How To Be A Man

The other day at the grocery store, I grabbed a copy of Esquire Magazine. This month is their annual "How To Be A Man" edition. All the major men's periodicals run the same yearly theme, or some variation thereof: GQ, Details, Men's Health. There was a time in my life when I bought every one of them. I would tell myself it was out of whimsical curiosity, but the real truth of the matter was that I wanted to know how I measured up. Did I have what it took? Was I a man as our society defines them, or was I a wimp? A pussy? A coward?

Typically these How-To-Be-A-Man editions approach the topic from a number of vantage points like health, fashion, relationships, careers, etc. They inform men that they need to exfoliate and that pedicures will reduce toe-nail cancer. Glossy photos of handsome men with slicked back hair dominate the pages. They model khaki suits and sport sweaters draped over their shoulders - a look I'll never be able to pull off. They also dole out essentials tips on manly behaviour like how to impress friends by selecting the perfect wine for any occasion, or ways to cheat at golf without getting caught by the boss. I may have been outwardly dismissive about what these magazines offered, but in my mind, I took every word of it as gospel.

My favorite section, other than the one spouting assurances over sure-fire techniques for meeting and bedding attractive women, was where the magazine actually defined what it meant to be a man. Usually there would be a list of traits and actions endemic to manliness. A man never cusses in church or discusses religion with others. He wears striped socks and buys brand-name condoms. Men open doors for women, especially when it's the front door to their apartment. Mentally, I would keep score. Yep. Yep. No. Kinda. At times. Definitely. If the score was high enough then it confirmed what I had hoped, that I was a man. If the score was too low, then I demanded a recount.

No one in this world will ever tell you what makes a real man as long as they're trying to make a dollar at the same time.

The Esquire I grabbed was no different than the others. Same tips. Same models. Same lists. However, even though the formula was the same, Esquires' ideas contained some validity.

"...A man doesn't point out that he did the dishes. A Man looks out for children. Makes them stand behind him..."

"...A man resists formulations, questions belief, embraces ambiguity without making a fetish of it..."

"...A man listens, and that's how he argues..."

All are apt, even poetic, descriptions of what a man should be, and I find it hard to argue otherwise. Yet, in my life, I've made many (many) mistakes. I've acted immature, been selfish, and embraced my insecurities. These moments were the result one constant question I couldn't answer confidently. Was I a man? It took time, but several years back I eventually arrived at a conclusion that resolved my doubt. A man doesn't need a magazine to find the answer he's looking for. That maxim was no where to be found on the list in front of me, and it made me smile. No one in this world will ever tell you what makes a real man as long as they're trying to make a dollar at the same time.

That said, you may be wondering why then, if I had figured this out, did I blow four bucks just to read what basically amounted to drivel? Well, based on who graced the cover and then, of course, the whole alleged donut episode, I felt strangely compelled. A man knows how to laugh at himself. That wasn't on the list either.

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