The Measure Of A Man

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”  – Thomas Paine

I love John Mayer.

Not the ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ John Mayer or the celebrity John Mayer, but the recovering ego addict John Mayer, the hopelessly messy romantic John Mayer, the work in progress John Mayer.  The Born and Raised John Mayer.  The Paradise Valley John Mayer.  The imperfect but honest John Mayer.

More about him later.

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What the hell happened to men?  How have we made such a mess of things?  How have we completely lost the plot of what it means to be a man?  How have we allowed our sons to stop seeing us as heroes?  How have we created an environment where women feel suspicious and nervous first, rather than loved and respected?  How have we allowed assault and harassment and objectification of the fairer sex to become acceptable, to the point where we’ve voted for and elected officials to represent us who have openly admitted to doing reprehensible things?  What the hell happened to men?

When I started dating, I came up with this idea of putting a flower on the passenger seat of my car, so that when I opened the door for the girl, she would see the flower and immediately fall in love with me.  My rate of success definitely wasn’t what I wished it could have been, but I always thought it was a special thing to do.  My goal was absolutely to get a kiss at the end of the date, but when it came time to say goodbye, I was usually too petrified to make my move.  Probably a good reason why my high school nickname was Duckie, after Jon Cryer’s character in Pretty in Pink.  I hated that nickname then, because Duckie couldn’t get the girl.  He was the friend.  Always the friend.  He wasn’t “the Man”.  That’s ok though, because I like to believe that Duckie stuck to what he believed was important and found a woman who truly appreciated his version of what a man should be.

That’s the fairy tale, right?

The state of manhood these days might make you think otherwise.

Earlier today, my girlfriend was followed in the store by a man.  He followed her to her car, only to run away when she acted like she was making a phone call and began yelling at him.  When the police came, they told her that a house had been broken into in her neighborhood and a woman had been snatched, in broad daylight.  Seriously, this is the world we live in now.

Our pseudo, womanizing president tweeted speculation regarding the allegations of Christine Ford against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week.  He said that if it were really as bad as she says it was, surely it would have been reported by her and her loving parents when it happened.  This is the same man who made “jokes” about dating his own daughter.  Kavanaugh also allegedly liked female staffers to have “a certain look”.

Louis CK and Aziz Ansari are back on stage making people laugh.

Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed though.

Oops, wrong topic.

Or is it?

Colin Kaepernick stood up for something that he believed in.  Colin Kaepernick is trying to be a man of substance.  Maybe if he slapped his grilfriend at a club or took advantage of a woman after a game, he’d still have a career.  Seems to have worked out pretty well for Ben Roethlisberger.

Stay focused.

Researchers estimate that 41% of all first marriages end in divorce.  Almost 50% of all marriages end in divorce or separation.  Boys are growing up all over the country with single parents.  Boys are growing up with dads who grew up without dads.  Boys are seeing men in power, who grew up without positive male role models, consistently fail to set positive examples for them.  Athletes are beating up their girlfriends and wives, musicians are being investigated and going to jail for sexual misconduct.  Actors and artists are being pulled out into the light and having their tawdry behavior exposed.  Politicians are explaining away their reprehensible behavior as just “boys being boys”.  Movie executives are ending the careers of actresses because their advances were rejected.

The truth is that none of this is new.  Its been going on for years.  The difference is that now it’s out of the shadows and the depths to which we as men have sunk keep getting deeper and deeper.  The days of John Wayne and Johnny Cash and Clint Eastwood are long gone.  Men today are more interested in being a man of conquests, rather than a man of substance.  Boys would rather sit in front of a television and play video games all day, instead of getting up and working with their fathers.  Fathers aren’t pushing their sons to be better than they were, because those fathers haven’t put in the work themselves.  Women in turn have been conditioned to accept less and always be suspicious of what’s underneath the surface.  Infidelity is almost assumed.  As boys enter puberty, they see women as objects first, existing for THEIR pleasure.  Fathers aren’t teaching boys that women are the fairer sex and should be treated as such.  Boys are following what they see, and the cycle continues.

Anyways……..

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My dad is a good man.  He’s the reason that I am the man I am today.  He taught me to be a man of substance and to lead a purpose driven life.  I grew up watching him love my mom, always sticking by her side and supporting her.  He always came home and kissed her at the end of the day.  He helped around the house and showed me that a relationship worked not because of defined roles, but because of teamwork and support. He texts my mom when he gets to my house, so that she knows that he’s safe.  He dotes on her when she’s not feeling well and he carries the load when she needs rest.  He volunteers and works to be well-rounded.  He taught me to fix my own car and to use tools.  He showed me what a man SHOULD be.  I’m one of the lucky ones.

So you may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with John Mayer.  Well, i’ll tell you!  When I was going through my divorce, I started listening to a lot of John Mayer for some reason, specifically the albums Born and Raised and Paradise Valley.  Those two albums were made after John retreated from the celebrity life and tried to find himself again.  They are great albums.  They spoke to me.

When John emerged from his self imposed exile to release his latest album, he did the inevitable round of interviews.  I watched a lot of them.  One of the biggest taglines from those interviews was that he described himself as a recovering ego addict.  He was very honest and self effacing about his struggles to find peace and understanding, to confront who he was and what he had let himself become.  He was a prolific dater, hopelessly looking for the love that all of us crave.  He had no qualms about admitting that he was an imperfect man, but he was also very eloquent about trying to be better.  He was on a journey to find a deeper understanding and to be the best man he could be.

