I have a brother who doesn’t understand me, apparently hates everything I stand for and do, and I am perfectly alright with that. We don’t talk much. Every couple of years or so I get an email, or some other communication, each with variations on two themes. The first is I should be helping my mother. That’s a topic I will leave for another day. What I wanted to explore here was the constant second topic of my brother’s sporadic communications with me.
I am not a real man.
What is a “real man” and why am I not one? According to my brother since I am not the breadwinner in my family, since I do not go out into the world and obtain a sizable paycheck with which to provide for my family, I am less of a man than he is. I don’t engage in these enticements to argue about what makes a real man, because I know I could never really change his mind. I also know that any conversation would probably veer into what his definition of a real woman is, and I am afraid it is more along the lines of “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” than I probably want to admit to myself.
Not having grown up with a father, my uncle and grandfather became the positive male role models in my life. For large chunks, however, they were not seen for weeks or months at a time. They always made their presence felt, however, and I am grateful for that. A positive male role model, no matter how small and sporadic, is better than a constant presence of a mediocre one.
So I wound up my own definition of what it takes to be a man. An early role model was Kwai Chang Caine from the 1970s television series “Kung Fu”. I know it’s a bit unusual, but the man’s sense of duty, justice, and non-violence unless provoked really spoke to me. I still see this character as having influenced much of who I am today. While the series was a bit formulaic, it was the central character and his journey, equal parts inward and outward, that made “Kung Fu” stand out. To this day, there haven’t been many fictional characters with as much integrity is Kwai Chang Caine.
There were other male figures I liked, but none I would hold up as an example until the Rolling Stone interview with John Lennon in 1980. He was returning to the music business after 5 years away. Where had he been? At home with his son. Alright, so he wasn’t a great father to his first child, left his first wife, and had a number of other flaws. Thing was, he was trying to make up for earlier mistakes by staying at home and being a father. That really struck me, here was one of the more important figures in music history, and he tossed it all to the side to spend time with his child. The idea of being a stay at home dad suddenly seemed to have some merit.
Flash forward a number of years, and my oldest son comes to live with us. My wife and I rearrange our schedules so that somebody is always available at home. We move some proverbial mountains so as to not have to place him in childcare before or after school. Eventually I get laid off from my job and decide to work from home. Because what I do involves the internet and video games, it doesn’t qualify as a “real” job. My brother thinks all I do is sit around all day and play games. He doesn’t want to listen to me explain what I actually do and how little “gaming” I actually do. What I do isn’t manly or macho enough.
You know what? I don’t care. I still love him. He is my brother, but I love my family more. I do what I need to do for my family. Yes, I could shutter the website and get a “real” job, and most of that income would wind up going to child care. I don’t see the point. I would rather make a little less money and spend more time with my children. Does that make me less of a man? Does that make me more of one? Does it matter?