211 Club (A pool hall)
The New Man. Whats Up with That?
Yves Jaques, Malcolm Lawrence,
Cason Swindle and Larry Swindle
Introduction by Malcolm Lawrence
In this era of dramatic shifts in gender roles as well as the ability of males to be able to feel comfortable discussing their feelings and relationships with each other, Babel is proud to introduce Seahorse, a regular forum that happens to be inaugurated with four white guys sitting around talking, but in no way wants to only have Caucasian male voices in future installments of the forum.
I have been sensitive to the shifts in gender roles in Western culture since I began taking Women's Studies courses at the collegiate level in 1985, when it was usually twenty-five females and myself in a classroom. Since that time I've taken whole courses on the issue of abortion, written plays with all-female casts, novels with only the voice of a female protagonist, and have read extensively about what I term the Gender Wars. I am also a bachelor still.
Yves Jaques and I have been friends since 1985, when we met one weekend when he was visiting the house I was living in while I attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Yves is a writer of novels, short stories, spoken word pieces and non-fiction as well as being a musician, consummate world traveler and is married to painter Sienna Reid, a seminal figure in the art scene in Seattle. Their son, Marcel, is now six years old. Yves and I are both European by heritage as well. Yves is Swiss/Austrian and I'm English.
Cason Swindle I met in 1993 when my frequent visits to a stationary store in downtown Seattle ended up with my becoming very well acquainted with his wife, Julia. Cason is a student at Antioch University and also runs his own business which is discussed during the course of our discussion.
Cason and Yves met in cyberspace when I sent out a quip via email to a few friends in my address book commenting on the timing of how both Bill Gates and Madonna expressed how much they wanted to have children within days of each other. I titled my email "The Progeny of Overachievers," and when Yves sent back a reply to my comments to everyone on the list, Cason was so taken with his response that he emailed Yves himself and before long a cyber friendship had started to develop.
When the three of us realized how enthusiastic each of us were to inaugurate Seahorse as a forum within the context of Babel and were trying to schedule a night when we could all meet, Cason mentioned that his father Larry, a professor at a university in Louisiana, was going to be in town shortly and wondered if we would be interested in including him in the proceedings. Yves and I thought it was a great idea, specifically because since we were going to begin the forum by talking about exactly what the "New Man" is, having two generations of males from the same family represented couldn't help but give the conversation an added layer of depth to the proceedings.
We decided to meet at the 211 Pool Hall in the Belltown area of downtown Seattle, just upstairs from the Speakeasy cybercafe and information trading post where the Babel pages are in fact hosted on their server. We figured that four white guys sitting around talking about what it means to be a man in the late 90s would best be facilitated with the crack of pool balls in the background and pitchers of beer on the table.
As I was driving over to the 211 the song "Cat's In The Cradle" by Harry Chapin started to play on the car radio. The quintessential song from the early 70s that accurately reflects how quite frequently the fact that the father has no time for the son when he's busy trying to make the money to raise him will inevitably be mirrored later when the son has no time for his father when he's too busy trying to make the money to raise his own son, and so on as the cycle endlessly repeats itself. I thought this would be the perfect place to begin our discussion as I introduced what I'd just heard on the radio to the other three.
Larry Swindle: I remember when that song came out in the early 70s. "Cats In The Cradle" was very popular and I was traveling at the time. Out three nights a week, home four nights a week, but sometimes out four nights a week and it comes back to you and youll hear that song and think "Am I doing it right? God, am I spending the time? Is this going to be the kind of thing where the kid ends up with: "Yeah, when ya gonna get time, Dad? Ill see you later. Ya know, Im gone." And you break into tears when you hear it and go, "Man, just get me home, just get me home."
And its funny that you should mention that particular song because that was striking at a time on the radio when I was beginning raising the kids.
Malcolm Lawrence: Theres a friend I have, I used to live with him years ago, and he used to say that THAT is one of the most important songs as far as hes concerned. So, its really interesting to hear that both generations seem to touch on that song as being emotionally important.
Yves Jaques: Yeah, I find that really funny, too, because when that song always used to be on the KJR AM radio when I grew up my Dad was working full-time at Boeing and getting a Masters degree in business at night at Seattle U. And it just seemed like he was ALWAYS gone.
Cason Swindle: Its interesting because its something that I know I look at and kind of go, "Well, I definitely dont want to have that happen in my life." I know thats happened in previous generations. The possibility of "Dad goes out and works. You know, he does the THING." And I think that the babyboomers are finding the same thing, that "No, family is what is important." The same issues come up, that family certainly is important, but how do you create the perfect balance of, yes, working and doing your career and doing the family, which is what you want the career to afford you the time to do. How do you say yes to your career? Dad and I have been talking about this all day. How do you find the perfect medium? Well, for one thing there is no such thing because it always fluctuates. How do you successfully balance the work that it is that you want to do
YJ: That can even be an issue without children. A good friend of Malcolm and mine, Nathan, he was married to this woman and they seemed to have a really strong relationship or I always thought they did because they did a lot of things with their own friends as well as together. But ultimately it sort of came down to where it always seemed that Nate was going out with his friends and she was going out with her friends, which I always had this misguided view that that was the strength of their relationship, that they didnt have to do everything together, and then they got divorced.
