The Slow Heart of Manhood

I’ve been away, you see.

While I was gone, I thought a lot about nerds and cool kids, and attraction; about what it means to be “in” in someone else’s mind. A good deal of that time was spent reflecting on school days long past. One thing that I realized was that my place in that “in” space–popular–hasn’t changed very much; not at work or anywhere else. I’m still the kid who merits interest or respect, but isn’t popular. If I show up at a party people think that speaks well of the person throwing the party, but they don’t take a particular liking to me.

From first grade to high school graduation I attended eight different schools. Each of those were in different districts, if not cities and states. (I never matriculated from one school to the next, so those mundane changes in schools don’t factor into my whirlwind tour of public…ah…education.) That pressure of being the perpetual new kid molded me to prefer gaining acceptance by working rather than networking because it’s a helluva lot easier to demonstrate competence during one school year, than it is to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids–or even the nerdy kids. Besides, why bother when another move is imminent?

Clothes, attitudes, hang-outs, etc. are things you can choose (Game), and they can make you cool; which is to say “to exist within acceptable social boundaries”. Within those outer social boundaries is the popular–attractive–group. Only others can make you popular or respected. It’s a truth that cool kids are more often liked (than are nerds) but they are separate things and you get no say in the matter other than how you present yourself. They don’t even know who you are; only that you’re not them. We don’t get to choose to be liked (attractive) to others, but you can move yourself into within those boundaries by avoiding conspicuously anti-social behavior.I mean anti-social in the sense of not meeting the minimum requirements of polite behavior.

So, dress your behavior for success.

The demonstration (presentation) of good work won’t make you popular, but it is hard to beat when it comes to earning respect. You can dislike the new kid who starts offense and defense, but you can’t ignore him. The coaches favorite isn’t going to like it when he loses a rotation on the pitching mound to the new guy, but if we win, what is he going to say? When the history teacher says,

“Take your notes, Johnny.”

“That’s not fair, Mr. History. Cane never takes notes.”

“Cane gets 100 on every test. You don’t.”

That’s not going to win you a lot of friends, but it does tend to elevate your status regardless of their feelings. The cool kids who were accomplished tended to appreciate my talents, and therefore me. They already had all the affirmation they needed, so they weren’t concerned if I didn’t offer more. It’s the normal kids that struggled year after year, and game after class who tended to resent me. That’s still how I operate: “Regardless of others’ feelings.” Not because I think they’re unimportant, but because there is nothing I can do about them, and no time even if I did. “The end is near”, warns the Book. That goes for all things.

So, dress your work for success, now.

Plenty of people are less than thrilled about spending their careers with me, but they feel better that I’m there. They assume we’re going to “win” now–and with very few exceptions we usually do. Still… I have these conversations with average co-workers; like last week, just before boarding a plane.

“…I think he’s a nice guy.”

“Nice guy? What an awful thing to say.”

“No it’s not! It means-”

“I know what it means. It means you find him pleasing, or should find him pleasing; because he’s non-threatening.”

“Well…yeah.”

“That’s a horrible place to be stranded, socially. I hope no one says that about me.”

“I don’t think there’s any danger of that, Cane.”

His tone was less than salutatory, because he could suss out what I was saying: “I don’t care if you find me pleasing or not.” What a rude thing to say! Except it’s not. Only assholes go around thinking, “People should please me, and if they can’t they should try to make me think they are.” The stuffiness he detected was the feel of his own sphincter tightening on his neck. A lot of people are so constricted.

My father was the one constant person that I tried to please, and, still, when I need to do something that I don’t feel like doing I’m very likely to utter a proverb of his before I engage in whatever thing it is that I don’t want to do: fire someone (Mess with the bull, you get the horns.) get up early (If you hoot with the owls, then you scream with the eagles.), admit and fix a mistake (If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.). My appreciation of work is his appreciation of work. Those two concepts are inseparable in my mind, and just like when I was a child they are all I try to please. Between childhood and some years ago, I tried to please my wife, and when that didn’t work I tried to please myself. That went as badly as trying to please her. When things became clear was when I said to us, “I don’t care what you or I want: This is where we’re going because this is where my father** told me we are supposed to go. If you want to follow me, get in line.”