I related a lot to him, because I’m not perfect either, but I have that desire to be better.  I have that desire to be the best that I can be for those who love me.  The idea of being a great man is one that I find very romantic.  I don’t identify with this depleted and misguided version that we see today.  I want to love big, love hard and love with respect.  I want to teach the younger generation about respect and that power comes from within.  I want to be well read.  I want to be able to discuss art and music and politics and faith and love.  I want to be sensitive and vulnerable.  I want to admit when I’m wrong and work to always be better.

We can’t accept what we’ve become,  Sure, there are still great men out there, but there has to be more.  We’re better than this.

Like John says……..

“I’m a good man with a good heart

Had a tough time, got a rough start

But I finally learned to let it go

Now I’m right here, and I’m right now

And I’m hoping, knowing somehow

That my shadow days are over

My shadow days are over now”

SONG OF THE DAY 9/22/2018

Me and Neil Young

“We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man. We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand. We got department stores and toilet paper. Got Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer. Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.”

Neil Young has haunted me for over twenty years.

Wait.  Hold please, I need more coffee.

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Ok, that’s better.

The first concert I went to was Phil Collins.  I went with my sister.  My dad bought us tickets.  The first album I bought was Ten by Pearl Jam, on cassette.  I walked to Wal-Mart to get it.  I didn’t tell my parents.  I was going to get Nevermind by Nirvana, but I thought it was too “dangerous”.  Not enough melody for my choir boy ears.  I joined Columbia House (remember that), geez I’m old.  I received the double album Decade by Neil Young as the “buy it or return it” album, but his music lived in a world that I had no idea even existed, so it sat largely unplayed, as well as everything else that I received with my 10 cds for a penny deal (seriously, REMEMBER THAT?!).  I can’t remember what else I received for the life of me, but that Neil Young album has followed me throughout my entire life and I’ve never been able to shake it, even though I barely listened to it.

How daunting is this for a kid growing up in the extreme shelter of suburbia.  It was like trying to read War and Peace.

Up until Neil made his appearance in my life, my musical pallet was a smattering of New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Harry Connick Jr and whatever I came across through church and my friends in choir/band.  It was very safe, to stay the least.  As I got closer to finishing high school, I had branched out to the likes of U2, REM, The Wallflowers and Counting Crows, to name a few.  I really liked their music, but mostly because they were great to sing along to.  I was a choir boy after all.  I sang in a barbershop quartet.  You get the idea.  I wasn’t really emotionally evolved.

As I’m writing this, I realize that my journey as a music lover is probably painfully normal.  Life experiences give way to deeper understanding and meaning.  The real world lifts the veil you’ve been living under and shows you that things aren’t the way you believe them to be, blah blah blah….

Maybe it’s not that normal though.  My childhood was easy.  I didn’t grow up around conflict and struggle.  The vast majority of people I’ve met were surrounded by drama from an early age.  I got to grow up in a two parent household.  My cousins grew up in two parent households.  I grew up in The Woodlands TX, the ultimate white suburban bubble.  I went to new schools.  I went to church every Sunday and sang in choir.  My social circle was youth group on Sunday night.  My parents drove a minivan and I mowed the yard on Saturday morning.  We watched The Princess Bride and went on family vacations.  It was easy.  It was protected.  It was emotionally neutral, so when I put on the first disc of Decade and Ohio came on, with Neil singing about the tragic shooting of students protesting the war in Vietnam at Kent State, I couldn’t even get past the odd timber of his voice, let alone understand the cultural impact that the song had when it was written, so I pressed stop and went back to what was safe.

There is a scene in the movie Almost Famous where William’s sister leaves home for San Francisco.  She leaves her records in a bag for him under the bed.  He pulls the bag out and starts flipping through the vinyl.  She instructs him to put on Tommy by The Who, light a candle and well, just watch it for yourself……

How many kids got that lucky?  How many kids had someone guide them into the wonderland of truly meaningful music?  I remember when I bought that Pearl Jam album, I listened to it on my Walkman while I was helping my Dad clean out my Uncle’s old house in Houston.  I remember being amazed by the music, but not fully being able to appreciate the depth of what I was hearing.

When I got to college, everything changed for me.  I was woefully unprepared for life outside of my sheltered existence.  I had my first drink of alcohol and smoked my first joint.  I hung out with people who told me that God didn’t exist.  I went off the deep end and gravitated to those who were the complete antithesis of what my life had been.  Looking back on it today, I understand that they were lost as well, so I don’t blame them for leading me astray.  That was my choice.  I fell apart though, flunked out of college and began several years of decline and depression that would stay with me for the majority of my twenties.  I eventually pulled myself out of it and accepted the mistakes that I had made, but it wasn’t easy.  I wasted a lot of opportunities and potential, but I did gain one thing.

I saw what’s under the surface.  I saw the other side.  I started hearing music in a completely different way.  The curtain was pulled back.  Instead of just singing along, now I was listening.  Instead of just appreciating, now I was absorbing.  I was relating.  I had my William moment.  I’ll spare you the list of artists who opened my mind, but I’ll forever be grateful for what they gave to me.

So here I sit, about to be forty years old and still thinking about Neil Young.  I wonder why that album crossed my path all of those years ago?  Who put it there?  Was it just a coincidence, or was it a tiny glimpse into my future?  Why did something that I was unable to appreciate on any level stick with me for so long?  I wish I knew, but maybe it’s ok that I don’t.  Life is a strange and mysterious journey.

I’m going to go listen to Decade and think about mine.

SONG OF THE DAY 9/21/2018