CS: Realized that they did NOTHING together. The whole point was that they did zero.
LS: And Cats In The Cradle is the same story. It still ties into it. Cason and I were talking earlier today, and I was thinking "Did you feel missed?" because I quit my job and moved from Philadelphia to a farm in the Ozarks with 25 acres, a house, pigs and chickens. Packed it up, absolutely left everything.
CS: The real "Green Acres"
LS: I was the youngest regional manager at Kaiser Aluminum, fast track, been fast track for the company. It was a career, and I thought "I want to be home when the kids come home and tell the stories about...pig litter, or whatever when they come home, whatever went on that day, I want to be home."
So I chucked it and we went to the Ozarks--
ML (to CS): How old were you when this happened?
CS: Third grade
LS: ...Into a school where they had two classes together, eight students--
CS: --each teacher taught two grades, third and fourth grades taught together. The teacher said we couldnt possibly be in the Milky Way because we could actually SEE the Milky Way.
LS: We packed up in a 15 mile-an-hour wind, 15 degrees and 15 inches of snow on the ground for 15 days: headed out to the Ozarks and that was a helluva trip. And I got nine months for about 90,000 dollars. I got nine months of being there every day when the kids came home from school and a summer of everything we ever wanted to do when we wanted to do it. A fabulous time.
I was 32 at the time, we arrived back in when I was 33 into another career that turned out, but we went on and everything went right on with it. I got nine months: pretty cool! Another thing is that its something that everyone remembers, I still own the property and at some time or another everybody will get a chance to go back.
ML: There was something that Cason wrote in an e-mail this week about the fact that you, Larry, had mentioned this idea (of Sea Horse) to some friends of yours at work...
LS: Yeah, I mean, this is Louisiana. And I told them "Im going to meet some really neat guys that Cason knows and talk about what it means to be a man in the 90s," and I said to them, "Tell me, guys, what was your development, how did you develop being a man, how did you understand that you were "a man? What guides you to what is acceptable to women, what is acceptable as a man to women, what is acceptable as a man to another man, to a grandmother as a male child as opposed to a female child...what rules that? Was it teachers, was it whatever....and we went around the table to the next guy and the next guy, but it came down to, what it all boiled down to was "Who taught you to hunt and fish?"
ML: Wow. And, of course, this wasnt something that they had all talked about, it was: Man equals hunt and fish.
LS: Man equals hunt and fish because thats the time when it got male-to-male. Male-to-male time was that. Beyond that it was Mother and home. Outside of that it was Hunt and Fish.
ML: So its "What can a male teach you that females cant teach you"
CS: Whats interesting to me about that is that for the majority of us who are not raised in any rural areas like that that there is no "hunt and fish" that was part of the male bonding experience of learning how to be a man. With my dad it was canoeing. But I wonder how much we now try to take that away, take that experience away or satirize it by saying "male bonding." We somehow make it a joke and say, "Oh, theyre going to go male bonding," and it becomes some sort of embarrassment almost.
ML: And when the females do their bonding it just seems as something females "do." Its something you cant question. You cant mock it.
CS: Oh, no.
ML: Which implies that theres something pejorative about male bonding, as if its something to be ashamed of.
CS: I was thinking the other day, if you say "man" now, what do we denotatively/connotatively put. I mean, if we just put a list down of what being a man means, its almost a shame, especially if youre a white male, were the scourge of God, the scourge of society. Like man in the sense of deadbeat dad or abusive husband or abusive father or dominating or dullard or the guy that never asks directions or is trying to dominate in some way, especially white males, and I was trying to think of one, single positive male image left and I could not think of a single, positive denotative or connotative definition for man left...here...I cant speak for any other country or society or whatever.
ML: Youd be surprised at how many you could actually speak for, though, as far as Western civilization is concerned.
CS: What can you be proud of being a male?
ML: I cant think of this question without lapsing into what are the attributes if thats an apt synonym for...because I think that in the time were living in now, specifically with the advent of the computer, there are so many chores which either both genders can do or have been shared to such a point that the lines have been blurring. I dont really think that there are any things that only "males" can do or do right now.
LS: One thing that I can think of is provider.
CS: Do you think so?
LS: I think provider still sticks.
ML: I think thats a very unsaid thing, though.
LS: I think that even with an income greater than their husbands or greater than the boyfriends or whatever, there is still the requirement of the male to provide the stability of income.
