Sometimes I think too much about stuff, but sometimes, I realize that it’s not so much overthinking as it is a “taking stock” sort of thing.
So I read Nick Offerman’s 2013 “memoir” Paddle Your Own Canoe, his first book, and while a lot of the more casual humor has Offerman’s obviously best-known for being the comically-stupid libertarian (redundant) city bureaucrat and hypermasculine Ron Swanson from TV, but a lot of that character is elements of himself wrought unto flesh, though reading about his college and early 20’s he definitely comes across far more like a punk/stoner-type who threw himself into theater and liberal arts with abandon, reinforcing the latticework of his own almost-cliche homespun machismo/masculinity with support beams of humor, love, drugs, art, and culture. He’s such an interesting person to read and listen to (I like having his casual interviews and book readings queued up because of his tone and personality, it’s just…fun…to listen to).
Offerman’s sort of created this persona that nowadays seems to have created (or at least validated in pop culture eyes) a model of masculine that embraces not only art and open-mindedness, but also allows space for what might be considered conventionally-masculine and “macho” things, the kinds of things you’d see almost eschewed by people who are bucking against conventional and conservative masculinity.
I gotta say, I dig it a little.
If I try to think about my own models for being a man, it’s hard. My father and I have a relationship both very complex but also sorta surface, in that we care deeply for each other but never show it. We can always rely on each other, but most of the time our interactions are about baseball or how work is going. I’ll more easily admit to being a momma’s boy and going to her first most of the time growing up, even though she was traditionaly the disciplinarian growing up, so I always saw her as running the ship, so to speak.
Of course, throwing myself into punk rock and art and music and rebelling against a family rooted deeply in being a very traditional one to remember its immigrant and refugee roots, I hated dude stuff. I hated that I sucked at physical stuff and hated doing it because it felt so “macho,” like sports in school, helping family fix stuff, any kind of physical labor. It was a weird and stupid combination of self-loathing, laziness, and a conscious decision to not be “a jock.”
What the fuck was wrong with me?
Anyway as I’ve gotten older and shed all these dumb notions about what teenagers and young men in particular should or shouldn’t do (partially as I grow to hate dumb absolutes of subculture and partially because I’m lazy and it’s hard to maintain) I’ve been developing my own sense of and definitions around what it means to be a “man,” which is a weird precarious thing, being that I’m white and straight and so much of masculinity is awful but also works hard to be catered especially towards me. I’ve comfortably been settled into my own skin finally in the last couple of years (hitting my 30’s was amazing) that allows me to indulge in traditionally “macho” things I enjoy but still maintaining my own interests in very non-macho stuff, threading a path through masculinity to hit the good stuff on the map and avoid the toxic traps that I feel like, honestly, I skirted against dangerously as a teenager (like the whole “nice guy” trope was a thing I indulged in as a body-self conscious teenage boy who was shy and anxious around the opposite sex…until I learned better).
It’s a model that I’m proud of, a model I’m comfortable in…and a model that because at times I know appears conventionally traditional, can sort of not scream “I’m not a conventionally masculine male” in public, or even in the circles in which I’ve run growing up (or even now). So it’s interesting to see someone relatively famous (at least to me) be so open about it and how their acceptance of that as being an acceptable standard of masculinity and a celebrated one, nevermind a celebrated model of humanity in an arguably classical humanist way*.
I’m married now, we just got back from our honeymoon two weeks ago, and while I know that honestly it didn’t really change anything about my relationship with my significant other, myself, and the world, it did make me think about being “a man” and being “a husband,” simply because as a man, shaking off the burden of having to be the strong one, and as a husband having to be the “provider”, is rough.
It’s real rough, and despite all my self-identified liberalism and nonconforming ideas about self, about society, and about gender roles’ danger to personal mental health, it’s hard to not be hard on yourself about that kind of stuff. Thinking back, I probably, honestly, beat myself up about something related to that every couple of months. It’s just a moment, a bad day, a rough week or a stack of bills just coming out of nowhere. It’s realizing that maybe the plan the two of you were aiming for has to be adjusted, which is fine because logically that’s how life goes, and just feeling a little bit gutted because maybe if you were “more of a provider” it wouldn’t have to be like that, it’d be one less thing for your partner to have to think about, nevermind worry about. I don’t want her to worry, and I don’t want her to have to take on more burdens.
I’m getting better though at recognizing that life isn’t just a series of burdens for a man to shoulder. It’s a hiking path to explore, and a path that works better when you don’t have to carry most of the gear yourself. That’s my model of masculinity.
We split carrying the sandwiches.
*) I hate discussing personal beliefs and religions, with my own in particular being such a nebulous thing that retches at modern atheism but still was emboldened by agnostic thought…mixed with the inevitable theological education classic literature ends up instilling in you almost by accident. Humanism has ultimately been the best way to describe it, though in recent years that term has been transformed for the worst through chronic and at times, deliberate misuse…which again brings me back to a place of not being able to actually have a way to describe myself. Ugh…