Michael S. Lewis: Portrait of a man

For the Monitor
Saturday, December 09, 2017

“Where are all the good men dead? In the heart or in the head?”

– Debi Newberry,
Grosse Pointe Blank

I have an archetype in mind. Just one. He is a white man in his early 50s with short hair and stubble – which is whitening.

He has a strong chin and hard eyes – could be blue, could be gray.

There’s something of the Westerner in him. He’s dressed in plain clothes. There is no style to him. No hair gel. No tight-fitting designer jeans with rolled cuffs. No patterned shirt. He is wearing clothes you’d buy at a regular store, distractedly – there probably in protest. He’d rather be doing something else.

He is no peacock. His face is on full display. It is not covered by strange looking glasses to mask his weaker features.

He is what he is. He is strong and useful and void of pretension, even in middle-age. He’s not any older or younger than he is. He’s fine with that. He doesn’t dye what’s left of his hair. He’s never thought of that.

He doesn’t impose on others. He has courage. He has the courage, even, to be anonymous and to live a life of anonymity among the mass of other men. His primary aim is to lead a quiet life. He is a man of few words, but they are thoughtful words.

He has manners, but the quiet sort. There’s no spectacle when he opens the door for others.

He has a wife and daughters. He loves them and respects them in an old fashioned and gendered way. The same holds for his mother and sisters.

He views it as his job to protect all of them. In his world, the greatest crimes are those committed by men against women and children. Their continued protection from other men is his greatest worry.

He has a son – one oldest son. He hopes that he will imprint his values on his son. He worries more about his son than his daughters. He knows better the path his son must follow. He expects his son to learn to act like a man and to be the man of the house when he is gone. That will mean protecting his mother and sisters and grandmother, even.

He treats others with honor and honorably. He is not a scamp. His word is his bond. He strikes handshake deals and keeps them. He cleans up his own messes. If he sees a blind man trying to cross the street, he’ll ask if the man needs help and help if the man says yes. He’ll do the same for the elderly and the sick and the disabled.

He respects his elders. He respects law enforcement and veterans. He recognizes the special debt owed each.

He likes sports and his favorite players are good sportsmen of few words and great feats. He drinks American beer without frills and coffee in a normal mug – black. He eats meat.

He has good friends and he will quietly help any friend who asks, if he can. He’ll stretch himself to do so but he won’t be taken advantage of, either.

His friends know that he will be there for them when they are in need. He is no gossip and so friends know that they may confide in him, and he will do his best to provide good, sound and stable advice, confidentially.

This man is no fool. He wouldn’t suffer the foolishness of our current times well. He wouldn’t or couldn’t respect or stand for the weaknesses and abuses by men like those who have been on full display in the past year.

He’s a man of experience with other men. And so he wouldn’t be surprised by these men and their behavior, either.

Matt Lauer wouldn’t surprise him. Louis C.K. wouldn’t surprise him. Al Franken wouldn’t surprise him. Charlie Rose might surprise him. Roy Moore would disgust him and leave him utterly dumbfounded. They would all disgust him to varying degrees.

He might say that they are all unmanly.

Gold-plated Donald Trump wouldn’t surprise him, either, though he would wonder, quietly to himself, how the same country that elected Eisenhower, a real man, could produce a generation of men who voted for Trump.

There’s much to criticize in this archetype, I know.

He is white. He assumes heterosexuality. He is aesthetically rigid, possibly. Don’t assume he is illiterate, though. And, of course, he is wrong about the strength, capacity, identity and value of women and girls. But you have to admit (or at least I do), that there is much to admire about him, also.

Perhaps this man could not and has never existed. No doubt men, like all other humans, have always been so much more complex and so much stronger and weaker than the mythology about men would suggest. In any case, the man I have in mind appears absent from the current moment even if he was everywhere just a few generations ago.

Perhaps we have asked too much of men for too long. After all, men are boys who are grown up and anyone awake at all to the life of the mind and especially those who have parented little boys will know about the inner life of a boy.

They will know about all of the fear and anxiety that is contained within the mind of a boy, even a “well-adjusted boy.”

What happens to this boy? Hopefully, he becomes a man, day by day. Boyhood morphs into manhood, and so many of a boy’s dreams become a man’s life-defining disappointments.

There is great pain in this experience.

That pain shouldn’t be discounted or trivialized. It may explain the current moment (and many moments that led to this moment). For so many of us, learning to cope is what gets us through.

And perhaps it is just too much to bear, for all of us. Perhaps the pain of living up to so much and falling short so constantly may be due our great sympathy and empathy and not our harshest judgment – even if only as a matter of self-preservation.

(Michael S. Lewis is a Concord attorney.)