CS: And that reminds me of your friend Malcolm, Peter, who said, "My contract is finishing, I just want to take a couple of months and just spend time with my daughters," and immediately his wife and his mother were just like "What do you mean?"
ML: "Thats quite a warm and fuzzy thing to do, Pete, but what about the paycheck?"
YJ: With my wife and I we still fall into roles that we might shift around on, but, itll be pleasant to both of us to do some of those things like tonight she was about to go and drive to Capitol Hill and the low-beams are burned out and only the high-beams work. So it makes me feel good to say "Oh, I just bought these low-beams, let me just run out there and replace them." I put on my big coat and its cold outside, and I just felt really positive doing that.
And then there are just things that I dont even think about around the house, like the yard. Shes just got this green thumb, I could probably have one too, but its like things live or die out in the yard and I dont think about those things and shell get this great feeling about tending the yard and having it look really great. And those roles, I dont know, they can be positive things in that way.
CS: Yeah, I feel like such a mensch going out and changing headlights, or doing some sort of "guy" thing. It has that sense of "Wow, this is really what I ought to be doing." Even the thought of that makes some distinction out of "This is different from what I expect. Different from what I am used to doing. The fact that I came up with it implies that Im aware that this is part of what Im expected to do, but implicitly." So, yeah, you go "Sure, this feels right, this is the type of stuff I should be doing, but I shouldnt be feeling that because Im supposed to be sensitive. Im supposed to be a sensitive new-age guy and this is just one of the things I do. It isnt necessarily "male"...you know, all those little triggers...
YJ: At Christmastime our son Marcel got this little thing, this helicopter flies off the top of it and you shoot these darts at it, and Siennas like "Oh, my God, a gun." And Im playing with it, going "Wow, this is really cool!" And Marcels really excited about it, too. And its just funny to see him in the daycare. Actually, hes been in a bunch of classes with about thirteen boys and one or two girls just by chance. And all of the boys are really into the superheroes, so I think "Were they programmed that way or whats going on?" When I see Marcel I see him being programmed in a lot of ways.
LS: Cason and I had talked earlier about how twenty years ago I had talked with two other guys, and we were discussing when we understood that we were men. When were we accepted, primarily by our dads, as being a man. Each of us commented that it was really late, I was 35 before I really knew, and I can tell you the moment that I knew that my Dad had accepted me as a man.
ML: What was the moment?
LS: I was on a roof. My Dad was a mechanic and we were tearing off a roof and it was hot, God, it was 103 degrees outside in West Texas and my Dad was getting some building supplies to build another building and I was there with him and we stopped working for a bit, had a little water, and were sitting there looking out. And I swear to God you could see forever. And talking, just talking about stuff, you know. Talking about Mom, and talking about my wife and it became clear in his conversation that he wasnt talking with me as a father. It was clear in the terms he used, the way he talked to me, the candor he used was clear that I was no longer a son being protected or under care, I was an equal of sorts.
And when my Dad died, he had had a heart attack and he was recovering very well, still in the hospital, he got up, went to the bathroom, never acknowledged my existence in the room. He acknowledged my Sister, Mother, uncles, aunts, but never acknowledged me. My spin on that was, it was clear had he acknowledged me that there was a transition of family head. That he had given up family head and was acknowledging the heir. Instead of that he chose to ignore death, and to say "I can make it."
Cason and I had talked earlier about rites of passage and we started working out that for male white Protestants, and also male black Protestants, there is virtually no rite of passage. There is no bar mitzvah--
ML: --there is no "hunt and fish"
LS: --There is no "hunt and fish"
YJ: The keys to the car, maybe.
LS: But thats granted to you by the government, by the state before its granted by the dad. We need a rite of passage to manhood. Some character of tribal festivity. The cutting of the stomach or the tattooing or whatever else...
LS: Yeah, whatever else, I mean, theres no transition there.
YJ: Well, Marcels uncircumcised so we have the possibility of having that done, so when hes twelve or thirteen...
ML: Its really funny that you should say tattooing, Larry, because Seattle--
CS: --is the tattoo capitol.
ML: --and all of a sudden it just hit me that there are an awful lot of kids here who will really go overboard with the tattooing and Im sure that either on an unconscious level or on a subconscious level they havent been through a rite of passage and so they keep crossing that threshold, looking for something.
YJ: If a tattoo didnt come with a little bit of pain, then no one would be that interested in having one.
LS: Its a sacrifice of some kind: of your time, of your self, and it has to be--
CS: Theres pain and permanency to it.
YJ: It really does make you wonder if the lack of a rite of passage is one reason why we seem to have this problem with this really extended adolescence that never ends. People feeling that they dont want to grow up or theyre not grown up.
Part Two: The New Man. What's up with that?