I used to write for a woodworking magazine that is no longer around. One aspect of this, was the dummy factor. You had to write, assuming the readers were absolute beginners. Every step had to be spelled out in painful detail so as to be understood. What struck me in contrast, was reading some articles from Popular Mechanics written about two generations ago, Great Grandfather kind of stuff. Unlike current woodworking publication, these how-to’s were remarkably stark, and punctuated with the words “in the usual manner” to substitute for things they assumed you should already know. Plane the wood in the usual manner. Cut your dovetails in the usual manner. Glue up the carcass in the usual manner. Et cetera. There was a whole slew of do-it-yourself knowledge that they considered should already be within the skill set of the reader.
In the space of two generations, a huge breach has developed in the collective memory of men, for knowledge we seem to have somehow lost. Call it the manly tool kit. I have seen lists delineating skills to master, things which every father should teach his own son. How to put on a tie, to shave, how to survive in the wilderness, how to fix and build things, rudimentary car and home maintenance… how to box, drive a car, how to fish, how to properly treat a lady.
Not having any sons (I have daughters) I have dodged this bullet, which is likely good because I have had to struggle it out alone on the man stuff. My dad, for all of his good qualities, was not very interested in mentoring… perhaps just too busy supporting a large family. My wife on the other hand, comes from a culture which is very macho. The manly arts are alive and well, and are passed down through brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers by word of mouth and example. She has great expectations of what a man should know.
My own learning process has been the guinea pig method, and I have been the guinea pig. Let me just say, I would not recommend this method because you only find out what you do not know, by doing it. Despite this, I have become reasonably handy over time with the help of woodworking magazines and YouTube, but it seems my do-it-yourself skills are always one step trailing behind the exigencies of real life.
So “in the usual manner” intrigued me. There are norms and conventions which can be considered timeless truths, that have been retread by writers like Jack Donovan, and they would be considered grossly orthodox in today’s lock-step toward the non-binary. The persistence of my own traditional views make my kids wince. They look at each other and say “Dad is having an old man eruption”. If I respond they will say. “Look, it’s happening again. OMG.” They have forgotten that there is a very long list of manly virtues throughout the ages that men have held onto like a beacon in the night. From the ancient Romans on down, it is not hard to find a vision of manhood to look up to.
Jack Donovan had a way of breaking things down. He said (and I paraphrase)…The difference between men and women becomes most apparent in matters of honour. Call any man a chicken, or call his sister a whore, and see what happens. You will instantly roll back a century of so-called gender theory. He also pointed out that there is a difference between being a GOOD man, and being good at BEING a man. They are not the same thing. The latter involves acquired skills, which come easier if taught by an older and wiser man. Such mentorship seems to have dropped off the map, however. Men are more content to slink off to a corner and get distracted in a bit of gaming, lest they get called out for toxic masculinity. Where have our heroes gone? For lack of vision the people perish.
It is clear to me that manhood breaks down into at least two important aspects, that I would call useful manhood, and honourable manhood. The first means that your role within a family structure dictates that there are things you should know and things you are responsible for. You are responsible for taking care of things no one else wants to do. If you doubt that, leave the issues alone and see if anyone else volunteers. Right? I thought so. That is why it is called ‘manning up’.
The second aspect – honourable manhood, is largely symbolic, and it is related to the first. Chances are if you make yourself useful, you will get honoured by default. If you think you are going to lead, you had better be prepared to serve, because there is a whole host of people to put ahead of yourself. That’s what makes the world go and it is also the thing which will earn you your man card. The idea of honourable manhood won’t work if you are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices.
Like two sides of a coin, men become less willing to make themselves useful, when their sacrifices go unrecognized. That is why the whole witch hunt that seems to be going down in society today sweeps away the good men with the bad, like a tsunami. It targets all men as bad and untrustworthy. The lampooning men get in the media does not help. I am not really sure how Father Knows Best turned into Homer Simpson over time, but it is not a good look. If society allows men to get respect, it will also make them want to be respectable.
We all know that honour is abstract but that does not make it any less potent as an idea. There is a healthy part of every man that wants to be someone’s hero. That means that men are prepared to offer real hard goods in exchange for an intangible. Ladies, trust me, it’s a bargain. If we can fix the broken link in the chain, then ‘in the usual manner’ can keep on getting passed down and I think society will function just a bit better.
These are things that I have learned over time, and they are not the same things I was frequently assured of along the way by those who want desperately to re-engineer the social fabric. I am left with a few timeless truths that men have known since time immemorial, brought home by the necessities of living. To put it bluntly, the people coming up in the world today have a lot of learning to do. I know. I have been there.
In the meantime I will continue on, perhaps with a few old-man eruptions along the way, but happily, in the “usual manner”.