Stephen Michell knows that being a man means taking action. But what action shows your brother that you love him, and that you’ll miss him when he leaves?
My brother and I seldom fight. He recently moved out west to Vancouver. In the days before he left, it seemed a popular question for people to ask, “Are you going to miss him?” I thought about that. More importantly, I thought about how I was going to tell him that I would miss him. Should I just say it straight? Should I say nothing? Or should I, perhaps, fight him? These are a man’s three options.
I have “fought” my brother twice. First in grade four when he stole my Halloween candy and I confronted him and he punched me in the eye and I ran away, but then we were very young. Then there was the night on the beach, and we had been drinking, and we started arguing about the politics of Rwanda, thinking we understood, both of us believing we were right, and then I got angry and tackled him and he pinned me down and I ran away. We have not fought since. Certainly, we quarrel, disagreements, moments of dislike for one reason or another, but nothing major. Yet.
I know of other brothers who fought constantly as children. Guys who beat each other up, stole from one another, avowed true brotherly hatred, and I’ll admit I have said the same of my brother in the past, “Oh, I really hate him,” but it was only talk. It seems, however, perfectly natural that brothers will fight. Even that we are supposed to fight, that fighting is how men ‘bond’. Following such a view, I am inclined to wonder whether my brother and I have simply not bonded yet, not truly, as brothers and men should. We have yet to express the true nature of a male relationship—violence.
Recently, I watched the film Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, an animated children’s film, ostensibly. The film features a ‘modern-family’ of prehistoric animals, of which the two main men are a mammoth named Manny and a sabre-toothed tiger named Diego. There is a part at the beginning of the film when Diego and Manny get into a disagreement, and Manny asks his wife, Ellie, for advice:
Ellie: You should talk to him.
Manny: Guys don’t talk to guys about guy problems. We just punch each other on the shoulders.
Ellie: That’s stupid.
Then later, when Manny does in fact punch Diego on the shoulder, Diego says, “Why’d you do that?” Manny says, “I don’t know.” Guys don’t talk to guys about guy problems. Here, Manny is wrong, and the film does well to eventually prove that, but still the notion that men are naturally unable, or otherwise socially prohibited, from communicating beyond a physical, violent expression seems evident as a common conception.
Violence! A dangerous word. What is violence? A friendly punch on the shoulder is not violent, nor is two young brothers wrestling in the yard, nor one brother saying, “I hate you!” These actions and feelings are habitual and normal. But perhaps violence permeates somewhere within, a vein of the violent traced in the thinking. Men do not talk about man things, therefore communicating is not a man thing, a man thing is isolated, strong, and reserved, a man thing uses his hands—he fights.
Well, what if I choose not to fight? How can a man express affection or compassion for another man without the thinking of violence permeating the communication.
This question, I think, is linked to the “idea” of a man more generally, and how that idea is informed and maintained in society. Almost everyone, I would bet, has at one point or another heard someone say, “Be a man!” A statement that implies that a ‘man’ should be able to act a certain way that is correct regarding some action or duty. It is this concern with ‘manly action’ that is crucial, because it is never far removed from notions of strength, courage, physical capacity, the ability to provide, protect, and be productive. For some reason—it may be easier to understand if we consider primitive human conditions—the role of violence tends also to be associated with the idea of ‘manly action’. Perhaps because men were, probably, the hunters in primitive societies, men were warriors, men acted violently because the conditions of life demanded it. There was no time to stop and talk, while you were trying to throw a spear.
The idea of man is an idea of action. A physical reality, not emotional, not even intellectual, at its root. But herein lies the problem. As an idea of action, the ‘man’ is necessarily driven to act first, and locate cause or justification later. Manny punches Diego in the shoulder—an action. But he is ignorant of his action’s cause—he wanted to talk about how he felt. The result being that the emotional or intellectual reason or cause of a man’s actions becomes secondary to the action, and therefore devalued, demoted, and oftentimes entirely ignored or repressed.
Now consider this when the cause of action is the feeling of love, let’s say my love for my brother. I want to tell him that I am going to miss him. I think about it. I wonder how I will act. Maybe I say it straight. Maybe I fight him. In either case, my love has become the justification for an action, instead of the action itself. The feeling of love, the impulse to communicate, has been subjected to a violence that is inherent within the notion of a ‘man’ as first a physical force.
I don’t want to be violent. And perhaps it’s ingrained through centuries of custom and habit, and inescapable. Or perhaps it is nothing more than a choice. A recognition and awareness of myself as first a force of thinking. I love my brother. We seldom fight and that’s because we’re great friends. I’m going to miss him very much. Then I act. I walk across the room and tell him. And if I’m lucky, he’ll say he’ll miss me too, and then maybe we will laugh and punch each other’s shoulders.
Lead Photo: Flickr/lorenkerns