When I look around the Manosphere, he and his kind are what I don’t notice. The absence of dads is palpable in the comments, and in the posts that generate the comments. Even if they are physically there, they’re undercut by the culture (their wives and the law), and they are unsupported (because there are few of their kind). Stalks in a field can resist the wind better than one can alone. We all suffer because our friends and neighbors dads are missing. No earthly father is perfect, and we learn from other fathers as well as our own…when we can find them, and when they still act like men.

My son, Gus, misses me more than his sisters do, when I’m gone. He’s five, and asks Mrs. Caldo about it like five-year olds do; not stupidly repetitious, but prodding to see if Mom’s story is consistent. Does she really know what’s going on, and is she telling the truth? He’s concerned because he really feels like I ought to be home a lot sooner than ten days, eight days, six days, five days, four days…

Because Mrs. Caldo misses me like he does, she told me a story about Gus and Liz. She said Gus was laying on the floor, using our old boxer Clives as a pillow, and petting him. Liz said, in that girly innocence that strikes boys as obvious and condescending, but is meant as an attempt to connect:

“Do you like Clives, Gus?”

“Yeah, he’s awesome. You know, like Dad’s awesome.”

It’s self-evident to him, and my dad’s greatness was self-evident to me, too. “I’m disappointed in you, son.” was a grievous thing for me to hear as a boy, and often started me sobbing. That separation from his goodness was worse than a whipping, which I would happily have taken if it would close the distance.

After the conversation with the co-worker, we boarded the plane and I tried to sleep. I could only manage about an hour of it. When I woke up, I put on my headphones, and listened to Mumford and Sons latest album. The third song, “I Will Wait” is a radio hit…which is quite a shock, to me. The first verse is the singer speaking to his wife:

And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

That’s refreshing in the pop music world, but common enough not to warrant scrutiny. But starting with the following chorus through to the end of the song, the singer is addressing the new sun.

But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you

My hunch is that nearly everyone hears something else. They take this as a song about a man relying and waiting on his woman. Only the artist can say definitively, but I can’t hear it. He’s clearly relieved to see his wife, and to let her support him, but his desire is for the one who forgives; who tethers minds free from lies, and paints spirits gold.

So there I was: 30,000 feet in the air, hurtling through space and time zones. Everyone around me was corded up to their seats and watching the in-flight movie while I mouthed the words to a pop song and cried. There are precious few persons in our lives worth such emotional outbursts. If they are concerned whether we–individually–are cool or attractive: they’re not one of them. Wives should not be critical of their husbands’ attractiveness, but if they are, then they are. Do not spend on them. Remember: It’s what you do that matters. Nobody cares what you feel, or who you are because they can never really feel or know you anyway. Even you don’t know who you are; except that you are not another.

So, dress your heart for success, now. In other words: Slow your roll, playa.

*A difficult example of this is virginity. In our libertine times, virginity is anti-social. The best response is something like, “It’s complicated”, or, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

**Sadly he did not go there himself, but that’s his problem to work out.

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23 thoughts on “The Slow Heart of Manhood

  1. I’ve been lurking for a while, Cane, but I wanted to delurk and say that this really resonated for me today. I’m worrying myself to death over whether I’m going to make a good impression on the neighbors today, like any woman does, but you make a good point that you can’t control what other people feel and think. You can only prompt them.

    Good post, as usual!

  2. It’s self-evident to him, and my dad’s greatness was self-evident to me, too. “I’m disappointed in you, son.” was a grievous thing for me to hear as a boy, and often started me sobbing.

    I remember feeling devastated when my father said that to me, and he only said it once.

    That’s still how I operate: “Regardless of others’ feelings.” Not because I think they’re unimportant, but because there is nothing I can do about them, and no time even if I did. “The end is near”, warns the Book. That goes for all things.

    My husband looks at things this way, never having been much of a people pleaser. He’s never even gone out of his way to please me and somehow he does.

    This post meanders, but it’s a lovely journey you take your reader on. It offers a lot of food for thought.

