I’ve never met Paul Newman, nor do I know the woman whose blog post got me thinking about this, but I agree with her assessment that the late Mr. Newman was an all-caps M-A-N. After his recent passing, there were numerous tributes to Paul Newman, actor, philanthropist, activist, dedicated husband of 50 years, World War II veteran, and all around bad-ass who somehow remained endearingly humble despite his accomplishments and movie-star good looks.
Paul Newmans don’t walk among us very often; and I strongly suspect that Kris isn’t unrealistically looking for one, however, it begs the twin questions “what is a real man” and “where have they all gone?”
My working definition of an all-caps MAN started with Pearl Cleage’s poem Good Brother Blues. When I read it in the early 90s, it gave me a vocabulary for manhood that my mostly absentee father neglected to provide. I continued to shape my aspirations for MANhood through literature and life and now in my late 30s I am largely comfortable with it even as I know I fail to hurdle its lofty bar most days. Personal definitions of MAN vs. man are not wholly relevant, as they are… well personal. Kris’s definition* overlaps with mine in the belief that a MAN understands and practices uncommon courtship courtesies, but where are they?**
Countless advice column clichés would tell us that they may be found in grocery store aisles, church pews, Metro seats, coffee shop couches, volunteer Saturdays, or any number of places frequented by urbanites. Certainly they can be found in those places, but how often are they passed by because they are not something enough – not tall enough, not extroverted enough to start a conversation, not outwardly sexy enough, for a dishearteningly large swath of the population – white enough***, not whatever enough? Encouraging everyone to be more open-minded and proactive is easy advice but does little to aid in the solution of identifying MEN and their locations. MEN walk amongst men and carry no identifying badge; however, the monograms of man are easily spotted if you’re paying attention. Allow them to be your swift guide to the next frog.
* The last sentence of her post, “where are the men you don’t need an epidural to date?” is one of the best things I have read in the blogosphere in a long time.
** I choose to speak of “they” rather than “we” in an acknowledgement that by my own standards, most days I fail in this regard.
*** The standard canard of only being attracted to white men/women is as easily debunked a straw-man argument as the people who expressed general “discomfort” with Barack Obama