A school teacher realizes that as long as he teaches he will never gain the status of a real American man, someone who really matters.
Real men don’t teach.
At least not real American men. Real American men make money. Lots of it. They make deals and have their secretaries arrange things for them. Real men discuss cars and their second homes, take exotic vacations to places they don’t particularly want to visit but their wives insisted on going.
Real men wear expensive footwear and drink alcohol at pretty much every meal after breakfast. Real men read the business section first and then the sports section or vice versa. Real men care deeply about their favorite sports teams. And they carry their teams’ painful losses around with them for weeks sometimes months—or decades.
Real men drive fast. Real men have no time for small talk. Or children. Though they expect their children to do the right thing. They do not communicate what the right thing is; their children are expected to intuit the correct behaviors by observing their father—who is rarely home.
Real men donate money, but not time, to institutions. Real men serve on boards and occasionally attend church or synagogue. Real American men do not pray at mosques. They would prefer that none exists within their city’s limits.
Real men are politically to the right of center. They trust a man who looks good in a suit. Like Mitt Romney. Who they will vote for him—though women don’t.
Real men are not all that concerned with the future, the environment, small acts of kindness or the world to come. They believe that if there is a hereafter, they’ve done enough good things to deserve a place in it.
Real men worry about their wills and how their money will be spent when they die. They hate the idea that they will die and avoid thinking about it.
Oh yeah, real men are heterosexual. I can’t believe I even included that. It’s a given.
Real men have investments that their spouses don’t know about.
Real men eat meat, regardless of what their know-it-all, whiny physician says at their yearly physical.
Real men are litigators, never mediators or negotiators.
Real men don’t teach—on any level—not even at business or law schools.
Real men deal with facts and figures and products that can be stored in warehouses.
But real men don’t teach. Real men don’t work for the government.
I realized at 19, I was not a real man. And would never become one. I was a student at the University of Texas – Austin and began tutoring kids who lived on the wrong side of tracks. Believe me, in Texas there is a wrong side of the tracks. I knew then I would be a teacher, not a real man, who would have nothing in common with most of his college friends. I knew I would never join them on vacations or live in their neighborhoods or use the word escrow. The problem with being a teacher—with not being a real man, is, and there’s no getting around it—other men don’t take you seriously.
Some of your students don’t even take you seriously.
You teach and encourage and prod and scold and beg and you even take some of these kids home with you, in your mind.
What a teacher does never shows up on the stat sheet. Like setting a pick in basketball.
And here’s the down part of being a teacher, you’re stuck with it. It’s all you want to do; all you can do. In addition to your family, it’s pretty much all you really care about. At some point you ask yourself, “Why?” But by that time, you’re too old to do anything else anyway.
And you know that no matter how well you do your job no one is going to reward you for it. You might get a Starbucks gift card the day before winter break. But that depends on your school’s zip code. Truth is most days you’re just fine with being only a teacher and not really a man.
Today, this morning at 5:42 a.m., is not one of those days. This morning I sit at my desk and question every decision I’ve ever made that led me into teaching.
But in a few hours, I’ll be in my classroom teaching. And I’ll get over it.
A version of this essay originally appeared in the Huffington Post in September 2011.