Manspeak, Volume -1: Boyspeak

During the summer of 2000 I was a camp counselor in Florida. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I had to make my campers think that I did. Each week I teamed up with a different co-counselor and ruled over a new cabin full of 16 boys, ready for action and trouble. Every group of boys had a natural leader, a natural rebel, followers of both, and occasionally, what I call the Boy Wonder.

He was the most misunderstood. He had the hardest time fitting in with the rest. He was in his own world. And he really didn’t mind. Because I am convinced he didn’t realize any of this.

Of course most boys encounter these traits at some point in their boyhood; some just take longer to grow out of it, if ever.

It was camp policy that every counselor had at least one of his campers with him at all times (like Sonic the Hedgehog and his rings). The Boy Wonder of the group usually ended up being the one I spent the most time with. There was something in it for both of us: I would be his faithful friend and he would be my camper-at-all-times.

The most memorable Boy Wonder was an 8 year-old named Daniel, complete with a pasty white complexion and perfectly straight bangs running across his forehead. Everyone learned his name on the second day of camp, when he threw up his corndog and tater tots inside the cabin after lunch. As the other counselor cleaned up the mess, I watched all the boys outside.

The easier job would to have been to clean up the puke. Because outside the cabin as I tried to stabilize the situation, Daniel chased all the other boys. They were afraid to get near him because of the vomit all over his clothes and face.

But ultimately, Daniel wanted to be the comedian of the group. And in a way he was: There were times he made the other boys laugh, but they were always laughing at him, not with him. His jokes were too familiar and too predictable (knock-knock’s and chickens crossing the street). It’s like he began realizing that by the end of the week, so he decided to start making up his own jokes:

Q: “What did the anteater say to the ant?”
A: “May I eat you or may I lick you?”

I remember what happened as soon as that joke was delivered. A few seconds of silence passed as this non-logical riddle fell flat. Then, it hit us all at once. The entire cabin roared up in a session of uncontrollable laughter. The joke made no sense: Why would a talking anteater politely ask his victim if he would prefer to be eaten (and die) or licked (and survive)? And why would being licked even be an option anyway? And that’s why it was inevitably hilarious.

Somewhere out in central Florida today is a high school senior named Daniel. Maybe his jokes got better. Maybe he started fitting in with the other boys. But if I know Daniel, he still hasn’t grown out of his Boy Wonder phase.

He would be far from the first. Classically, I’m referring to Gary Busey. But more recently, any man featured on a “celebrity” reality show on VH1.  And even it weren’t for the recent MTV Video Music Awards incident, I would still say it.

Kayne West.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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Manspeak, Volume 0: Introduction

Amidst the beer can-crushing chauvinist, the dead beat dad, the neurotic Michael Scott type of boss, the wimpy emo kid, and every other kind of negative or less-than-positively-masculine stereotype of a what a man can be, there is actually a realistic collection of males that serve as the standard of what most men truly are or at least should be. They are not necessarily heroes or saints. They are still full of flaws. But they are sincere.

And misunderstood. And given a bad name as they are often judged by their worst specimens. To make things more complicated, when a man tries to explain his feelings he often enters a territory of being seen as “sensitive”. And that word has a negative connotation these days for men. He wants to be a good man, but if he wanders too close to the edge of being of safe, he may be labeled as boring. Or a lover of musicals.

Being a man means having to constantly find the balance in between double standards, paradoxes, and damning extremes.

If a man is too aggressive, he’s a tyrant. If a man is too passive, he’s a pushover. If he’s too understanding of others, then he may become The Good Guy or “Mr. Perfect”, and is ironically considered sub-par compared to the dangerous, adventurous, and often offensive men of society. Where does a man end up? As the Bad Boy or as the Good Guy? Both have negative and positive qualities. What does the balance look like?

What started as a two page article on the importance of a man speaking has oddly evolved into a shot at understanding this ultimate balance of what society truly wants, needs, and is looking for in men. I laughed when it got to the point I finished my 10th volume in the series, as I thought to myself, “Of all people, how am I qualified to write about manhood?”

I don’t know much at all about cars, sports, hunting, or home repairs. I hold no specialized degree in psychology. All I am is a writer who is trying to materialize how I, as a man, think and act. And what I have learned so far is that I am simple and often clueless.

That’s when it hit me. I AM qualified. Because I am simple and clueless.

