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Category Archive: Act Like A Man

Me, Barack, and Irene

Well, I held off my formal endorsement because I didn’t want to be accused of attempting to influence a foreign election, but you might as well know I was pulling for Obama.

And you also might as well know that the reason I’ve been gone for a week (and the reason you’ll be waiting a few more days to read my promised chapter III of the whole annoying-to-childless-people mediation on kids and happiness) is because my daughter Irene was born last Friday morning. Halloween baby! Instant goth cred, no?

In any event, those two dominating events are the subject of an essay I wrote on election day for Eye Weekly. In the nature of these things, we had to cut it by more than half its length to fit it in the paper. So for anyone interested in the director’s cut — or uncut — here’s the whole thing as I wrote it. (The short version: I’m really happy this week.) (more…)

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The meaning of kids

On Thursday, I wrote about happiness and misery as they relate to children, a subject on my mind already because I have a two-year-old son and am expecting another baby any day (or hour) now, brought into focus by a section Paul Bloom’s essay “First Person Plural” in this month’s Atlantic that outlines how deluded parents are to think their kids make them happy. If you don’t feel like reading the entire original post, the gist of it was: kids are kind of the end of cheap thrills, but create happiness for most parents by giving their lives a sense of purpose.

To which commenter TLL responded:

While the raising of children is, I am sure, an enormously challenging and rewarding experience, I think it is unfortunate to think that people view their children as, and believe their children to be their reason for being. This would lead to the more general, though often unreconized belief that human beings exist entirely – or at lease principally – to procreate and populate. Or at least those who have children do.
Having a child is something that nearly every person on the planet can do. It is a shame that most people do not strive to achieve success – or ‘fulfillment happiness’ – in other good pursuits half so vigorously as they pursue child rearing.
Perhaps part of the delusion that having children makes us happy is that it involves another person, and we cannot cope with reliance on ourselves and our own fortitude as ways to bring about fulfillment. As social creatures, it is easy for us to fill the vacant parts inside ourselves with other people. And from what I understand, children are the least likely to leave those parts vacant once they are used to fill that hole.

I’m thankful for the comment. Of course, in the strictest sense, there’s a term for the “belief that human beings exist entirely—or at least principally—to procreate and populate.” We call it “evolutionary science.”1There’s also the biblical god’s first instruction to the prototype humans he created: “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), if you prefer that kind of thing, which I do not. Any understanding of our lot that does not consider procreation at least one of the primary purposes of our lives leads to some pretty ugly math for us as a species (the purpose of human life=the rapid extinction of human life).

But TLL’s point is taken—when I wrote about fulfillment, I wasn’t talking about fulfilling evolutionary imperatives2nor biblical ones, and neither, I suspect, is this commenter. (more…)

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Parenting makes you miserable. Discuss.

Once upon a time, Harper’s was my go-to magazine of ideas. Over the past year or two, I’ve found myself skimming it more and reading it less, ho-humming as I set down a story partway through and feeling preemptive (though not preventative) guilt at knowing I’ll never bother reading the rest of it, earnestly important as it may be.

There’s no void in the American glossy-with-a-brain portion of my media diet, however, because over roughly the same period as I’ve drifted away from Harper’s, The Atlantic has quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) made itself into the best English-language magazine in the world.1Let’s stipulate that The Walrus is exempt from such discussions in this space, to preserve the appearance of modesty, if nothing else. Let’s also concede that there are plenty of English-language magazines I’ve never read. Somehow, “The best Enligh-language magazine in the world of which I am aware” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In the November issue2Which introduces a redesign that I quite like, though the sans serif Titling Gothic used for headlines is a little aggressively chunky for my taste. The dots that make up the elipses are squares half the height of a lower case letter, for example, and the little gappy part in the top of the capital A is vanishingly small next to the mighty oaks of its inverted V, if you’ll excuse my designer-unfriendly lexicon., one thing among many that’s worth reading is Paul Bloom’s “First Person Plural,” which outlines a theory of mind that’s a scientific version of Whitman’s “I am large, I contain multitudes”3Dutifully cited by Bloom. (more…)

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Equal opportunity exploitation

On the subject of Katherine Leyton’s post on the sexist, racist horror of making sex toys out of political candidates: they’ve done it to old white guys too. Is no one safe from the novelty-porn-gag menace?

(Given the the way the names Dick Cheney and George Bush arouse set off involuntary reactions in the frontal schoolyardabellum of the human brain, it is a small mercy we were spared the obvious from the so-called adult industry for eight years, so far as I know).

Right, carry on then. And sorry if you’re reading this on an empty stomach.

(NSFW illustration below the fold.) (more…)

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The Ask Like A Man blog returns with a post on John McCain: the manlier candidate?

A hundred years ago, during the U.S. Democratic primary, when Hillary Clinton still seemed to be actively attempting to take a flamethrower to her party’s chance to win the election, I debated posting something about the various candidates and how they measured up on the patented Act Like A Man-o-Meter.1And, despite the often-repeated-but-hard-to-swallow cries of sexism from Clinton and her campaign, she of course scored as more of an alpha jock—in fact being an eerie sort of Bizarro Dubya—than any kind of wimpy victim. But halfway through a post about how Hillary’s campaign was actually based on the kind of classic macho bullying2in this case, dressed in a pantsuit that is mistaken for manliness among the poorly endowed3between their legs or between their ears, or both…, I realized I didn’t need to pick a fight with all the perpetually offended victimologists who had by then begun hunting wild misogynists who dared to claim Hillary was the engineer of her own demise.

