In the past several weeks Americans have faced a seemingly endless government shut down, polar temperatures across much of the country and a full-blown attack on manhood. While each is disconcerting, the assault on manhood is by far the most dangerous.
It was, of course only a matter of time before all men would be likened to the brutes whose harassment and abuse triggered the #metoo movement. Before we get even more carried away with ourselves, it is worth noting that most men are not toxic. Far from it.
Gillette’s recent “Toxic masculinity” commercial can easily lead to such a perilous conclusion. There are plenty of uplifting moments during the ad’s one minute and 48 seconds that show men acting at their best. These images – fathers tending to their children, friends giving a needed correction to a friend, stand-up guys using their influence to encourage others – belie the spot’s judgy hectoring on “toxic masculinity.” In fact, a recent ad for Egard watches provides a necessary antidote for any American made sick by Gillette’s toxic messaging. It’s worth, shall we say, a watch.
Egard Watches’ CEO Ilan Srulovicz narrates the “What is a man?” commercial. Interspersing questions on what typifies a man are statistics revealing the complexity and strength of the American man. He is brave, a hero, a protector. At times he is vulnerable and may feel disposable or broken. But, above all, he is – or should be – trying.
Yes, there are abusive men like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein. There are bullies (and some are men). There are deadbeat dads. But rather than condemn all men as failing to live up to their manhood (like the rush to assume the worst of the young Covington Catholic High School boys), it is worth spending more time on the many more men whose lives reflect true manhood. Quiet, dignified men who don’t make the headlines, strong and gentle men who do their duty to family and community, men who live and love in the most self-less sense of the word.
Here is a snapshot of the lives of a few good men I know.
Bob has been caring for his Huntington’s-ravaged wife for more than 17 years. Once it became clear that Susan needed round-the-clock care, Bob quit work. The couple lives in Bob’s childhood home with his parents to defray costs while Bob attends to Susan’s daily needs. His days and his nights are dedicated to his wife – “my dear” – as she has become essentially non-communicative and entirely dependent. “The best a man can be”? I think so.
Matt spent seven years helping his wife Mary Ann battle the cancer that eventually took her life. Matt studied the disease and treatment options – and learned from Mary Ann’s suffering and acceptance. While no longer with Matt to help raise their lovely children, Mary Ann’s optimism and joy left a lasting imprint on Matt. “The best a man can be”? Matt hardly needed a lecture from a razor blade company.
Scott M. started a “Dads and Daughters” club where his eldest — a first grader — and her friends get together monthly to camp and hike. Soon they’ll start the basics of rock climbing. So far, the overnight camp-outs have included lots of giggling as well as serious lessons on fire safety and first aid. For one little girl whose father is not present in her life, Scott makes sure she is part of the club, too. Scott wants his daughter and other girls to be “the best they can be.”
Ronald took up driving for Uber for the flexibility in his work schedule so he wouldn’t miss any of his two sons’ football or basketball games. He boasts of the boys’ talent and makes sure to remind them of the life lessons of team sports (“An assist on the court is just as important as making the shot.”) Ronald knows that “being your best” means being present.
Scott N. and Matthew are dedicated to educating and forming boys, some of whom lack good male role models at home. They already celebrate former students who are young men of faith, virtue, intelligence, and action.
Father Chris, a Roman Catholic parish priest, celebrates baptisms with new parents and consoles grieving friends and relatives at burials. With compassion and concern he helps his flock pick up the pieces of themselves after loss, tragedy, or just the everyday strains of life. Life for a Catholic priest is not easy these days, but Father Chris -- like many of his brother priests -- is “at his best,” faithfully and tirelessly living out his religious calling to serve God and others.
There are more. So many more. Sons, fathers, husbands, friends, colleagues. They are everywhere – still – in a hopelessly confused culture that sends mixed messages on what it takes for a boy to become a man. For every toxic man there are countless others whose lives are ordinary and yet heroic examples of traditional manhood. You know them. I know them. And their masculinity is anything but toxic.
These men deserve our thanks, not our lecturing.