The Soul of a Man

Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. He writes about what music is circulating through his space every Monday.
My wife and I watched a pay-per-view showing of the Robert De Niro movie Everybody's Fine the other night. It's a bittersweet portrayal of an aging widower's somewhat broken and fractured relationship with his four grown children. If you have a living father whom you maybe haven't called for a while, this movie would probably do the trick in prompting one to do it now, sooner rather than later.

I saw a feature on Headline News this morning about how the art of "manliness" is perhaps making somewhat of a comeback. Apparently the metrosexual phase in our society has given women a lower outlook on us men. They are thinking we are all just a bunch of wimps, fellas.

My relationship with my father was strained when Pop left us when I was about 7 or so. I was the last of eight kids, and the way I figured things as a boy was that I must have had something to do with it. That is what we do when we aren't old enough to see the bigger picture. The truth of the matter was that my parents' relationship was probably strained for years, and the perfect and idealistic stage in their marriage had probably ended sometime back in the 1940s. I didn't speak with my dad again, really, until I was about 14. Our relationship was on-again/off-again until my wife Susan and I started to have kids of our own. Susan pushed me to start calling my dad then, and I am glad of it. He died a couple of years back, and at least we had made our peace for the last few years of his life and had some good times and many laughs. He was a great grandpa to our girls.

I have the honorable duty now of being a strong male figure to my own daughters. In this life, we don't get to pick and choose what we are going to be like. As a dad, what I thought would be innate and common-sense stuff raising girls has turned into a daily learning process where I really have no idea what is in store for me next. I must be a "man's man" at times; at other moments, I must be sensitive and soft. I think that is the true essence of what being a man is. Well, at least that is what I have learned thus far.

I don't have this shit figured out at all yet, really. In my teens and 20s, I surmised that masculinity was gauged by how tough you were in a threatening situation. As I got deeper and deeper into martial arts in my 30s, I came to understand that a tough "front" was nothing more than fear masked by bravado. As guys, we are not really given the tools to deal with all this stuff. We just trudge through this life, and are lucky when some enlightenment comes our way.

My biggest challenge, and another massive feature that I see as part of true manliness, is being honest with myself and others and being forthright and true in my actions and dealings with my family, friends, and business associates. This is a huge deal. Do as you say. Say what you mean. Walk it like you talk it.

Do Robert Mitchum and Clint Eastwood toe as straight a line in real life as they do in their portrayals of the macho and rock-hard figures in their movies? Probably not. I am finding out just now in my 40s that the true measure of being a man is being a caring husband and father to girls, an ass-kicking rock guy, a scholarly reader, a fucking dork in the hipster club, and a top-notch crossworder.

But I still have to wait 'til after dark to walk our little pug dog.

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