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How I Met Your Father | 2012 | First Reading


But we are all men, in our own natures frail, and capable of our flesh; few are angels...  

-William Shakespeare


Disband of Brothers

I have loved a few men. The proportions are skewed, something like ten women to every man, and that is being quite optimistic. Modern American society is so puritanically pent-up that mentioning you don't downright hate another man has to be followed up by a hearty "No homo!", as though being gay is the worst possible plague that can be visited upon a man. (As a digression, one of my favorite writers is gay, as well as being a man who would be among my best friends if we discovered our affinity when we saw each other socially rather than as dueling status updates.)

I feel I need men much less than I do women - women, after all, are to me the givers and recipients of kisses - so their worth must be that much greater for me to bother getting to know them. As was too often the case in my teenage years, a few dozen kisses and a misplaced bra let me see much of the girl in question. After the hormones fizzled, we could see about being proper friends (and some remain to this day). These express avenues are patently closed off to heterosexual men, who rarely wear bras.

I know I am wrong to feel I don't need other men. Most men do. Without any male friends, I feel slightly adrift and surly, some innate character in my soul left fallow by lack of proper company. I need someone who can understand and appreciate what I experience as a man, though possibly as an unconventional one. Being male has with it a collection of knowledge that cannot fully be translated to women (nor do I expect a woman could sit me down and have me grok what being a woman truly means, no matter how long we sat). I grew up with two brothers and a father and so I came to expect there would always be a man in my vicinity who would have some idea what I was going through, something that was certainly not the case outside my parents' home.

It is no coincidence that, years ago when two of my male friends near simultaneously left the area, I found Daniel. I explicitly sought him (or a comparable man) out on a social networking/dating site to fill a role that would otherwise have been left vacant, possibly to this day. Even then, the first few messages exchanged were to affirm that neither one of us wanted anything to do with penises, aside from our own. Then he showed up at an event I was attending and asked Melanie and me if we wanted coffee. It is a rare man brave enough to do that.

Daniel is, at present, my only dedicated male friend, but he is enough. With him, as with few people of either gender, I can still work or read and feel our time together is well spent. Months can go by where I see him every weekend and it is perfect. I barely notice it is different, because it is never grating. If I do not see him for a while, that is fine too, because I know he is still available when there is something he might enjoy doing with Amber and me. I know that, barring unforeseen circumstances, he will likely be the best man at my wedding and that I will continue to know him for a long while and persist in holding him in high regard.

His presence in my life is especially good because I don't know how to make male friends organically. I no longer attend classes, there are few chances to bond at my job, I am not interested in team sports. It is a rare man indeed who can walk up to a stranger and comment on a book he is reading without seeming as though he is flirting.

Thus being a man today can be lonely work. There is no military draft to justify close bonds we are wired to want from our brothers in gender. Instead, all men are reduced to competition for the head of a pack that does not exist. To me, most men register as threats to be defended against or avoided. Men are the ones who think it clever to honk their car horns and scream out of windows when I am walking with Amber. Men are the ones who glare and objectify people I care about, who are so easily threatened on the internet that they turn immediately to sexual epithets and threats of rape. Men are violent and perverse in a far higher proportion. So I assume the worst of men until they show me their best. I all but bristle at being labeled masculine, even as I intellectually know that that adjective can contain positive qualities. Yet I can't cut myself off from men, as I am one of them and have no issue with how I definite the word. (To me, men are the half of humanity that tends toward facial hair, more upper body strength, and - for the most part - male gonads. All else is optional variation on a theme.)

Those few males who manage to evade my distaste exist almost to prove that there can be exceptions. Though men are as free to chose what gender means as women are, too many see it as a rigid binary. Blame the patriarchy, but many let themselves be dictated to by beer ads and CBS sitcoms, lacquering this irritation of their souls until they can pretend it is a lump of limestone (since pearls have to be feminine, as they are rounded and lustrous). They can't be compassionate or intelligent. They are incapable of seeing beauty. They can't read and write. They certainly cannot keep themselves clean, healthy, and content, since they are supposed to be slovenly twits who need surrogate mommies to even remember to get up in the morning. They can't do anything but sexually harass and punch things. How could I be friends with a cardboard cutout of someone else's inadequacies, even if I wanted to? How can I relate to perpetual adolescents stuck in the "girls have cooties and I need to hit them to get their attention" phase?

But, of course, we aren't supposed to admit this to one another, since everyone else is competition. We are told that being silent is "being a man" so we simply don't know how bad off we are and how our neighbor maybe wants to talk about his divorce. We may want to scream out "yes, I want to care, I feel alone" but so many of us buy into the societal training that having emotions, having needs and wants beyond the material, invalidates being men.

Homosocial male friendships were not always this way, even in America. I have read of romantic friendships, of men unafraid to admit that they like other people cursed with the sin of masculinity and no one assuming this said anything about their sexuality or power (though, the eye of modernity likes to retroactively label these men homosexuals). Caring for another person - no matter their chromosomal impediment - proves strength, not weakness, something I sincerely wish more men still believed.

Soon in Xenology: A reading. Christina. Amber.

last watched: The Walking Dead
reading: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
listening: The Sundays

How I Met Your Father | 2012 | First Reading

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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