On the wall of my study, over my desk, I hung pictures of four men. They were not acquired at the same time nor was there any significant forethought about their selection. Yet, I have come to realize that collectively they convey to me the unique and disparate qualities of masculinity. Somehow, subconsciously, I have chosen representations of the elements which constitute, for the most part, my gestalt of manliness in its most actualized forms.
On the upper left, no particular thought went into their placement, is Albert Einstein. The photograph is a head shot of the Einstein of later years with the unruly mane of white hair, the bushy mustache and the large doe eyes. Despite the fact that the name Einstein has become synonymous with genius to the point of cliché, I can not think of another man who so clearly embodies creative intelligence and rationality especially when mediated by a powerful dose of humanity. The power of pure reason, with its reliance on empiricism for seeking truth, is an essential aspect of a man’s dedication to problem solving as a primary strategy in meeting the challenges of life.
Next to Albert is Willie Mays in the follow through stage of an apparent home run swing. The bat is held only in his powerful left hand while his head is raised, peering at the flight of the ball as it heads over the center field fence. Willie’s greatness came before the mega-buck contract environment of today’s athletic world. Unlike our current generation of “prima donna” sports figures, Willie played his game with an unparalleled exuberance while simultaneously realizing the full achievement of his enormous natural ability. To me, Willie exemplifies a man’s pure and joyous expression of energy. Willie perfectly symbolizes the unfettered yet directed physical force that is one of the core ingredients forming the male identity.
Under Willie is a fictional man. Don Vito Corleone of “Godfather” fame. The photo shows Marlon Brando in a tuxedo holding a small cat which he is stroking. There is a telling contrast between his right hand gently petting the animal and the hardness of his face. Deep set eyes hidden in shadow peering unwaveringly. The lips are slightly parted and the head is tilted to the left. Overall, it is an expression of absolute resolve. A countenance which communicates certainty of decision tempered with the wisdom of knowing that every choice has its consequences both positive and negative. Unlike Hamlet, trapped in indecision because of his hyper-awareness of consequences, Don Corleone understood that one must act and then deal with the outcomes of that choice in order to assert control in the world. He wielded his power with purpose and honor. Not an honor which conforms to conventional morality, but rather one that adheres to a more primitive ethic that accepts the fundamental truth that some men are naturally more dominant than others. Therefore, it is implicit that the ability to assert ones will over others carries a concomitant responsibility. If they remain loyal, those who yield to the hierarchy will be protected. Brute force is only utilized when other alternatives fail to achieve the desired goal. Family always comes first and protection of its interests transcends political or other externally imposed values. The character of Don Corleone, as constructed by Coppola and Brando, is my archetypal representation of a man’s assertion of power as he attempts to control his environment.
To the right of Don Corleone is a photograph of a scene from he movie “Casablanca.” Rick and Ilsa are standing next to the piano while Sam is seated by the keyboard. Rick is pouring drinks with his eyes focused on Ilsa. Ilsa has her head down, seemingly unable to meet Rick’s eyes. Rick, as portrayed by Bogart, is the consummate “man of the world.” He is masterful, but not in the same way as Don Corleone. Mastery is different than control and power, because it involves an amalgam of characteristics that is driven by the ability to make one’s way even when power is not in one’s grasp. Rick is savvy, sensual, courageous and world wise with an underlying vulnerability that protects him from arrogance. He navigates his way through life with the belief that he will find a way to get what he needs. He is a realist and a survivor but still open to sentiment. Not always honorable, sometimes cynical yet still possessing a strong personal sense of right or wrong.
What have I concluded? Manliness is a strong positive value for me that is measured by benchmarks which I have constructed from four real and fictitious images of men. Reason, physicality, power and mastery tempered by wisdom, sensuality and vulnerability form the package. I know there are unanswered questions. Can women possess these qualities and to what degree? How can we best encourage pride in masculinity that doees not impede gender equality. Important stuff for the next chapter. For now, “Here’s looking at you kid.”