Thomas Pluck believes the things a man really needs are all-encompassing and don’t even require money.
A friend of a friend shared a ridiculous list called 40 Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Should Own. My skepticism flared before I even read it, having seen enough articles in Men’s Journal and other catalogs masquerading as magazines to know what the list would be comprised of: things your Dad liked, or stuff Don Draper had on Mad Men. Because that’s the image of a man Madison Avenue is selling these days. Modern men are weak, right? Please tell that to a Navy SEAL. Go right ahead. You think Ernest Hemingway was ever sober enough to armwrestle a modern elite warrior, or could run a Tough Mudder without puking his Tom Collins out? And for the record I love Ernest Hemingway, I’m just tired of the past being glorified as some golden age of manhood just because today’s men know how to change a diaper as well as field-strip an M1 Garand.
It seems every time a man says that family is more important than being one of the 3,000 people a year to climb Everest, a media outlet announces that it is “the end of men.” Can we just stop, already? Looking at it from a pure genetic standpoint, there are two major strategies for survival. Spread lots of seed (a la Genghis Khan, and the common bullfrog) or protect your offspring, like a wolf pack leader, or men who walk around with their baby in a chest sling. Choosing the latter doesn’t make you less of a man, just as mimicking Genghis Khan’s strategy doesn’t make you a Mongol warlord. But frankly I’d rather be a wolf than a frog. (No one ever gave a three frog shirt five stars on Amazon.)
I’m not going to go down the entire list, but it reads like the ads at the back of men’s magazines. A tailored suit and two pairs of dress shoes. I happen to own a tailored suit. It doesn’t give me self-respect or make me a man. Annie Lennox looks pretty good in a tailored suit, too. A little further down it says “Stocks. Who cares if you know how the market works or not?” A 401k? Sure, if your employer has one and matches, take the free money. But owning stocks doesn’t make you a better man. Despite the wisdom the three-fund model is best for most small investors, they want you to buy stocks so you can say you own stocks. Which is the spirit of the entire list: things you can buy that inflate your self-esteem beyond what it deserves.
Next up, a wristwatch. A meaningless status symbol. Sometimes I break out my father’s gold Timex to remember him by. And I wear a G-shock on occasion, so I don’t have to dig out my phone. If you like watches, fine. They are interesting gadgets, but they don’t make you respectable. Really, you can’t say women are gold-diggers if you buy into this mantra and show off your expensive crap like it makes you an alpha male. You’re perpetuating it.
Next up is a “decent” car, whatever that means. The article decides that “decent” is a Prius. Which is perfect, because it says you care about the planet without actually doing anything. It’s a lifestyle badge. Men, middle-class men especially, are trained to measure success by the car we drive. Say the words “new car.” It’s like a power totem. I’ve owned one new car, and it is a money pit. There’s not a day I don’t miss my old Mustang convertible, which was actually more reliable. It was decent enough for me, and it had character. So you’re a working joe and you spend a weekend now and then keeping your truck or your Honda running. It runs, right? That’s what a car is supposed to do, not define you.
Playing cards, because hey man, guys have to have poker night! It’s in all those movies. And finally, “something that says I leave my place once in a while.” So are you trying to be a man, or convince a date that you’re not a serial killer? Has it gotten that bad, that young men need to be told that they should have more than one towel, and put sheets on the mattress? I really hope not. In fact, I know not. Most of the young guys I know who are hitting 30 have a decent car, if they can afford one. They may own every lightsaber ever made, but they also had matching plates in the cabinets before a girlfriend moved in. This list is some crap you email “that guy.” It was written as clickbait by someone who reads men’s magazines and doesn’t realize that those “must” lists are there to please advertisers, and don’t really mean anything.
I have been accused of overreacting, but this article was the final straw. Entire magazines are devoted to making us think we can “buy” manhood. So let me give you a list that requires no monetary expenditure. Because being a man is not about being a consumer, it is about being a decent human being.
So let me give you a list that requires no monetary expenditure.
To be a self-respecting man, you need:
1. Achievements that build your self-confidence so you can judge yourself without comparison to others. For me, it was mixed martial arts. Chess would have been fine. Card magic, too. Baseball, running, crossword puzzles, Scrabble. It does not matter, really. Self-respect is built upon struggling to succeed. Not buying shoes.
2. Principles. Preferably ones that don’t set off bells on the psychopath test. A couple of mine are: a) protecting those who cannot protect themselves from bullies and abusers b) treating people as I would like to be treated and c) judging myself, and others by our behavior. Having principles and a cause to fight for gives your life purpose. It anchors you independently of job, family, philosophy, religion or politics. When you have a crisis of faith in any of these areas, your principles will be your rock. Get some.
3. Someone who calls you friend. Once people know you can be relied on because you have principles and self-respect, this should not be a problem. Family is optional. You can choose the people you call family. You can choose a partner or go it alone. You can have children or not. You can love your blood family or leave them behind if they are only a source of pain. You can do any of these things and still be a self-respecting man. It is not my place or anyone else’s to decide this for you. Do you “deserve” to be loved or admired? A principled man who treats people well will find like-minded people, if he perseveres. But it won’t be everybody. Principles also have a habit of making you enemies.
4. A life. Life is all about compromise. We don’t want to admit that. We’ve been sold a bill of goods, that we can have everything. That’s just to keep you working past 70 and spending it all on watches, suits, and stocks. Do not let someone else, even me, define what a successful life means to you. It’s something you have to figure out yourself, once you get better at seeing things objectively, and forgetting all the sales pitches you’ve ingested as wisdom over the years. A great life is comprised of wins and losses. Struggle. You may never catch Hemingway’s marlin, or marry the love of your life, or be the 3001st person to climb Everest. But the struggles will be the stories you tell, the ones others keep telling. They sure as hell won’t be saying you always had a set of cards on you and a hinged wine bottle opener.
5. A skeptical attitude toward anyone who says you have to buy anything to “be a man.” Want to be a man? Act like a man. Sometimes it sucks: to get what you want, you often have to do things you don’t wanna do. It can be hard. But you know who whines about it?
Photo: The Futuristics / flickr