  3. Nice reflection there, Cane. Some good food for thought.

    I remember practically the same conversation from middle school, except it was Mrs. English and “it’s not fair that Zach gets to read in class while we have to pay attention and take notes!”

    The answer “if you can get an A in this class while reading what you feel like, you’re free to do so too” didn’t win me much popularity, either. But it felt good anyway.

    peace,
    Zach

  4. @Sigyn

    Thanks. I didn’t think I had lurkers. Good luck with dinner!

    @Elspeth

    That was a kind way of saying this post isn’t very good. Don’t worry: You’re right. It was over 2,000 words and I kept thinking of different directions to go… Finally, I just cut out 500 words, rearranged another 1,000, and called it a day. An editor would have rejected it, and had me split it into several posts. There’s a book’s worth to say about the topic.

    @Zach

    To you as well.

    English class… I was two years ahead in English. When we read Morte d’Arthur my teacher really seemed to enjoy it. Stupidly, I brought in a couple books to show her…not the class. She turned it into an impromptu session of show-n-tell. My social stock plummeted in that class, but it was a good lesson that I never forgot.

  5. @Elspeth

    I yield to your judgment, and thank you for the kind words.

    Relevant magazine is complaining about Mumford’s statement??? I agreed with the article, but I am surprised at the source! They’re part of the “emergent church” movement; some of which is heresy (by Nicene Creed standards).

  6. No offense, but I don’t get the Mumford popularity. From what little I’ve heard, they seem to repeat a “fast song template” and a “slow song template” over and over. I’m a much bigger fan of Sufjan Stevens, though I don’t get into some of his weirder stuff (especially electronica). He’s insanely talented, though, and covers many different genres.

  7. @John

    Mumford and Sons are pretty good Americana; you know…for bloody Englishmen. I’m a sucker for Americana and other Y’all-ternative music.

    I’ll check out Sufjan. Never ‘eard of ‘im.

  8. I’d suggest “Come On Feel the Illinoise,” which is the only thing I own by him. “Michigan” and “Seven Swans” also have some good material.

    I’m with you on alt-country stuff (if they still call it that). I like most of it, including a Mumford song every now and then.

  9. Not sure what to say about the “Karate” video. For something completely different, and maybe just as weird, here’s Sufjan & co. I have no idea what the butterfly wings are about…maybe a new creation motif?

  10. Gotta give a shout out to Sufjan. One of my favorites is Abraham. I can’t get enough of that banjo. I like Mumford & Sons, too, and I agree with your assessment of that song. I can’t hear a casual song about some girl. I hear a song about a wife and a Father.

    I really liked this post. Like Elspeth, I click away on long posts as soon as I realize how long it is. I didn’t realize how long it was until I was done reading. It went by fast. Lots to think about.

    My dad could make me cry but just raising his voice a bit. I was always afraid to disappoint him and thought he was good at everything and knew everything. There was a bit of hero worship there.

  11. @Morticia and Joanna

    Thanks.

    @John

    I liked it, but if that’s representative of his sound overall I’m going to hold off to listen to Sufjan when I’m in more of a Shins/Iron and Wine mood…perhaps next autumn. It’s spring, man. This is the time of year when I’m getting ready to go out for war. If I get into an out-of-season “earnest” groove I might decide to get drunk on sensuality. It’s hip-hop, pop, and rock for awhile; no Wilco, no Lucinda Williams.

    I could have done without the wings.

  12. I’ll join in liking the post but it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. But I don’t even spend the time to post so why should I complain?

  13. @alcest

    (Is that the best way to shorten your name, or should you call me Eddie, and I can call you Al?)

    Yes, self-control; specifically as it relates to keeping oneself and one’s motivations clothed, i.e., modest, i.e., under wraps. Also: The humility to not judge the results prematurely, and how to take cues from others; to take their criticism seriously, but not to heart.

  14. I don’t like Sufjan at all. I really really tried. When you get on the Iron and Wine(Trapeze Swinger has to hit everyone in a different place), William Fitzsimmons et al (my son plays their music in his repertoire …meaning on guitar, not on mp3) kick you are expected to go Sufjan. The music is too creative by half.

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