One of the things I enjoy when I get together with my sons, is the unabashed and unrepentant "man time" that we spend together. We sit around and swap stories, some of which are mostly true; we imbibe a few beverages; we puff away contentedly on pipes and/or cigars; and, if possible we have a fire blazing away in front of us. I can close my eyes and the years drift away and I remember sitting and listening to my dad and his brothers do much the same thing. It was a lot more fun listening to them than watching TV.... and since we didn't have a TV it was pretty much a moot point.
Various wives drop in and out of the picture, stay for a moment, decide that they really don't particularly see what's so gol-darn enjoyable about it, and then kind of disappear to go and do things much more productive somewhere else.
There are the other "man things" that happen. Wives certainly enjoy hiking in the woods, but with men there is a certain hirsute quality to it. It's not enough to simply enjoy the exercise, you have to create a "back to the wild" atmosphere while you do it. In their mind they are back to the frontier, shouldering their muzzle loader, looking out for critters, and standing on a rock, looking out over shimmering valley, they dream of log cabins and building a life using their own skills, ingenuity and resources.
Another thing men like are knives. (of course I am over-stereotyping, deal with it.) No man or boy can resist going to the world's largest knife store, and, circumstances permitting, purchasing a beautiful carbon steel bladed pocket knife with bone handles and a near perfect balance. (I took it home and lovingly put it in the drawer with the rest of my collection... ) Now that is manly satisfaction.
I have said it often in my life, men are fundamentally much more romantic than women... we just show it differently.
The entire idea of "manliness" is pretty much squashed these days in the general culture. Oh, it survives in enclaves that are generally discredited in the wider perception. "Manliness" is caricatured in the media propaganda outlets as some imbecile, wearing a "wife beater" undershirt, drinking a beer and treating his wife like dirt. Or, there is the "John Wayne" image (or Humphrey Bogart) that is somewhat lovingly dismissed as archaic, a nice memory but one that is best left in the grave. The shift is pretty dramatic. Womanhood is being pushed at the conscious expense of manhood because, falsely, it is thought that women bring more to the table. There is a kind of hunger for a 'softer, gentler' civilization and some people think that only women or only men and women who are more feminine in their character can bring it about. So this entire gender "neutral" idea is not basically neutral at all. Like so many things, it is actually specifically targeted at something... here, the idea of what kind of character this "gender neutral" should display is not very clear nor desired to be. The only thing that is clear is that it is not to be manly. It is a rejection of something more than an advocacy of something.
This has had some effect.
I recently watched a relatively delightful movie: "The Intern" starring Robert Di Nero and Anne Hathaway. It's available at Redbox and I highly recommend it for general family viewing. It has a nice little plot line and the acting is uniformly good. There are a couple of places where it is laugh out loud funny. I wouldn't really call the social dynamics 'realistic.' The younger generation depicted in it is not nearly as cynical and dismissive as what I perceive "out there," but even here, it all "works."
But what the movie is really about is how the old idea of "manliness", or even, granting some nostalgia, "gentleman-liness," is lacking in our current culture and how it has left a gaping hole in its place. Di Nero's character is old school all the way. In his 70's, he is bored with retirement after a successful career working for a company that published phone books (an astonishing thought to the younger characters). He decides to apply for an intern position at a new internet firm whose founder and chief executive is Anne Hathaway. It is a very witty idea and it gives these fine actors a chance to really do a good job.
The bottom line is that Di Nero's values provide a culture shock that ripples throughout the firm. I will not spoil the movie for you but what it demonstrates is how "freeing" true manliness is, both to men and women alike. De Niro respects and encourages Hathaway in pursuit of her vocation. What he adds is perspective. Hathaway's husband is a "house husband" and he is presented as caring, sensitive, loving and weak. He reminds me of the husband in the comic strip "Sally Forth." De Niro stands juxtaposed to the sterile expectations put on young people, men and women, by the current cultural agenda and what the movie does is vindicate the idea of "class."
God designed man's culture to be both male and female. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a biblical idea that women are inferior or of second-class status. The Proverbs 31 woman was a CEO in her own right, a ruler of a "family business", with freedom to buy and sell at her own discretion. The husband's vocation was in government and for all practical purposes, she provided the finances and respectable place in society such that he was able to be influential in his political role. What the Scriptures display is that there are differences in men and women that fit together in a covenant role of mutual help. Both gender attributes are needed for a healthy culture, whether in the home, the market place, the church or wherever.
But right now, in my not so humble opinion, the pendulum has swung too far. There needs to be a conscious reawakening of men and boys to the call of virtuous manhood. That doesn't mean that all males should smoke, drink, tell lies and love knives. There's more to it than that. But (he says with a smile) it might be a place to start.