I don’t know who won the Super Bowl in 1997 or how to install a hardwood floor. I don’t claim to understand women. But I do have an understanding of what excites me, what motivates me, what insults me, what confuses me, what baffles me, what hurts me, and what helps me. While I have always been a little off-beat, that doesn’t change my hard-wiring. I’m still a guy.

One thing I can do is express myself through writing. And on behalf of men everywhere, provide a voice for them, since honestly speaking about our feelings is both difficult and dangerous. What’s most ironic is that in actuality, I have learned that more women read my Manspeak series than men. And I am honored to be the official spokesman for the Average Joe. Not a professional. Just qualified by default.

Men need to see an end in sight. They need to know when the story will end. When I am doing household chores, I have to have a list I can check off as I go. I can’t simply “straighten up the house”. Otherwise I am overwhelmed and nothing really gets done.

I figured Manspeak would never up end being more than 10 volumes. But I realize now that this is an open-ended series. It could end after 20 volumes. Maybe 50. It could eventually become a published book. But even then, I feel like I will still keep coming up with one more volume. For every week that goes by, I realize another quirky aspect about myself. And that new truth usually translates over to most men.

But maybe one day I’ll actually finish the final volume of Manspeak. If men really are as simple and easy to figure out as I say they are, I should be finishing up any minute now…

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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Manspeak Table of Contents

Volume -1: Boyspeak: http://wp.me/pxqBU-9d
Volume 0: Introduction http://wp.me/pxqBU-8G
Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v
Volume 12: Transparency http://wp.me/pxqBU-8J
Volume 13: Composure http://wp.me/pxqBU-8N

Manspeak, Volume 13: Composure

I am part of the old school that sees giving Ritalin or any other kind of prescription drug to a boy to cause him to “settle down” is an act that goes against nature. Throughout his youth, the instructions a boy hears the most involve the phrases “pay attention”, “behave yourself”, “calm down”, and “act your age”. And I wasn’t even one of those wild, rambunctious kids that annoyed the teacher because I distracted others yet still managed to get my work done.

Men are doers. Therefore, boys are very active and easily find trouble.

When it came to getting into trouble in school, the reason girls would get into trouble seemed to always be for the same reason: talking. But for boys, it could be for just about anything. Making a mess. Breaking things. Being rude. And physically hurting others.

By the time Junior High came around, most boys began to outgrow their immaturity and the main trouble they found themselves in became losing their temper and getting in fights. I remember in 8th grade one of our breaks was taken away because of how many fights kept occurring in the halls and around the lockers. Though I was never in any of those fights, I was always happy to be a spectator.

My favorite fight happened one Tuesday morning in the boy’s bathroom my 8th grade year. About 20 of us had heard there was going to be a fight after 2nd period so we all showed up in that cold, crowded arena. There was barely breathing room for those of us there to watch, and barely moving room for the two 14-year old boys who volunteered to entertain us. The chanting began: “Fight! Fight! Fight!” The look of nervousness was obvious on both of their faces as the closest audience members began shoving them into each other.

It became clear to me that this was a well-marketed, yet uninspired fight. Then the two would-be fighters started talking:

“What are we fighting about?”
“I don’t know. Somebody said you were talking about my mama.”
“No, I didn’t. Wasn’t me.”
“Oh.”
(Awkward pause.)
“Well I’m leaving.”
(He leaves the bathroom.)

As we began filing out of there, obviously disappointed, one smart Alec breaks the silence: “Anybody else got anything to fight about?” He shrugged like a cheesy car salesman watching a potential buyer walk away from the lot.

If only men could easily compose themselves like those two boys did, and unlike the rest of us there hoping to see them lose their composure.

Instead, we can easily become angry. Or hurtful. Or embarrass ourselves by saying something stupid like “When’s the baby due?” to a woman who had her baby three months ago.

And if not, if we can actually pay attention, behave ourselves, calm down, and act our age, we can easily end up becoming passive-aggressive. Because we know we are supposed to act civilized, being taught that expressing our frustrations is a bad thing, but yet we are still hard-wired to act and react the opposite.

Should we be tame? Should we be adventurous? Should we be passive-aggressive? Most of us deep down are going through some kind of identity crisis. Understandably.