But the gist of the analysis, strangely, has consistently appeared obvious to me in the McCain-Obama dynamic from the beginning, ready for translation to the updated state of the race. But then I took a sort-of-unscheduled hiatus. And slowly others even seemed to start to notice the dynamic, such as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, who wrote a post entitled “McCain’s Manliness Problem” a few weeks ago.

(What, you want my reaction to the just-finished Canadian election? How about: you can’t tell people anything. (more…)

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You Know What They Say About Absence

So are you fond enough of me yet? Regular posting will resume very shortly. In the meantime, I give you one of the greatest scenes in American cinema.

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Never Do This With a Woman

I was reading Tracy Clark-Flory’s “In defense of casual sex” over at Salon, about which I may have more to say over the weekend depending on how sun-stroked I wind up taking my kid to the beach.

But her third-last sentence, unrelated to the general topic of the essay, is that her current boyfriend is remarkable in part because she’s “never felt the need to challenge him to an arm wrestling match.”

Which only reminds me of a piece of advice I was just recently giving to both my brother and my brother-in-law: never get into an arm wrestling match with a woman. You cannot win. I know this from experience, and I would have known it from logic if I were not so enthusiastically refreshed on the occasions when I learned it from experience. (more…)

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The Girls in Their Summer Clothes

Here’s an observation from the annals of the obvious: everywhere you go, strangers talk about the weather. And if you live in Toronto, where I do, they always talk about how absolutely crappy the weather is or recently has been or will be in the immediate future. The winters are long and slushy, with winds that rip through your clothing and through your skin and through your bones and feel like they are carrying pieces of your soul out the other side of your body and leaving a biting dead cold behind. The summers are like a sauna in which you’re trying to commute to and from work, choking on the soupy heat, while some moron with feathered hair keeps spraying more water on the rocks and asking if it’s hot enough for you. So in winter everyone you share an elevator with brushes sleet out of their hair while they whine about the cold and make a lame joke about global warming not being all it’s cracked up to be; in the summer they just sort of slump and ask if you’re lucky enough to have an air conditioner at home.

The summer has some clear advantages, though. In winter,1Which has hockey, which would in other circumstances be an insurmountable advantage. when you’re slopping down the street with wet socks trying to see if you can still feel your nose — yup, it’s still there, and it hurts like a bitch — all the members of the opposite sex, as well as members of other sexes, are wearing scarves and hats and puffy sweaters under even puffier coats and heavy pants and boots and basically unless you have some kind of wool fetish2Which, if you do, good for you, weirdo. means it is the least sexy time to be around strangers.3All the obvious crap about fireplaces and ski chalets you’re busy getting ready to fire off a comment about notwithstanding. In summer, on the other hand, very attractive people wear very little clothing in very many of the places you go on a given day. This is a consolation for the doggier elements of these hot days that is hard to understate.4I know, that’s one from the annals of the obviouser. So? (more…)

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In the August issue of Esquire (on newsstands now, but not yet online), there’s a story  by Brian Mockenhaupt called “The Tunnel,” in which inmate Joe Hoffman, encountering sand under the concrete floor of his cell while attempting to procure his freedom, pretty much sums up the quiet desperation of adult men everywhere: (more…)

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All in your head


Making Omelettes

I just finished reading David Giffels’s All the Way Home, which I’ll soon be reviewing for a different publication. It’s a memoir of a man who, with his pregnant wife and infant child, buys a falling-down mansion and begins trying to make it a home, with minimal help from contractors and maximal stress on his relationship with his wife and son. The house is his white whale, as he notes — to the extent that at one point it actually tries to swallow his leg — and the book is very consciously about Giffels process of trying to sort out his place in the world as a man, among other things (other things: crazy old ladies and how they may have gotten that way, the sadness and anger and confusion of miscarriages, how to fail at getting squirrels out of the attic with a Stratocaster, ghosts). He becomes obsessed with the restoration — an inherited condition for him, apparently — partly out of a desire to fulfill his obligations to his family, partly out of a need to sometimes avoid being an active participant in his family, and figures out how the former somehow leads to the latter while the latter prevents the former from happening. And it’s funny, did I mention that? (more…)

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The Son Almost Rises

From Jamie Allen at McSweeney’s, a campaign speech on the occasion of the narrator’s 40th birthday:

And from those words, I have sensed what you might be thinking: Should we keep this person as our son … or should we legally disown him?

I want you to know, Mom and Dad: I … Hear … You.

(Applause.)

For that reason, I believe it’s time we talked about change. This campaign is all about change. We all want change for the better. We all want me to change into an independent, responsible adult who lives outside this house. You want it, Dad. You want it, Mom. And I am here to tell you that I want change, too.

As they say: it’s funny because it’s true.

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Live and Let Cry

Daniel Craig from

James Bond, shaken and stirring, from “Crying Men,” by photographer Sam Taylor-Wood. The whole series is really beautiful. From The Arab Acquarius:

Taylor-Wood explains, “Some of the men cried before I even finished loading the camera, but others found it really difficult. People can decide for themselves which they think are the authentic tears and which they think are fake. It’s about the idea of taking these big, masculine men and showing a different side.”

The whole subject of men and crying is complicated and interesting and, I think, one of the most frequently misinterpreted elements of the discussion of traditional masculinity. (more…)

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