Friday, June 18, 2004

The Random Ruminations of a Man left to His Own Devices (Part I)

My wife has left me — again. Michelle has gone to visit her best friend, Mrs. Franklin in Memphis for the weekend. You remember the Franklins. They’re our good friends from SoCal who moved to Memphis a few years after we moved to Nashville. They’re hosting a “local” after-the-fact reception for their son and new daughter-in-law whose wedding we attended three weeks ago in Mississippi.

Michelle is only too happy to go and help her friend at a time such as this. Wild horses couldn’t have kept her away. I both admire and envy that kind of friendship. It seems to be more common among women than men. It’s something that I used to enjoy, but which has been missing from my life for many years now. It’s something that once experienced, all future relationships are weighed against.

Geography usually plays the biggest role in determining how long friendships are nurtured and remain vital. Long distances don’t have to be the death of a friendship, but they usually are. The determining factor is the degree to which the two parties are willing to work to see that the vitality of the relationship is maintained. It’s a lot easier now, with the inception of free-long-distance cell phone plans and e-mail, but nothing can replace the drop-of-a-hat phone call to go grab a cup of coffee, or the informal invite to bring the wife and kids over next Sunday for a barbecue. The accessibility of a best friend is one of the greatest comforts one can hope for in this busy, hectic life. At least it is for me.

But unfortunately, it isn’t a present reality in my life. This is all the more reason for me to treasure the times that I can spend with those I’ve loved, who’ve helped me to feel good about myself and have also administered a few much-needed kicks in the ass over the years.

Friendship is an interesting study in regard to men. I have found that most of the guys I’ve met in the years following our departure from SoCal have wrapped themselves up in their careers and families, usually so tightly that it becomes their entire reality. Too often they seem to derive their identity solely from how much money they make or what they do for a living or what their position is in the community. However, I believe that friends are the only true validation of a man’s self-assertion that he actually is whom he thinks he is. A man who has no friends has a hard time acquiring a true read on his self-worth, his identity, and, I believe, his reason for living. It is said that we are defined by the company we keep. I would add that it’s the people we touch and those who touch us that really make us who we are.

Going Solo
Before I chose web design as my primary career focus, I was a print graphic designer. From the mid-80s to the first few years after we arrived in Nashville, I worked in the record industry, doing layout, design and art direction of music packaging for MCA Jazz and other jazz labels. Our last two years in SoCal I worked as in-house Art Director for a small Jazz/Adult Contemporary (AC) label which unfortunately no longer exists. The reason we chose Nashville as a place to relocate was specifically because I wanted to continue my career in that industry.

One of the AC artists we featured was a guy named Michael Tomlinson. At one of his album release showcases we put on soon before I left the company, he made a statement during his performance that I thought was both profound and accurate.

He was introducing a song about friendship and he said, “Women seem to always be able to retain friends their whole lives, but for guys it seems to be different. Some guys will usually remain close to friends from their college days throughout their twenties and even longer. But for many of us, once we get into our thirties, we tend to go solo once we’re married and into our careers, and I don’t quite know why that is.”

Could it be macho pride? Could it be the fact that when a man reaches the point at which the world judges him by his outward success, he decides to play it safe rather than open himself up to scrutiny by his peers? Could it be controlling wives or girlfriends, who feel threatened that a night out with the boys is an invitation to infidelity or excess? They’d never allow their man to possibly be placed in a position where his integrity might be compromised, let alone give him the opportunity to talk about her behind her back. I have lost good male friends for all of those reasons. And it sucks.

Fortunately time has provided opportunity for me to re-connect with a couple of them, and although half a continent physically separates us, we have in recent years been able to get together for short visits and talk on the phone often. I just find it frustrating that it has to be so difficult sometimes.

I know I’m really opening myself up to attack here, and I feel the necessity to assure you that I am a man, I am completely heterosexual and I am not effeminate. But I have to ask other guys out there, why is it so hard for men to make themselves vulnerable? I love to talk sports, and could talk most guys under the table over the broad spectrum of that subject. I love to talk music, politics, all the usual tennants of "guy-talk." But why can't we talk about things that make a difference? Why can’t we share our hopes and fears; ways to make ourselves better, more responsible, and less reactionary? We seem to all demand to be respected, why is it that men don't want to talk about what they can do to be more respectable? This is what I was referring to in my blog description (the text block at the top of the page) as “being real instead of hiding behind macho smokescreens.”

Real men have feelings. Getting them to talk about them is the hard part. I think it all comes down to trusting the person you’re sharing them with, and trustworthiness is a commodity in short supply these days.

And that’s a very sad thing indeed.

Next: Bachin’ It
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