“Society tells us we’re civilized, but the truth is we are animals. Sometimes we just have to let it out.”  -Sydney Fife from I Love You, Man

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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Manspeak Table of Contents

Volume 0: Introduction http://wp.me/pxqBU-8G
Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v
Volume 12: Transparency http://wp.me/pxqBU-8J
Volume 13: Composure http://wp.me/pxqBU-8N

Manspeak, Volume 12: Transparency

In college I read a book called The Birth Order Connection. If I felt like exaggerating the truth, I could say it “changed my life”. Thanks to the direction of the book, I became better able to understand others based on what order in the family they were born.

Typically, the first born children (or the “only child” of the family) are the most straight-laced, the most concerned with not getting into trouble, and the bossiest (almost every US President has been a “first born”). Middle born children are the most easy-going, the least resistant, the peace makers, and when they become adults are the least likely to get divorced. And usually the last born children are the most free-spirited, the most fun, and the most mischievous.

http://yourtotalhealth.ivillage.com/birth-order-your-personality-8-facts-that-might-surprise-you.html

As I began sharing what I learned from The Birth Order Connection with my friends at college and even back home, I realized something: Most people were amazed because of how much my prediction accurately described their own personality, but some, I offended. A few didn’t like being told who they were based on a researched psychological analysis. Interestingly, these two or three that didn’t like what I was telling them were females.

It would be a few years later before I understood why no males were annoyed by the impressively accurate personality predictions outlined in the book.

Here’s what it all comes down to: As a guy, I know for a fact that I absolutely, definitely, completely want to be understood by people. I want to be “see-through”. I am not a mystery to be unraveled or a phantom to be discovered. I am simply a man- there’s not much to figure out about me and I want to keep it that way. Arguably, much of the motivation I have in writing this never-ending series is simply that: to be better understood despite my gender which is infamous for not talking about feelings, and also to help those who have trouble understanding men.

In fact, when I am in a situation where I feel others don’t understand me or can’t relate to me, I get really frustrated. This can lead to a feeling of loneliness and eventually anger, and possibly depression. This is perfectly demonstrated in the first 15 minutes of the movie Where the Wild Things Are, which is not a kid’s movie, but instead an accurate look at a boy who is crossing into the lonely, scary, strange world of adulthood.

On the contraire, the same is not necessarily true for women. I learned this after reading the book Wild at Heart, which explains that women want to be pursued. They want to be a mystery. They want a man who will take the time to discover them day after day. That’s the opposite of how I’m wired to think and act.

So how did I offend those females back a few years ago when I accurately explained their personalities based on their birth order? Because I was attempting to “figure them out”. That’s completely different than rediscovering a woman. The idea of figuring out a woman is insulting because it insinuates that a woman is that simple. And obviously that is not the case.

But I was simply approaching the situation from the way I see things as a guy. I feel complimented if someone takes the initiative to figure out me out. While I do mature as I age, I don’t change often. I’m set in my ways. I can be figured out. It’s not an insult, it’s an honor.

Men are transparent. They like a formula that works and will faithfully apply that formula everyday as long as it continues to work. Males become frustrated when the pattern is broken. Predictability is good.

This poses a problem for men because most women don’t want to be “figured out”, but do want to be pursued and discovered. For a guy, that in itself is a confusing statement and request. It’s more romantic if he proves himself each new day, willing to learn and do what it takes to please his mysterious woman, yet he must remember that that the job is never complete because a woman can not be figured out.

So how does a man who needs to follow a simple formula properly treat a woman who thrives on not being solved like a puzzle? He remembers a simple formula: Don’t treat a woman like she’s a puzzle to be solved.

All this irony is making my brain hurt.

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All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Manspeak, Volume 11: Responsibility

People tend to accept that there is a difference between what is normal in the movies and what is normal in reality, and for the most part we know not to confuse the two. In the world of Hollywood, a 39 year-old playboy bachelor who is “too free-spirited” to get married simply lives for himself in his classic arcade-filled apartment. And he is cool. He is Owen Wilson. Adam Sandler. Vince Vaughn. But in reality, this guy is not cool at all. He’s a guy who needs to grow up.

Because here in reality, we equate responsibility with manhood.

There is of course a false, glamorized idea that a man is defined by his freedom; a lifestyle where he needs to answer to no one. In this unspoken concept the ultimate goal in a man’s life is to win the lottery and never have to change diapers.

