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So what does it mean to be a man?

By Mark Christensen - posted Tuesday, 29 March 2005


I witnessed childbirth at 19 - and again at 21, 24 and 27 (all with the same brave girl-woman). It certainly helped me grow up. And I wouldn’t change anything - I adore my kids. Yet the haunting thought remains: is this my ultimate purpose? Is fatherhood a defining statement of what it means to be man?

Daniel Donahoo suggests committed relationships offer men “a happiness and life experiences that a single, consumer-driven life cannot”. True. What he didn’t recognise is they also highlight our lack of answers to the big questions.

My 11-year-old quizzed me the other day on why parents love their children. After a few minutes ducking and weaving, she obliterated years of carefully argued parenting. “How can you be sure you love me then without a reason why?” was where we left things.

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For generations, men have had a shared purpose to channel their ancient passions towards - a basic level of security for our community from poverty and the elements. Raising kids and complementing a woman’s happiness are obviously important, but not as noble as the more subtle cause of actually creating the right environment for it to happen.

Having made the long and treacherous ascent up the economic mountain side, however, men seem unable to find any room to breath. We never really contemplated what would happen once we reached the summit. With time now to think about it, affluence has become a source of hesitation rather than a stepping-stone to the unconditional commitment women probably expected.

Of course, the panicked response to this is to plug it all into our efficient problem-solving framework. It is presumed the next step for mankind has defined attributes that can be measured or expressed on a whiteboard. Men make this assumption, even if it sits uneasily with a gut-feel instinct that says much of life does not - indeed, should not - yield to a formula of some kind.

This typical must-fix-it philosophy doesn’t mesh well with our experience of women, for instance. Even when intimating to the contrary, they very rarely call for linear, cause-and-effect solutions - A plus B gives C.

Alas, we can’t help forcing the logic … “Honey, a couple of weeks’ dieting and that dress will fit fine,” or “Just tell that wanker at work he’s a wanker!”

Despite - or maybe because of - repeated blows to our reason, men still struggle to remember: relate, don’t fix. The answer, idiot, subsists within the connection - you know, the one created by assuming there is no drama in the first place!

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This is where I think Daniel’s plea to stick it to baby-boomers and commitment-phobes will only end up being divisive. His implicit lack of faith in other men - however reasoned - will tend to further institutionalise the cynicism he wishes to overcome. Any attempt to connect with one group (young men) by harping on the disconnection of another (bitter old codgers) further condemns men to a hopeless cycle of mistrust.

Eminem, in one of his latest raps, expertly foresees the dark-hearted extension of this petulant I-don’t-have-faith-in-them-because-they-don’t-have-it-in-me affront: “You find me offensive? I find you offensive for finding me offensive!”

Maybe men should stop telling each other what to do, stop and draw a collective breath. I suspect a pause is needed before we can find the space necessary to admit that we are unable to nail down what our highest purpose is, in a literal sense, even though we know it to exist. The glimpses we experience while sharing time with family, mates or the right woman, cannot be boxed.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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