On June 15, I went to bed with a pang of melancholy, Father Time having slipped another year out of my back pocket while my attention was elsewhere. Thirty-nine years earlier, I'd been brought into this world the same way that I suspect I'll depart it: naked and crying for my mom.
It's not that I mind getting older. I actually prefer it to dying young. But the rude shock comes when doing the math; the actuarial tables suggest that I've started playing the second half. It's a strange realization, since I still feel like a 19-year-old, even if friends now scowl when I try to do the things I regularly did then, such as driving 95 miles an hour with my knees or hanging out with 19-year-old girls.
But on this day, I went to bed feeling that I'd lost something other than my youth. Watching that night's news, I learned that I'd missed the chance to celebrate National Man Day. With all the phony observances now littering the calendar--it fell on the same week as Husband Caregiver Day, Sneak a Kiss Day, and World Sauntering Day--I'd completely forgotten.
Dreamed up by two Indiana brothers, Joel and Aaron Longanecker, the day was hyped for months on their Facebook page, and they rallied a quarter of a million co-conspirators. The battle cry, according to the Longaneckers, was to take the day to "stand up and say, 'Yes, I am a Man.' "
It was a day, they declared, to eat a steak, to "blow something up, shoot some animal, punch your buddy in the face for no reason" and watch Rocky movies all day, never minding that a real man would never enjoy Rocky III. That scene with Rocky and Apollo Creed skipping around in the ocean, holding each other in their short-shorts after a particularly rigorous workout--that's about as manly as being a groupie at a John Mayer concert.
Their supporters, however, were not deterred. Testimonials poured in of a day well spent. Men boasted of not bathing, of scratching unholy areas, of showing a pressure washer who's boss, of firing automatic weapons, blowing up prairie dogs, eating large quantities of meat without utensils, and greeting friends "with firm handshakes, or rather, MANdshakes."
It made me feel sorry for them. It's not that I don't celebrate my own Man Day every day by tending to my desires, instead of to those of the women and children. Nor do I consider myself some paragon of manhood--though by today's effeminized-man standards, I might actually qualify: I can drive a stick shift, work a chainsaw, enjoy relieving myself outside, and would never think of getting a vasectomy. (It's not that I wouldn't do anything for my wife--I love her more than life itself. But I don't want to be unfair to my future trophy wife. What if she wants kids?) The reason I feel sorry for these mantards is the same reason I feel sorry for men's magazine writers, who on glossy pages filled with androgynous models and which smell like the inside of the Neiman Marcus perfume counter, write self-conscious manly-man articles giving man-tips to even less manly men under titles such as "The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master." It's hard to imagine real men, like Jack Dempsey or Genghis Khan, reading up on how much cuff to show or how to "argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer."
The very term "manly man" is self-negating, a formulation that seeks to check its own equipment, to nervously claim that it is as advertised. Real men don't try so hard. It's why men's movements give me the creeps. Though I did become fascinated by one when covering it a few years back: the Promise Keepers. Not because I enjoy standing around in football stadiums, tearfully hugging my buds, listening to bad Christian rock. But because they'd discuss the principle of "headship" as laid out in Ephesians ("wives, submit to your husbands").
My wife is a quasi-feminist, believing women should vote and drive and stuff. She's also a pretty fair Bible scholar, assuring me that I'm cynically wrenching a phrase out of context in un-Christian fashion, then twisting it into a rhetorical balloon animal to try to score cheap points when I'm getting crushed in an argument.
She's probably right. But that hardly matters. I just say, "Read Ephesians" and run like hell. I tell her if she wants to second-guess the inspired Word of God, have at it. But it's not my place to question the Creator. After all, I'm just a man.