I had an interesting discussion with my friend Pastor Rob at the pub the other night. "Ha!" you scoff. "How could an irreverent agnostic like Dave have a discussion with a Man of Faith?" And I will admit, dedicated reader, that this is not a bad snap judgement on your part, as perhaps you overheard some of my previous "debates" with Pastor Rob and wonder if I could hold a serious-- or even semi-serious-- discussion with a someone religious about a weighty matter. I am here to set the record straight.
For a few minutes, anyway, as long as I get to make some jokes.
So the good pastor and I were discussing how there is no codified passage to manhood for Americans. Other cultures have these rites of passage-- if you're Native American, you smoke some drugs, sweat in a lodge, fast, go wander around the woods, and hallucinate. You come back from your vision quest with a cool new name and you are considered a man. If you're an American, then this process of doing drugs and wandering around is called college. You eventually graduate, but you are by no means considered a man. You don't even have a job.
If you want to do a vision quest in modern America, you've got to invent your own. Perhaps you do an Outward Bound trip. Perhaps you wrestle the "Shute" and make out with Linda Fiorentino. If you're Amish and you want to sow your wild oats, you have the option of participating in Rumspringa, a sort of organized period of adolescent rebellion. If you want to learn more about this, watch the documentary Devil's Playground. You'll see Amish kids partying down and hooking up. Then, after this archetypal period of separation and transition, they often return to their culture . . . and they are considered adults.
We have rituals in America that are supposed to indicate manhood: Bar Mitvah, confirmation, getting your driver's license, fraternity hazing, killing a Crip, basic training, graduation, your first tattoo, and losing your virginity in a whorehouse to Shelley Long, but I don't think people really believe in these rituals, I don't think that people believe that the man who has undergone one of these events is now ready for the responsibilities as an adult.. The religious events happen too early, and the rest are too various, inconsistent, illegal, and idiotic. While I'm not suggesting that we need something as extreme as the Hunger Games, it would be nice if there were some clear way to know when you are a man. I'm not totally against the old tradition of bringing your son to the local brothel, but since prostitution isn't legal here, it poses a problem. Now in Switzerland, where the price of sexual services is in a free fall because of the influx of French prostitutes, this would be a wonderful option. But we are more Puritanical in America, and in the modern world, I'm not sure if losing your virginity is enough. These days, there are so many other things to master besides sex, and most of them are far more difficult. What about obtaining a mortgage? Changing your oil? Refinancing that mortgage you obtained? Talking jive?
Oddly, women don't seem to have a problem determining when that have "come of age." They just know. It probably has something to do with menstruation. That and something I like to call common sense. Most women have it. Most men don't. So we need something physical and tangible and public and recognized. It's hard for modern men. It's not like the old days. In the old days, things were simple. You put on a big helmet with horns, rowed to another country, went berserker, and then made some fuck with the foreign ladies. You were a man.
Sports help to channel this. I never feel more manly then when I'm snowboarding down a steep mountain, or sweating profusely during a game of soccer or hoops. And I feel like a man afterwards as well, as I limp around the house, weary and bruised. But my wife couldn't give a shit. Unless you're getting paid for it, no one besides you cares that you play.
And so you need a host of other skills to be considered a modern man. You must be able to change a diaper. Survive a nut shot with grace and aplomb. Pass gas politely and surreptitiously in the office. Talk about gay sex without giggling. Say the word "duty" without giggling. Say the word "panties" without giggling. Say the word "menstruation" without giggling. Basically, you've got to stop giggling.
It's an impossible task, to figure out how and when a modern American is a man. I don't have an answer to this, and I've lost my way in this post. I've written my way into a corner. I was thinking about some sort of obstacle course, to be completed when you turn thirty-one years of age, but I don't know what kind of obstacles to place on it. Some should be physical, others mental, and others tedious-- I imagine-- but I've run out of good ideas. Maybe this generation of men will just wallow in their juvenelia forever.
On that note, I'm going to get drunk with the rest of the G:TB staff (except for Mark, we'll miss you) and meet Gheorghe Muresan, and perhaps try to explain to him the meta nature of our relationship. This doesn't sound very manly at all, but it will be fun.