But this man is not the kind we truly respect. Instead, we admire a man who while he is still young, gives up his freedom to be become responsible to another human being in marriage. And then of course, within the next few years he is expected to become a father. And an involved father, at that. Responsibility is what helps a man to be normal and have a purpose.

A funny and true proverb I heard a lot in college was this: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” On the same token, men without real responsibilities are rarely respected. So much of life is showing up and participating. And in order to do that, a man must actively become involved in other people’s lives. The closer I get to age 30, the further away I am from being able to relate to what it’s like to be a child, and therefore the more aware I am that I once was an annoying kid.

I think back to all the hours my dad patiently listened to me tell him all the Ninja Turtle trivia I knew. And the way he made sure I had the coolest project in science and social studies class each time. And since he knew I didn’t like sports, he became the leader of a Cub Scouts group to inspire me to be involved in an extracurricular activity I actually enjoyed- being an adventurous boy with my friends. I couldn’t have really known it back then, but his sincere involvement in my life has everything to do with who I have become as an adult.

It’s amazing how much one man’s involvement makes or breaks his child’s life. I was blessed and still am. I still need my dad. I still learn from him.

And now I’m not all that far from being in the position he was in the early 1980’s. I will become the man looking into the googly eyes of a helpless baby, both of us completely clueless. But that’s the way God planned it. No instruction booklet on how to be a parent. Instead, it all comes down to the humility of a man who makes a conscience effort to be responsible.

“My dad’s been dead for more than 20 years. I still want him to be proud of me.” –Dave Matthews, taken from the linear notes from his solo Some Devil album

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Manspeak Table of Contents:

Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v

Manspeak, Volume 10: Exploration

It’s not something we sit down and think about, but there is definitely something morbid, grotesque, and disgusting about a whole refrigerated bin full of chopped up bones, blood vessels, and body tissue for sale. With blood swishing around in the Styrofoam container. Somehow it never processes in my mind when I’m with my wife at the grocery store, walking by the Meats Department as we plan for that week’s meals.

Blood is an interesting substance. I am intrigued by the human love/hate relationship with it. It is the physical source of life- without it, we die. Blood is a major theme in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible, with countless traditional hymns and modern songs with the word in the title.

But for most, the sight of blood gives an uneasy feeling. With good reason. The sight of blood is a sign of death.

From a skinned knee to a busted nose, when blood leaves the body, it is life escaping.

While blood keeps us alive, we don’t usually want to see it. It’s definitely better kept inside. The main exception I have found to this is the male population. Like most American men, the Rocky movies along with Band of Brothers and Fight Club happen to be among some of my top favorite films of all time. All include a lot of blood. Why are men so fascinated by other men causing each other to bleed?

Danger. Seeing how close to the edge of life a man can get and still survive. A subconscious curiosity about life after death. To step up close to that window between life and death and try to look through it, knowing that once that line is crossed, there is no coming back to this life.

A form of exploration.

Three weeks ago when my company moved offices, I decided to take a walk around the development. I scaled down a steep hill on the other side of the building and found an interesting discovery, the kind I longed to find 20 years ago when I was a boy pretending to be a Ninja Turtle in the woods behind my backyard.

What I found was a 6 foot tall tunnel. I could barely see a light at the other end. After stepping inside and walking about 50 feet inside, not being able to see anything around me, and unsuccessfully trying not to think about the Saw movies , I pictured a creepy man wearing a pig skin mask, poking me with an anesthetic needle. Within about 10 seconds flat, I was back outside.

A challenge was now set in place: Must conquer the tunnel. I recruited my co-worker John. We made it just as far as I did alone, until he said, “I think I’m stepping on a snake right now…” After darting back outside to equip ourselves with big sticks we found outside underneath some trees, we marched back inside a little bit more confident this time.

We trekked the tunnel all the way through.  It was only a few hundred feet long, but at the end we found a metal ladder.  I climbed up to a welded shut drain opening, where I could see the sky and hear the cars cruising on the road above me. We did it. Made it to the end of the mysterious tunnel. And to this day, we are the only two people at our company to have explored and conquered that tunnel, not to mention the only ones to even know where it is.

While I am not “discovering the New Word” like Christopher Columbus did (even though the Russians had to be well aware of our continent based on the fact that there are only 53 miles of ocean between Russia and Alaska), I can still discover and explore not only interesting places that few people know about, but more specifically in my case I can uncover new social observations and conspiracies that seem to successfully slide under the radar. I thrive on it.

