By Scott Keith –
The other night, I took my children to see the new Marvel Comics movie, Dr. Strange. On the whole, it was not one of my favorite Marvel flicks. In fact, I was more struck by the young man sitting in front of me than I was by the movie. He was, I think, what you would call a “hipster.” He wore hiking boots with rolled up jeans, a buttoned up wool flannel shirt, and a beanie positioned above his ears with the pointy top rising off the top of his head. Frankly, he looked like a skinny lumberjack parading through the streets of San Juan Capistrano.
Now, before I get too critical of his attire, it should be noted that I was wearing boots, jeans, a wool flannel shirt, and a canvas cap. The only qualitative difference is that I am not skinny and I have a beard to complete the San Juan lumberjack look. I could say, in my defense, that I have lived in the mountains most of my adult life and that the beard and flannel look is nothing new for me. In fact, the “mountain man” look has been a part of my regular repertoire since my teens. But this does not change the fact that I think both the young hipster and I are pining to be like our grandpas (in his case, maybe his great grandpa).
What does this mean? Well, I believe that some modern men long to be like men of the past. Those men possessed a character or quality that we greatly desire to acquire ourselves. What is that quality? Masculinity. Now, discussing masculinity has almost become cliché on The Jagged Word. Since we started this blog some three years ago, I’m sure there have been more than fifty blogs dedicated, in one way or another, to the topic of what it means to be a man. And yet, it still seems to be an open question even on The Jagged Word.
As I ponder the root and effect of this reality, I’m burdened by the actuality that my boys have grown up in a world where what was once a given is now an open question, even among a group of “manly men.” My friend Adam Francisco is Navy Vet (the real deal) and, on the whole, a very “manly man.” He shoots, hunts, fishes, fixes stuff, works hard, and, in general, handles his shit. As he and I frequently discuss this topic over booze and smoke, we are often stumped to put our finger on just what is missing. Most often, we resort to examples from history or our own pasts, hence pining for grandpa.
My grandpa was, by all accounts, a badass. He was a World War II vet who served in the European theater. He, like many vets, brought home War Booty. His was an authentic German Lugar which he was reported to have taken off of a dead German soldier who he killed. That’s hardcore by any reckoning. While I was growing up, he worked as an aviation mechanic for Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, where he wrenched on aircraft like the U2, the SR71, and other kick-ass planes. He could fix anything, build anything, and fight anything. To me, he was indestructible. He daily wore a flannel shirt and a blue beanie, which was perched above his ears just like the young man’s hat in the movie theater. For a time, I took to wearing my beanie just like his. I was pining after grandpa.
But why? Well, it’s pretty simple. I wanted, and want, to be like my grandpa. I want to be capable, strong, and courageous. I want to handle my shit and take care of my family. Our society has declared that there is no discernable difference between men and women, and yet every cell in by body tells me that this is just not the case. When I remember my grandpa, my mind rarely conjures the same qualities that I would attribute to my grandmother. I think this is an important reality that the modern-day lumberjack hipster understands better than most.
I think it is all too easy to disparage the hipster of our day. Those young adults who seem at times all too put together, all too interested in handmade quality, and all too focused on nostalgia are easy to criticize. But maybe we ought to recognize that these young men are on the run. Many of them are running from an ideology which has taught them that it is beneath them to demarcate themselves as men, to learn to fix anything, build anything, and fight anything, to be a man pining after the qualities of grandpa.
I see some of their attempts as tragically misplaced and overdone. Yet, more often than not, I see the desire in their eyes to be more than they currently are. I see that many of these young men feel out of place in our overly feminized culture and that they want to cry out, and in fact are crying out by the way the dress and their attempts to live lives of quality. I see that they desire a time and set of rituals that honor them for being manly men, and I think they need group of men around them that will teach them just what that means.
Paul Koch and I have discussed this topic at length, and I addressed it, at least in part in my book, Being Dad – Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. In fact, I lecture quite a bit on the subject when I’m out and about promoting the book. Every time I do, I am inevitably asked a simple question by older men: “What can we do about it, how can we help?” Most often I say that I don’t have any clear answers. But recently, after teaching Being Dad at Grace Ventura, Paul asked me that same question again, and now my friend is taking a stab at an answer.
Paul meets the first Tuesday of every month at 7:00 pm with a group of other men at Dexter’s Camera shop in downtown Ventura to talk, and I would guess, to pine after grandpa. In years gone by, such meetings may not have been necessary (though I think that the past prevalence of Men’s Clubs and Lodges argue otherwise), but now, I believe they are. Men need to know that it is okay to be a man—to desire the traits of men from days gone by.
To be capable, strong, courageous, and I would add gracious, is what being a man is all about. If the young, or the not so young, want to show that by dressing in a way that pines for grandpa, I say go for it. As for me, I’ll continue to not only miss but also pine for my grandpa every day. See ya soon, grandpa.