I was talking with a family member recently about how a lot… NOT ALL…. but a lot of boys and men today are lacking in the “tough guy” department. Naturally, it should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway because experience has taught me to always be thorough and leave no room for interpretation and even less room for wise guys – but when I say “tough guy,” I’m not referring to bullies.
For an illustration of the difference between the two, you need look no further than a street in black and white Mayberry. When Opie stood up to a milk-money-thieving bully, Opie was tough. The bully? Well he was a punk. Punks aren’t tough guys – they’re just target practice for tough guys.
It’s kind of hard to describe what makes a man or boy tough, isn’t it? Maybe that’s what makes it hard to be tough.
I’ll use another illustration. This time a real life one, in living color. When my oldest daughters (Emily and Brittany) were around 1 and 2 years old, they were sitting with my dad in his favorite recliner. This particular man thought these particular girls hung the moon and stars. I was never one to argue because I was pretty sure they did too. He had just gotten home from work and was so excited to see that we had come for a visit, that he sat right down with the girls without taking the ball point pen out of his shirt pocket.
I was on the other side of the room, talking to my mother when I heard my dad calmly say, “I’ll be right back, girls, I just need to get something in the kitchen…” He had his pen in his hand, so I just assumed he was putting it up.
Come to find out, somehow, in the chaos of four little excitable hands, the pen had come out of his pocket and had poked him in the eye.
He later said he didn’t want to scare the girls or make them think they’d done anything wrong, so he just calmly excused himself. There was a tear that required a doctor’s attention and he wore a patch for a few weeks, calling himself “Grandpa Pirate.”
You know – and I know – that there are men today that, if this had happened to them back then – they’d still be screaming about it. They’d have pitched such a fit the two little girls would have been scarred for life.
This is just one of the illustrations of toughness that come to mind. Possibly it’s the one I choose to use I’ve had something similar happen to my eye before and know that the pain is excruciating. What’s more, it’s frightening – I mean, it’s your eye! And yet, my dad (who was not at all a big, strapping man – in fact, he was WAY more Barney than Andy) summoned the toughness to take command of his fears, his pain, and his emotions. It left an impression on me then and it still leaves one today.
Another illustration of toughness involves another of the most important men in my life – my husband. He was chosen to throw the first pitch out at an important minor league baseball game. He was lined up for the honor for nearly a year. Tragically, his adorable mother passed away about a week before the game. I never even assumed, for a minute, that he wouldn’t go through with his duty. I knew he was one of the last remaining tough guys, so I knew he’d manage to go through with it. I just didn’t know that he’d be able to do so with so much strength. He managed smiles and even laughed about not throwing the ball into the dirt. No one in the entire stadium (except for one wife and three daughters) knew that underneath the smile was a broken heart.
He put on his loud Tommy Bahama shirt and did what needed to be done. No questions asked. He wasn’t going to let anyone else down or not do what he said he’d do.
Yet again, this illustration sticks out to me because, yet again, I’ve had something similar happen to me with my mom and know the pain is excruciating. And frightening.
As with most things in life, I don’t have the answer to the problem of our current drought of tough guys or cowboys. Too much catering to whims… lack of accountability… too many parents “babying” their sons?? I don’t know. A lot of people point to too many single parent homes where young boys don’t have a father figure to “look up to.” While this certainly sounds reasonable and probably does account for a lot of it, my dad was raised by his mom after she divorced his dad. So, even that “excuse” has holes in it.
Maybe, just maybe, a lot of men aren’t tough today because… Hey! Being tough is hard! It’s easier to complain, whine, gripe, pout, scream and bow out. I watched a lot of westerns with my dad and I never saw the cowboys act like that. They pulled up their boots and… more times than not.. quietly did what needed to be done. Quietly and nobly.
They didn’t throw pity parties, they didn’t demand attention, and they didn’t whine. They were too busy doing cowboy stuff to have time for any of that “sissy” stuff.
Maybe part of it comes from selfishness. People today seem to be more self-oriented and selfish than ever before. After all, this is a generation that added the word “selfies” to our vocabulary. Most of us, when we were teens and even into our twenties, we pointed our cameras at everything and everyone BUT ourselves!
I think all of us would be a lot better off if we pointed our attention… as well as our camera… at other things and people as well. If we stopped putting ourselves in the center of everything and stopped worrying that we weren’t “getting our way” all the time. Basically if everyone just pulled up their boots, got over themselves, and went on about life and the living of it.
Maybe then the cowboys would show back up…