Photo: Freeimages.com – Josef Faustbeck
Take it like a man.
How often have you heard this expression? Or maybe one of its cousins: Man up. Don’t be a sissy. Be a man. Don’t cry.
When I played university football, emblazoned at the top of our dressing room, in huge, black lettering, read the words: INTIMIDATE AND DOMINATE.
I bought into it. The notion of power, strength and toughness as symbols of masculinity.
There was nothing wrong with being tough and strong; repressing other qualities was problematic. I was a sensitive child but rarely talked about my feelings. In my twenties, I suffered severe bouts of mental illness. Discussing it was an admission of weakness.
Now in my forties, I contemplate the idea of masculinity. A visit to a local parts store underscored a traditional view of manhood. Got me thinking.
I've frequented this place many times. They stock parts not found in big-box stores. I buy water filters there for my fridge.
One time, I purchased two filters. The model was updated and had a different SKU (stock keeping unit). The first one had the old SKU; the clerk got me the updated model for the second.
Unknowingly, he gave me the wrong filter. Got home and popped in the first model, which was the correct one.
Months later, when replacing the unit, I tried installing the second model. Didn't fit. I returned to the store and explained my predicament to the clerk on duty.
"So the guy before sold me the wrong filter," I said.
He checked the bill. "According to this, he sold you the right one. Besides, it's past the thirty-day return policy."
"But it doesn't fit my fridge. It's not the right one. I would've returned it within thirty days if I’d opened this one first."
He took a closer look at the unit.
"Hmm ... This filter's SKU doesn't match the invoice," the man concurred. "But how do I know this is the one he sold you?"
"Because it is," I said, confused.
"How do I know you're not lying?" he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. "You just have to take my word. I'm not lying."
We stared at each other.
"I realize you don't know me,” I said, “and you have a business to run. But I bought this filter on the guy's recommendation. He said it was the right one."
"Doesn't matter, it's past the thirty days."
Argh. "Is there anyone else I can speak to or call about this?"
"There is," he replied, "but they'll tell you the same thing."
I'm not getting a refund, I thought, without wasting my valuable time in customer service hell, then countered: "If you were me, how would you feel in this situation?"
"It would suck," he answered curtly. Small talk was not his forte.
"You would feel it's unfair?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
Sigh. "What would you recommend I do?"
He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Take it like a man."
Really? Suck it up, buttercup.
In this case, I was sold the wrong product and was out fifty bucks. Why should I accept that?
Take it like a man? No, thanks.
I reject manhood wrapped in the notion of the strong, silent stoic. It doesn't work for everyone.
I reject bottling emotions, feeling restricted to express my true self.
Somewhere, a young boy is thinking: Maybe I won't play with dolls anymore because boys don't do that.
Somewhere, an adolescent boy is thinking: Maybe I won't take dance lessons because my friends will make fun of me.
Somewhere, a young man is thinking: Maybe I won't go into nursing because it's not "manly" enough.
If my kids ever ask me what to do in a difficult situation, I won't "gender" my advice.
If I think they need to be strong, I'll say "be strong." If I think they need to be tender, I'll say "be tender."
Back to the store. I was going to buy a humidifier pad and other filters before my interaction with the clerk. After his advice, I decided to take my business elsewhere. Left the store, got in the car.
I was about to turn on the ignition, then thought: I'm going to spend at least another hour, maybe two, looking for these parts at other places. It's not going to be any cheaper. I might not even find them. Crap. Just making my life harder.
I swallowed my pride, went back in the store. Looked the clerk in the eye.
"Listen, I'm only here 'cause I'm gonna waste my time driving to different stores and not find the right thing. Fact remains, I still need a filter."
He was reasonable. Offered a discount. If I bought two he would shave more off the price. We compromised.
I made sure it was the right SKU.
As for what it means to be a man?
I once wrote that being a man means being true to yourself and to those you love. To be responsible, caring, honest and patient. That's my personal opinion.
The more I think about it, instead of asking what it means to be a man, maybe I should focus more on what it means to be a person.
Because anyone can be strong and caring. Or tender and tough. Man or woman—it shouldn’t matter.
All you need is to be human.