Am I Man Enough to Raise a Son? by Bozemama

November 03, 2012

Posted By: Shaunescy

It’s hard to remember if it first struck me as my son was attempting to Judo throw me across the room or during his in-depth analysis of the critical role the Mauser rifle played in World War I, but the realization is so obvious now that it actually haunts me: Despite the fact that I really and truly love boys in all their forms   I am not man enough for my nine-year-old Charlie.

Now, there’s good news and it is twofold. One, I am actually a woman, so that takes some of the pressure off. Second, Charlie’s dad is a hairy-chested manly man of the first rank – outdoorsman, Karate black belt, high school football star, Scotch drinker, and ball scratcher. This also takes some of the pressure off. Except that Charlie’s dad and I are now separated, which means that when Charlie’s got his macho on and is ruff, tuff and ready to rumble on Saturday through Tuesday (his days with me), then I need to man up or else risk losing his love, respect, younameit.

If it were left to me, Charlie and I would spend hours brushing his beautiful curls, shopping for rugged yet stylish casual wear. And, to be fair, Charlie is by no means a Neanderthal (on most days); he loves to draw, dress up, read, snuggle. But he also kicks my ass in a sword fight and loves nothing more than quizzing me into humiliation about anything regarding the Navy SEALS, Green Berets and the like.

And so it was with a certain level of empathy that I picked up Joel Stein’s new book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity , in which the very hetero but admittedly very wimpy Time columnist describes the crisis of manliness that cripples him after the birth of his son. The book’s concept is a bit of an eye-roller: Pampered city manchild does time with firefighters, professional athletes, Boy Scouts, hunters, Lamborghinis and marines in his pursuit of his undeveloped manhood.

I can’t help but agree with Captain Buzz of the Los Angeles Fire Department, who tells Stein, “Not to dismiss your entire premise, but none of the activities or skills you plan on doing define becoming a man. A man is honest, kind and courageous, protects women, is humble, bold, moral, seeks truth, loves children and fights for what is right.” A-Men to that. Hard to argue with that.

But while it sometimes smacks of shtick, it’s also hard not to admire Stein for his sincere sissiness – the man is actually afraid of dogs fercryingoutloud – but, more importantly, for his extreme candor and ability to find humor in his own humiliation without really sacrificing his identity.

“I was even worse at being a boy than I am at being a man,” he tells us. “Almost all of my friends in elementary school were girls. I owned no Matchbox cars, no dirt bikes, no nun-chucks. I never climbed a tree, built a fort, or broke a bone. I had an Easy-Bake Oven, a glass animal collection, sticker albums, a stack of LPs of nothing but show tunes and a love for making stained-glass window ornaments. I’m not equipped to raise a boy.”

Crazy, right? But while Stein knows who he is and makes no real apologies for it, he does stop and think about how he got where he is and where he wants to go:

“A lot of me was created in a sloppy rush of desperation: I wanted to be the academic, cynical, funny one and my role models didn’t like sports, money, fast cars, or being outside, so I didn’t either. I didn’t want to go hunting because then I would no longer be the urban intellectual who could say he never hunted.“

It’s pretty brave to admit that your very identity has been carved out of being passive. But Stein’s OK with that. He admits that his quest for masculinity basically takes him from being lazy to becoming a little less lazy. But there are some lovely insights along the way – about his relationships with his father and his beloved son. And, while he rarely identifies with the manly men leading the charge throughout the book, he never stoops to derision or mean-spirited ridicule. His wide-eyed respect for these guys is palpable.

And, let’s be clear, the man is funny. His descriptions of being ass-slapped by Warren Sapp is a pants pisser as are his detailed account of impersonating a sexed up female turkey while hunting in Vermont and his time “in the army.”

I'm pretty sure Stein’s sardonic wit is not for everyone. And he probably knows that guys like Charlie’s dad will have no patience for his macho identity crisis. So whom has he written the book for? Before reading it, I assumed that he’d written it primarily for himself and the many fans of his sassy column. But after finishing Man Made, I can admit that the book was written for all parents of both genders struggling to cut through the bullshit of these crazy and confusing times we live in and raise a boy who can man up when he needs to and be proud of himself, even if he can’t drive a stick shift.

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