Are we all becoming women?
Like many guys, I have had this very bizarre relationship to my manhood, my nuts, my machismo, my guy-ness, that thing that continues to make me want to have sex with my wife whenever she gives me the high sign.
I’m 46 now, and for the last couple of years I have been powerlifting under the supervision of a former Russian kick-boxer who, I suspect, killed more than a few guys with his bare hands as an assassin back in his home country. Something about the way his eyes widened into these jet-black saucers the few times we sparred scares the living shit out of me. Anyhow, I have put on about 25 pounds of muscle and now go about 235 pounds across my 6’ 3” frame. I still eat too much ice cream, so it’s not like I have a six-pack or anything. But I am kinda ripped for an old bastard. At least that is what Elena, my wife, tells me when she is kind enough to feed my fragile ego.
Konstantin keeps asking me, “Why are you working out so hard?” Sometimes I tell him it’s to race some guy in the pool or on my bike, which are my other two hobbies. But he doesn’t really believe me. The other day I finally confessed, “It’s because I am still looking for my balls.” He laughed because the comment came as just a continuation of our gym banter that often includes a discussion of our mutual friends, their funny proclivities (one guy swears that he gets his asshole bleached in a weird psycho-sexual fantasy), and their manhood. He didn’t know that I was actually being serious.
I don’t know where it started. Maybe it was growing up in the ultra-liberal town of Amherst, Massachusetts where men wore their hair in ponytails and women preferred crew cuts. But I was never confident in my nuts. I didn’t really know where they might be, to be honest. It didn’t help that I was one of those kids who was huge for his age. I got beat up for being big and for being weird and introspective. I walked away rather than fighting back. Dumb ass was I.
Anyhow, my 46 years have been one long search for some definition of manhood that I could actually live with. The fact that I still go see Konstantin three times a week and throw around ridiculous amounts of weight (during the summer he drives down to our summer house in Westport and straps me to a large tire and makes me drag it up and down the beach at a dead sprint) shows that I really haven’t advanced the ball too far.
But I have tried. And in that, most of the guys I know are similarly confused by the state of their genitals—either they walk around like they’re hung as a cover for having nothing, or are just totally confused by a world of SAHDs (stay-at-home dads) where, to be men, we seem to need to be more like women.
Perhaps, rather than spending endless posts dissecting the changing gender roles for men, we should just look to the natural kingdom for some simple guidelines. The grouper fish can turn from female to male early in its lifespan to reproduce, but in the end all individuals end up female.
Perhaps even more instructive is the clownfish, of Nemo fame, who live in groups with a strict hierarchy based on size. The largest fish is the female. The next largest is the breeding male. All others are non-breeding males. When the female dies, everyone moves up a peg. The breeding male becomes female and the largest of the non-breeding males becomes the breeding male.
This comes as confirmation of the natural order of things for a certain kind of man, the sensitive ones in our 40s who no longer wear the pants, who understand our role as serving the needs of our wives and questioning the loss of football, beer bongs, and the American way. If Nemo is destined for womanhood, it clears up a lot. Really, there is a lot less to debate in these pages and elsewhere.
Here’s a rough timeline on how it goes. Exact timing and conditions can vary man to man. But the endpoint is obviously the same: female.
Birth to 15: Desire to be a policeman, maybe president for those who think too much about it, perhaps ballerina for men with cross-dressing tendencies from day one (which actually might turn out to ease the pain of transitioning later on). Play with guns. Learn to throw football. In my house, learn to cook.
15 to 25: Booze and babes. Let’s get serious. Prime-time manhood in these years—going to frat parties, destroying stuff, going to the library to look like you’re studying in hopes of hooking up. For the athletically inclined, pump some iron, beat some heads. Periodic visits to the drunk tank to dry out. Animal House on repeat on home DVR.
25-35: Get serious; lose your balls, at least in part. Mammary glands make their first appearance. Find a real job. Maybe get married. Buy a house? Have some kids. Golf takes an increasing role in your life as an escape from reality. The 401(k) becomes a four-letter word intended to inflict pain.
35-45: Breasts becoming more pronounced. To cover this reality you get the biggest house you can, two if you can afford it. In addition to the minivan, you drive a Ferrari. If this doesn’t work, get a divorce and marry the woman half your age you met at your 20th college reunion where she was working the bar.
45-55: Crisis sets in. Many Republicans begin to vote democratic. Interest in the NFL and SportsCenter wanes. You start to read romance novels. And watch Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice over and over again. Develop a strange proclivity for pink underwear. Hire personal shopper.
55 on: Balls shrivel away to nothing. Manhood gone. No distinction between Clownfish and Homo Sapiens.
That last section was a joke, by the way. I was poking fun at myself and my cadre of men looking for some semblance of the caveman we once knew we were. I think it comes down to what a close friend of mine—a relationship shaman, wise beyond his 30-something years, who was once a white-man-rapper-drug-addict and is now a software programmer who is married with two kids—once told me. Think of Will Ferrell as Chaz in the Wedding Crashers, “Ma, the Meatloaf!”
Anyhow, this guy once told me, with regard to marriage, “You can do it the hard way or the easy way with your wife, Tom. The easy way is to agree with her right away no matter what. The hard way is to fight the good fight, leave your blood on the floor, and then agree with her at some point in the future. It’s up to you.”
Chaz is not a role model, though I admit that little clip is one of my all-time favorites, making me cry with laughter out of some politically-incorrect, non-rational sense of humor.
But the question remains: how do we find our balls while still being good husbands and fathers?
That’s the central dilemma for guys of my generation. For some it involves embracing their more emotional, sensitive sides. To be honest, I have cried plenty, sometimes in the fetal position when my life was really falling apart a few years back. But I’m over that now. When in doubt, I go back to Konstantin, listen to his tales about the KGB, and do some insanely hard bench press sets—my personal version of steroid treatments, without the Barry Bonds shrinkage.
The Good Men Project is many different things to our readers, writers, and various contributors. But one thing I am quite sure it is to all of us, men and women alike, is a discussion about what it means to be a man in 2011. You know, a guy with balls. A guy who plays hard, thinks straight but not too deeply, and likes to hunt elk.
That would be me.
—Main photo Flickr/Dr. Alfred Bester who explains: “Patient came in with pain and mass in right testicle. Scheduled for removal the next day, but he was very disappointed in the fact that he would not be allowed to see it, as it had to go to pathology, so he asked me to take a picture for him. Images and testicle taken with patient’s permission.”
—Clownfish photo Flick/OurTechClub