I am not a man-child. Well, okay, maybe I am a man-child– I mean, I do occasionally dress up like a pirate and run around my back-yard with my best friend— but I’m not really a hopeless child in a man’s body, more of a youthful man with a “childlike” attitude toward life, not a “childish” one. There is a difference between the two.
If you watch very much television these days, you are familiar with the man-child stereotype. He’s usually overweight, hopelessy helpless, and really a bit of a doofus. He’s the guy who plays the part of husband/father on nearly every sitcom to be made since the early 90’s. He’s part of the reason that men are having a harder time finding their role in today’s society.
When I look at the television shows of my youth, particularly the popular shows, I notice some striking differences to the current television trends. Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?
The Andy Griffith Show– Andy Taylor was a real man’s man. He knew how to shoot a gun, but as a level-headed law man, he didn’t carry one unless it was absolutely necessary. It wasn’t because he was against the use of guns, in fact, I’m reasonably sure that a guy like Andy probably owned more than one gun for personal protection and for sport–it’s just the he commanded so much respect from those around him, that there were few situations he couldn’t resolve peacefully. He was the type of man who had most of the answers and knew were to find the ones he didn’t. He was a man to look up to, a single father who took care of his family and his friends. He knew his role.
The Beverly Hillbillies– Jed Clampett was not a learned man. He didn’t have much education, nor did he have a great deal of sophistication, but he did have a heart and he tried to provide for his family using the means he had available. He used what he knew about the world, and what he knew about basic living to make a better life for his daughter, his nephew, and his mother-in-law. He also didn’t let money change him. I always got the impression that Jed didn’t have a lot of use for money, and would have been just as content living in the hills and huntin’ for some food for the rest of his days, but when he had the opportunity to offer his charges a bigger oyster, he put aside his own needs and wants and loaded up the truck–“Californy” bound. He always approached every dilemma with a moral scale and weighed it out, and opted to do the right thing, despite the cost, never truly falling victim to those who tried to sponge off him, and always staying true to who he was a man. In the Clampett home, Jed’s word was law, and everyone respected him. The kids knew that if they did wrong, there would be consequences, and when they did wrong, there were. Granny, very much like a kid, often voiced her differences with Jed, but he never got bitter about it. Respecting his elders, as all good men and women should do, he would quietly shake his head and smile, knowing that ultimately, things would turn out okay. He was a man who knew his role.
The Cosby Show– Heathcliff Huxtable was the dad everyone wanted. He was a successful doctor who loved his family. He often acted a fool, but he was never really portrayed as a genuine fool. His family loved and respected him and his wife, Claire. A fan of jazz, he had culture. The man had art hanging on his walls and he appreciated a stylish sweater. He always had time for his family, taking every opportunity to instruct his children in moral behavior, without talking down to them. He loved and respected his wife, and she knew it, because he said it, he showed it, and he lived it. He wasn’t just a good father and husband, he was a respected member of the community, too. Even the friends of his children called him Dr. Huxtable and looked up to him, seeking his advice. He knew how to take charge when needed, and also knew when to step back and let others live up to their potential. He was a man who knew his role.
The Dukes of Hazzard– Uncle Jesse Duke, the patriarch of the Duke family, was another man who set a good example. Even though he wasn’t a man of great means, he graciously took in his troubled nephews and his niece, giving them a home and a moral compass. Granted, he was a former moonshiner, but, when he made a deal with the Government of the U.S. of A. he stuck to it. He didn’t run ‘shine any more, and that was that–he was true to his word. He taught his nephews and his niece the importance of being trustworthy and honest, and he did it gently. You seldom saw Jesse lose his temper, and when you did, he still wasn’t moved to violence–choosing instead to use his brain to find a solution to his problems. A common theme on the show was Uncle Jesse’s standing as an upright and respected citizen of the corrupt Hazzard County. Not only did he take every opportunity to give moral and proper advice to those around him, but if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that there was never a meal eaten in the Duke household that didn’t begin without a prayer of thanks– it was even right there in the opening credits! Go ahead and watch them–I won’t tell. Jesse Duke was a man who knew his role.
Today, television and movies are frought with men who don’t know their role. Their families step beyond the bounds of respect and treat the men like bumbling baffoons; and the men fill those roles nicely. When no-one shows them respect, they lose the respect of the one person who matters, the respect of self. The men in these newer shows seemingly do everything they can to prove their detractors right, and they do it well. Now you, dear reader, may be asking “why all the fuss?” Well, I’ll tell you why. Our young men are growing up, bombarded by images of men who don’t know how to care for their families. They are constantly shown images of men who can’t show emotion. Young men are flooded with images of men who simply won’t control their lusts. Our lads are exposed to the idea that there is no dignified way for a man to express anger. They simply don’t see what it is to be a real man.
The real question is, “Why is this happening?” What is it that makes writers write the man as idiot? I think it’s because today’s writers have lost touch with manliness themselves. They write what they know. When you live in a society that rewards sensless behavior, and holds no-one to the consequences of their actions, how can you know anythinig else?
Another factor, and I’m sure I’ll catch some flack over this, is women’s lib. Now, I’m all for women being independant, and working if necessary. I have no problem with working moms, and I’ve known many strong, capable women in my life. However, as women take on more and more roles that have traditionally been held by men, the roles have become more undefined. Now, men don’t know where they stand. Call it political correctness if you like, but men are afraid of being labled as sexist, and are trying ever harder to “get in touch with their feminine side.” The catch is, that if you listen to women long enough, you’ll note that many miss the chivalrous, manly men of yesterday–they want their cake, and they want to eat it, too.
Don’t be afraid to step up, men. Do the right thing. Not sure what a real man is? Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Watch “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Watch some reruns of the “Andy Griffith Show.” These feature “real men.” Do you know what your role is?