I will try to keep this fun and lighthearted, and at the very least, do the best I can. However, there’s an undercurrent of seriousness which must be addressed. It would be, well, unmanly of me not to.
The question before us is “Who’s the manliest man in town ?” From what I’ve seen on Facebook so far, Kentuckiana has a lot of manly men, but what makes a man manly in the first place?
You can point to the easy traditional answers like physical traits, drive, confidence, sex appeal, and even the way he treats his mother. Throughout history, there are several examples of those we perceived as “manly men,” such as John Wayne (for the old school), Denzel Washington and any number of professional athletes.
The answers have changed as we’ve evolved, and there are those we now consider “manly” for different reasons. President Obama comes to mind, mainly because of the way he deals with his family; he has no problem with PDA (Public Displays Of Affection) with the First Lady, and scores of Americans recognize that. Malcolm X falls into that category for me as well, because of the complete transformation he underwent, and the power he held to influence the lives of so many people. He wasn’t afraid to fight fire with fire, and that scared a lot of people. He was perfect for his time because there were a lot of people who needed to be afraid.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson could also be considered a “manly man” due to the successful acting career he’s had and his status as the highest-grossing thespian in Hollywood. Anyone who can go from playing “Nick Fury” in “The Avengers” to reading the tongue-in-cheek instant classic, “Go The F*** To Sleep,” gets my vote.
When asked if I would put myself in that category, I hesitated. I would be apprehensive about doing so because it would call for an inventory of who I am and what I’m about. Frankly, that would take far too long – but that’s the point. Men, manly or otherwise, are complicated. There are a lot of ways to be “manly.”
In my case, at 5’9” and 200 pounds, I’m not exactly a physically imposing figure, but I’ve been told that I give off a vibe that implies that I don’t need to be. My friends and family would tell you that I’m very outspoken, especially about things that make others uncomfortable. At the very least, I’m “kinda cute,” according to my wife, Tracey, and my running joke has always been, “The hair. Chicks dig the hair.”
Personally, I think a “manly man” is someone who is as close to being one with himself as he can be, without getting lost. He’s not hung up on the clichés that we traditionally have about men. He’s very much aware of his masculine and feminine sides. A “manly man” is as comfortable reading 50 Shades of Grey as he would be reading Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. He might be someone who is well-trained in the art of combat, but spends more time finding reasons not to use that knowledge. NFL Hall-of-Famer and former Los Angeles Ram, Rosey Grier, comes to mind. He was a bear of a man who made his reputation by nearly decapitating opposing players, and yet, he did needlepoint.
The other side of this coin is a symptom of many of the problems we have with young black men. (Remember that serious undercurrent I mentioned earlier in this piece?) Some of us have an almost pathologically distorted view of what being a man actually means. We’ve been inundated with examples of so-called “men” who father lots of children by several different women, and then aren’t man enough to take responsibility for them. The cycle continues when these kids grow up to believe that this is the way women are supposed to be treated. The problem has gotten so bad that you don’t really hear the “I don’t need no man to raise my son” refrain anymore. Black men are needed, now more than ever!
Images of black manhood have been further distorted by the entertainment industry, and its continuing effort to dumb everything down. For some, being a pimp, playa, hustla or a “G” has become the status quo of black manliness. Materialism has become the insidious trap of that status quo.
There’s a song by Ice Cube on his “Death Certificate” CD, called “Us,” in which you can hear a little boy using grown up language to talk about the things he wants when he becomes an adult. The older man with him tries to set him straight, but is summarily dismissed. The rest of the song is a serious indictment of the black community and how this twisted pathology plays a role.
The most dangerous aspect of the black male’s distorted view of manliness quite often comes in the form of a handgun. We have little boys thinking that carrying a weapon makes them a man.
It makes them a little boy carrying a weapon.
It also makes them a potential threat to real men who are on their daily grind, trying to feed and protect their families. What these little boys don’t understand is that they’re dealing with grown man consequences. If the justice system doesn’t get them, street justice surely will. Real “manly men” are the ones trying to save the rest of us, and these fools, from themselves.
“Manly men” are as diverse as women are beautiful. By the way, “manly men” will always find a way to slip in a compliment about the opposite sex. While it may be fun to have a fantasized version of what that is, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re surrounded by “manly men” every day. I’m proud to be one of them.