I received a package in the mail today from my father. Still in the mailroom, I cut the cardboard box open. After lifting the top flaps, the first thing I saw in it was a new iPhone case. Without investigating further I closed the box and headed back to my dorm room to finish opening it. I always open my packages in my room. I’m not sure why. It is probably a combination of the fear of losing the package’s contents, the desire to cultivate patience and build suspense, habit, and some sort of animal instinct. Find the antelope. Kill the antelope. Drag the bleeding antelope back to the den. Eat the antelope.
For the record, I’m not sure if animals of prey drag their meals back to the den before dining on them. It has been a long time since elementary school.
When I got back to my room I opened the box again and pulled out the cell phone case. Beneath it was hiding a plastic mailing envelope with a grey pair of khaki pants I knew my dad was planning on buying for me. Rolled up in the pants were two books. One is on Christian living; the other is a discussion on matters of belief and disbelief between a well-educated Christian and a well-educated exChristian atheist. After flipping through them, I put them on my shelf, put on the pants, removed the pants’ tags, and opened the cell phone case. At first glance I thought for sure I was getting an OtterBox, but I was relieved to find something less chunky. It is almost as protective as an OtterBox but it doesn’t have the “Your iPhone is Now a Brick” feature. It is black and it comes with a holster. I shouldn’t assume that sending it to me was my dad’s idea—my mom could’ve done it—but given the other contents of the box and my dad’s practical obsession with protective cases, I’ll go ahead and assume.
With my new pants already on, I put a belt on and clipped the cellphone in its new case to it. I took off the brotank and hoodie I had been wearing and put on a button down orange and white striped shirt and tucked it in. “Presentable” is the word. I looked it. My usual apparel varies, but recently it has been heavily comprised of cut-off shorts of various varieties and t-shirts, due to the nice weather. In my khakis and button-down I look like a dad in comparison to the hipster college kid that has been romping around in my clothes recently. A dad and a man. Young, but a man all the same.
It was 2:10 am yesterday when I finished a conversation with a wonderful friend I made last year in my music classes. I told her that I was planning on blogging about what it means to be a man and she said that she has thought about that recently. “In a lot of cultures there are certain things you have to do to become a man. Is there something like that in America? I don’t think so. Maybe there should be, though. You should have to go out into the woods with your dad and hunt a raccoon or something. You should do that with your son.”
Defining masculinity is difficult, especially in a time when the trend seems to be—for good or for ill—to question gender roles and even the concept of gender itself. Last week I went to Kindlings Muse with some friends. The event is held once a month in a local pub. Every month there is a different topic to be discussed by a small panel of Christian academics and culture watchers while the audience sits around tables eating burgers and sipping cream ale (or water).
Last week’s topic was masculinity. The panelists spoke of the days when boys grew up wanting to be John Wayne. They asked if there is a single man that modern boys want to be like. The conclusion was that there is no single role model as there has been in the past. Now we have a polyphony of voices. The brawny heroic ideal is still present and still influences our view of masculinity, but it is not the lone voice. The panel, two members of which were professors of mine from SPU, spoke of the rise of the ultra-rich hero, the Tony Stark, who can buy whatever they want. Within the last year Macklemore and Frank Ocean have gained international fame for their music. Macklemore, the Irish rapper from Seattle, is a champion of thrift stores; he is a counterexample for Tony Stark. Thrift stores are both cheap and eclectic. Similarly unusual is Frank Ocean, a gay African American R&B singer.
If there ever was a monolithic view of masculinity, it has hit a prism and fractured into a rainbow of possibilities. I think this must be in part due to what our generation has been told about individuality: we have been encouraged to march to the beat of our own drum, find our own path, do our own thing. As Drake says, “I’m doin me.” In many ways this has cultivated the general sense of entitlement and specialness my generation is so critiqued for, but it also recognizes the reality of genetic variation. We are not all the same, and that is good.
At the Kindlings, the panel also agreed that as Christians we should allow whatever ideas of masculinity we have to steep in the example of Jesus Christ.
On the first Sunday of March hall council hosted an open mic in my dorm. Something I campaigned on last year was to have an open mic every quarter, with winter quarter’s set apart for writers, comedians, slam poets, and the like. There was a slot open so I decided to read something from my blog. The open mic was modestly attended. It seemed like at least half of the attendees were close friends of mine.
While listening to the acts before me I scrolled through my blog, looking for possible contenders. In the back of my mind, or perhaps more accurately, in a cranny in my MacBook, sat an essay I had been sitting on for a month by that point. Several of the people at the open mic had been proofreaders of the essay. Since I wrote it I had been praying that I would know the right time and place to share it. Perhaps ten minutes before my scheduled time it became abundantly clear that this was the time.
I sat down behind the microphone.
“I’m going to read two essays to you tonight. The first one is long and the second one is short. The first is fiction and the second one is non-fiction, but I think they say the same thing.”
The audience, my dorm family, was wonderful.
Some of my friends were planning on driving to St. Mark’s after the open mic for the evening Compline service. They asked if I wanted to come. I said sure. Before we left I went to my room to use the bathroom and change clothes. As I washed my hands I looked up to the mirror. This was the first time that I saw a man looking back at me.
I went to Compline with my friends.
The next day I told my mom about the experience. “Hmmmm…” she said, “’Becoming a man.’ That would be an interesting thing to write a blog post about.”