The Fine Art of Resurfacing

I was raised to talk first, think second. I was raised to speak from a place of authority, whether or not I know what I’m talking about.

My father was a minister. He was the voice of his community, a booming presence, a font of knowledge. He was my primary model for manhood, and he stood before his congregation and made sweeping pronouncements. This carried over into our household: He claimed expertise on a variety of subjects. My natural intelligence threatened him. More than once, he encouraged me to stay silent so that he could claim the higher ground.

◊♦◊

When I was in high school, my teachers suggested I join the debate team. This was the ultimate grooming for the know-it-all. In debate club, the entire point is the strength of the argument; you don’t need to believe what you’re saying. You might even have to defend the exact opposite of what you believe.

I didn’t join the debate club. Part of it was my introversion and fear of public speaking, but part of it was my refusal to yield from my steadfast realities. I knew what I knew, I believed what I believed, and I would not compromise that for the sake of argument.

As a high school senior, I took a college-level English class. The first major assignment the class had was to write timed argumentative essays. I excelled at that. I was the first one in the class to be finished with the assignment. I had learned the art and the science of writing quickly, eloquently, and with authority. My words dripped truthiness because I held the conviction of my thoughts, even if I had no idea what I was talking about.

◊♦◊

I had learned the art of nonsense. And by “nonsense,” I mean another word that I’m not using because I’m trying not to cuss. I’m trying to be a role model. My students might read this.

I’m good at pontificating. My Good Men Project articles contain plenty of examples of my truthiness-filled spiels. These are a continuation of years of social media posts, blog entries, and unpublished essays. I can build objective reality like a champ.

I came to see this as what men do. A few months ago, I would have said that this is what men are taught to do as a culture, but I don’t know what other men are taught. It seems to be a common stance among men. In my experience. Which is all I can really speak from.

A few months ago, indeed, my entry for The Good Men Project was a commentary about racism and the movie “Bird Box.” I admitted from the outset that I had neither seen the movie nor read the book (I’ve since done both), and made a winky meta-reference to how that made me perfect for the task.

Then I took a planned break. I wanted to reassess where I was going with my writing. I felt like my articles were strong and consistent, but that most of them were written from the emotional distance of the know-it-all that I had honed over my lifetime.

◊♦◊

The essays I enjoyed myself the most, meanwhile, were about me. They were personal, revealing my vulnerabilities. I wasn’t speaking for all men, I wasn’t handing knowledge down from on high. I was speaking for myself.

Even so, I felt, I feel, like each time I was ready to really pull myself apart and completely bear my soul, I would retreat. It became a regular enough pattern that I was ready to acknowledge it.

I have long struggled with seeing myself as a normal man. I have been raised to believe there was a way that men should be, and that I wasn’t being that way. I came to believe that, if I spoke about this publicly, I would be cast out of some sort of Men’s Club that I was already on the edge of.

I don’t know if any of that is true. If I weren’t right now actively fighting the urge to do it, I’d insist that this struggle is at the heart of the anguish of the American man. But I really don’t know.

What I do know is that there seem to be enough male voices talking in broad-sweeping cultural tones, and too few men speaking for themselves, and only for themselves.

◊♦◊

I’m not going to abandon my pontification entirely. I’m working to make it clearer when it’s something that’s just a personal opinion, and when it’s something I do truly know more about. And I don’t want to let my Imposter Syndrome drown out my own voice. There really are some things I know a lot about.

At the same time, I want to express more introspection. If my personal reflections on how I was raised to hold the world at an emotional distance can help others, that’s more meaningful to me than a hundred pontifications.

Ultimately, there is safety in the objectivity: If I am merely the product of the same toxic masculine programming as every other man of my generation, I don’t need to expose anything of myself.

I am tired of running back to safety. I am who I am, which is an interesting individual. I am working to make this my starting point going forward.

Originally published on The Good Men Project.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.