The more boisterous aspects of manhood have never been interesting to me. As much as I enjoy the occasional action movie, the big guy with the muscle arms and the massive chest has never been the guy that I’ve been attracted to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to look at a well chiseled man (I mean, have you seen Channing Tatum? Have you seen him!?!?!), I’m just saying that I know that he’s ultimately not my type. We’re bombarded with imagery of the “manly man”–he’s hyper violent, hyper sexualized, hyper unattainable. I saw a story on NBC about young men being the new group of people suffering from eating disorders–they are hanging out at the gym, they are eating protein supplements, they are trying to bulk up to be that guy. This might not go over well, but I think that men have it just as bad as women do when it comes to body image. The images that men get are unbelievable: Be Brad Pit/David Beckham with that ridiculously sexy “V”! Be sensitive and attentive like Bruno Mars! Have a beautiful accent and a gentle heart and an eternal tan like Mathew McConaughey! Be a man’s man, suave and cool like George Clooney! But, you know, play sports like Eli Manning! Maybe fix stuff from time to time? While women are bombarded with a small set of standard body/beauty images, men are given a lot of choices in regards to how to identify and present themselves, each of them presenting a difficult challenge of attainment. While it is true that once a man chooses his identity and his presentation he doesn’t seem to be under the same scrutiny as a woman is, his labors are no less arduous.
I realize that my sons’ journey toward identity, self image, and self fulfillment is a path that they will have to walk alone. The only thing that I can do is surround them with great men who will help serve as positive images to stand up to a backdrop of ridiculous imagery that will be thrown at them via television, movies, video games and commercials.
On Monday, I wrote about my father and began to build up the comparisons between him and my husband. But there are so many more men who we meet in our lives, men who are of constant presence (our uncles, sometimes our pastors), transience (friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, professors), and men who we encounter briefly but who have a way of staying with us (characters in books/movies, a celebrity crush, a first real crush). In some ways, every person we encounter in life makes an impact.
My dear uncle and his wonderful partner are the two people that come to mind first when I think about quiet voices who make major impacts. My uncle is a worry-wart–a man who, in the days of AOL, would always write a new email whenever he wanted to talk to us because he didn’t know where the “reply” button was. The big running joke is that he couldn’t set his VCR so no one could rely on him to tape their favorite shows when they were on vacation. A long time journalist in Maryland, I remember growing up listening to him and my mother talk about major news stories and swap gossip between newsrooms. I remember fun random trips to concerts in Baltimore, the Inner Harbor and its attractions. He always tells the story of taking my sister and I out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and us boldly ordering calamari as if it wasn’t a big deal, and of course, Sheryl Temples to wash them down. I guess we busted his bank that night.
Unfortunately, my uncle never had children of his own. He and his partner found each other later in life. They’ve sort of adopted my sister, lavishing her with free dinner and stuff (and I always wonder why I wasn’t so privileged when I was living in Baltimore!). They have also adopted my sons. My uncle has basically dedicated a wall in his office to pictures of them. They started college funds for them and regularly contribute to them, generously (and thank you, Jesus, because we surely can’t!). They are constantly asking about what they are doing, how they are feeling. Lord knows, I can’t utter a single complaint about lack of sleep or frustration, because they are absolutely perfect in the eyes of those two men. My sons have the greatest Great Uncles in the entire world.
Thinking about it, my uncle and his partner have taught me a lot about bravery without ever uttering a word about their very personal experiences about being gay in America. Being Black, Gay, and from a small town during the 50s, 60s, and 70s (not to mention the 80s, which was scary for altogether different reasons) must have required an immeasurable amount of courage, patience and grace. I don’t think that I’ll ever know the range of emotions that he went through during his youth, but I’m grateful that he came out the other side as the man who he is. His partner, a fantastic White man who has traveled the world and recently retired from nursing, is the perfect match for him: Super handy, very involved with community, quirky, hilarious, strong and consistent. Their partnership has been a wonderful blueprint for my own with my husband. I’m grateful that, though my parent’s marriage ultimately failed, the other marriages and partnerships around me have been enduring.
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are going to see a lot of images of manhood from sources outside of our nuclear family. I’m glad that my uncles are around for a very nuanced examples. Their stories and lessons will probably be the ones that will echo much later in life and I think that is beautiful.
I hope that you’ll consider the “other” men in your life today. The ones who made an impact on your life but who are outside of your nuclear family. Though they may not receive a card from you this Sunday, they deserve a moment of fond remembrance.
Happy Wednesday! And Happy Loving Day to my many readers who are also in interracial relationships!