Why the true stereotype of the man ignoring his map and/or GPS and refusing to stop to ask for directions? A man is wired to explore new things. There’s no getting around it. The stereotype must live on.

“If you could keep me floating just for a while, ’til I get to the end of this tunnel…”  -Dave Matthews Band (“Jimi Thing”)

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

tunnel

Manspeak, Volume 9: Appearance

I thought it was just me. But it’s not. After talking to several of my guy friends (and after seeing He’s Just Not That into You with my wife, which chick flick or not, was a good movie,) I realized it wasn’t just me that had a token pair of Bachelor Pants. Every guy in his singlehood has an awful pair of pants that he’s kept for several years, unaware he is committing a crime. They are typically baggy, have cargo pockets, and are outdated.

The thing with Bachelor Pants is that a man is unaware of how horrible these pants are. In fact, men promote each other’s bad fashion tastes by mimicking what their friends wear. A guy doesn’t want to think about what to wear, so the tendency is to go with what’s comfortable and familiar, by default.

The girlfriend will remain silent about the offensive pants during the dating period, all the while she is plotting a plan to eliminate them from her boyfriend’s wardrobe. Traditionally, she will wait until one month after he proposes until he hears the out-of-nowhere newsflash, “You know you’re not bringing those pants into our house once we’re married…”

My contraband was a pair of brown pants I got in 2006 from a Banana Republic outlet. To fit the stereotype, there were quite baggy and had cargo pockets. Those were my Bachelor Pants. My defense was always, “But I got them from Banana Republic- they can’t be that bad…” They earned the name Potato Sack Pants.

So I made them disappear. By that I mean I hid them in a big bin full of winter coats in the storage closet. After being married now for almost 15 months, I decided to nonchalantly bring my Bachelor Pants out of the archives. To my surprise, I wore them around the house for the last two weekends and my wife didn’t say a word about them. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore: “I’m wearing the Potato Sack Pants. Didn’t you notice how awful they are?”

Regarding Bachelor Pants, the main issue is that a man can no long wear them in public after marriage. It’s a bad representation of his wife’s tastes if she allows him out of the house in them. However, Bachelor Pants are permissible inside the home, as they are the equivalent to the women’s sweatpants. Bachelor Pants = women’s gray sweatpants. Okay, it’s a deal.

Every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man, but left on his own, a man typically makes the wrong decisions when it comes to fashion. And if he actually does know a lot about it, he may find himself in the questionable “is he or isn’t he?” territory like the professional hired dancers on Dancing with the Stars. So what is a guy to do? Listen to a woman.

When I think of a well dressed man, I think of Frank Sinatra and James Dean, with their stylish, never-out-of-style clothing and classic, never-out-of-place hairstyles. I allow myself to believe they took care of themselves. But I’m sure they had women dressing and styling them the whole time.

Believing that haircuts are annoying and expensive, I ended up in an Owen Wilson situation with my hair for the last several months. Then it all just hit me two weeks ago: This is annoying, I need a haircut. My wife’s eyes lit up when I said that out loud, responding, “You should get it buzzed.” I thought about it for two solid minutes in silence, then replied, “Okay, let’s go.”

What’s interesting is that during my recent Italian mobster days with the long hair, several different guy friends literally said this to me out of the blue: “You got cool hair.” But during that time, all females in my life said, “It’s time for a haircut… What does Jill say about it?” Now that my hair is 1/8th of an inch all over my head, universally every female has praised my decision, while most of my guy friends say, “Oh… you got rid of it…” I hear the hint of disappointment in their voices.

Men have a Survival Mode setting. Without the help of a woman, a man’s appearance shows this Survival Mode mindset: “I took a shower, I shaved, I’m dressed, I brushed my teeth, time to go.” He may be wearing pleated black pants with brown shoes and a wrinkled shirt with the right side of the collar folded up funny on one side and his tie may be a little too short… but he is dressed, and that is all that matters to him. He is convinced he looks good.

Bottom line: If it’s mainly fellow dudes that are approving of my sense of style, I am listening to the wrong gender. Because other men enabled and encouraged my ways, it made me confident in my own ability to look presentable and good. But women are the ones born with the sense of good fashion. I have to accept the fact that there is no shame in depending on a woman for this.

I wear the pants in the relationship… but she tells me which ones to wear.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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My appearance with and without the help of a woman.