In raising his son, Alex Barnett wonders, “What does a hunter-gatherer do when there’s no hunt?”
My wife and I have a 3 year old son. As his dad, my job, among other things, is to teach him how to be a man.
Confession: I’m not sure what that really means.
I know that it involves holding doors open for people, accepting responsibility, respecting others, taking care of family, and watching football on Sundays. But, I have this nagging suspicion that there’s more to it. There has to be. Because I know plenty of women who do all of the above, and they are still very feminine.
One thing is for sure – my daily schedule provides little guidance on what it takes to be a man. Most days, I sit in front of a computer writing or researching (aka Facebooking or Tweeting) or sending email. When I’m not doing that, I’m on the phone. When I’m not doing that, I’m usually grazing on some sort of gluten-free, dairy free, wheat free, high-fiber energy bar so that I don’t get so bloated and weighted down that I can’t keep computing and phone-calling. I don’t think any of that is particularly “manly.” Honestly, there’s really nothing I do all day that can’t be done by a woman, except maybe go to the bathroom standing up, and I’m pretty sure there are some women who’ve done that.
So, again, I come back to the question of how I’m going to teach my son to be a man when it’s not even entirely clear that I am one or really know what being one entails.
And, then, recently, I overheard my wife talking to one of her friends and commenting on how she and I play very differently with our son. When she plays with him, they gravitate toward things that are stationary and require patience and concentration. They work on puzzles. They color. They build ornate Lego models (with tiny little pieces that I keep stepping on barefoot to my great consternation).
I do some of that as well, but as often as not when my son and I play it’s like a scaled-down UFC cage fight. We run. We jump. We wrestle. We laugh the whole time because it’s fun and funny, but make no mistake, we’re giving it all we’ve got.
And, then it hit me, there’s a reason that my playtime with my son is like recess run amok. It’s because somewhere in our DNA, we’re still hunter-gatherers. That’s what we were built for. That’s what we’re hard-wired to do. And without even knowing it, I’m helping my son develop the traits he needs for that job: strength, agility, balance, toughness, eye-hand coordination, anticipation of where or how his combatant and/or prey may maneuver.
Only problem is, in today’s world, where you literally can obtain all of life’s necessities online or at WalMart, there’s really not much left to hunt for, except for maybe a job with health insurance and an answer to the question of what makes a man a man when you don’t need to be a man to do the jobs men do in today’s world.
Yes, I know, procreation. You need a man to create babies (at least you do for a little while longer, till scientists create sperm in a laboratory and render men completely obsolete).
But besides that, what is the meaning of a man? What is his purpose? How can I teach my son to grow up to be better at this job than I am if I don’t even know what the heck it is our job description is? What need is there to raise a hunter-gatherer in a fast-food world? What does a hunter-gatherer do when there’s no hunt?
Here’s one thought: relieved of the obligation to track down a Buffalo to feed the ten people in his cave or the 50 people in the huts nearby, maybe today’s hunter-gatherer should hunt for ways to improve the world. He should gather information and education and knowledge and then hunt for opportunities to improve the world, to reduce suffering, to lift up the downtrodden, given voice to the voiceless, provide strength to the weak, and represent the disenfranchised.
Yeah, I know. Sickening, wide-eyed, idealistic b.s. But, part of me wants to believe all that. Otherwise, I’m just raising another guy who will grow up to believe that being a man means video games and fantasy football, lifting weights, lost weekends in Vegas, and doing a million and one things that could be fodder for the next Hangover movie because he needs to fill up his schedule with stuff, because he doesn’t really need to hunt and gather anymore.