomb, for something you understood was far greater than your one life?

Yes, over a beer, or a bowling alley, I do love your company. I love the candor, the stumbling lack of finesse, the mental gymnastics, the uniquely male insight on the world, the instinct to protect. I know that so many of you are bombarded daily with reminders that you as a gender have somehow failed your species. I'm here to tell you that's hooey.

You're wonderful and glorious and beautiful to look at. You're strong. You're good for the world. And ultimately - no matter what you're made to feel - you are necessary. What you were on the day you were born, and what you have grown into, will always be exactly what you are supposed to be. In my book, that's pretty damn good.