A while ago, I went ahead and purchased a garage door opener. It found a good deal for a well-reviewed opener. According to the manual and everything I read, it should take about two hours to install this bad boy. Two weeks after opening the box, I was still working on it. And, in doing so, this task led me to face all of my old anxieties and fears and forced me to look in the mirror and question my masculinity.
This is one of those rabbit holes that is impossible for me to stop falling down once even a miniscule amount of momentum has begun. I hate that I let this happen and I hate what it says about me.
More importantly, however, I fucking hate this goddamned garage door opener.
I’ve been dealing with issues regarding masculinity since, well, forever it feels like. My therapist would tell me that I’m really dealing with self-worth issues and I’m just hiding them under these questions of my manliness, but my therapist isn’t writing this. ISN’T THAT RIGHT, CHAD?!?!? (For real, though, my therapist is dope as hell and I haven’t met a single person in my life who probably wouldn’t benefit from a little time talking to a professional.)
When I was a kid, I was thin as a rail and pretty weak. I couldn’t do a pull up and got pushed around a lot. In time, I learned how to have a sense of humor, which lessened the physical punishment I would receive. However, what I learned is that the easiest way to stop people from making fun of me is to make fun of myself. As a kid, this makes sense: I’m not gonna make fun of the bullies. They already shove me around when I’m not provoking them. However, what I now know is that all I was doing was reinforcing the negative things other people were saying and having them come from my own head. I may have been getting less pushed around physically, but I was taking emotional body blow after body blow, and now I was the one doing the punching so there was nothing standing in the way of it. (LOOK HOW SELF-REVELATORY I’M BEING, CHAD!!!)
It was in high school that I discovered the joys of stress-eating. For those of you unaware of the process, it’s simple: if there is a void in your body where your self-esteem and self-worth, you can fill that hole with grease and dairy. Since this void is in your mind, you can fill it with, literally, any amount of food you want! Because of this, have I competed in over a dozen eating challenges? Of course I have. Do I have a mental list of gas station foods to consume when I had a bad comedy set? You betcha. It that list the exact same list for when I had a great comedy set? Take a guess. Once my metabolism started to wane (and my exercise regimen basically became walking to get food), I put on about 140 pounds in roughly six years. When I would get sad about how much weight I was gaining, I would do what I always did when I was sad: I would keep eating.
Through my weight fluctuations and emotional outbursts, I never felt like I matched up to what I thought a man was. I wasn’t exactly sure what being a man was, but I knew that I wasn’t it.
This is going to be blog where I ask, “Am I a man?” If I’m being honest, trying to confirm my masculinity is a bad sign to begin with. If that doesn’t make sense, let me begin my queries on what it means to be a man by telling you about my dog.
I am the joyous owner of a two-year old Pekingese named Tuffy. He’s sweet and energetic and cuddly and was a perfect addition to our family when we got him from a very nice woman in Indiana. I get such a sense of calm when Tuffy rests on my lap when I’m writing and one of my favorite things to do since this whole coronavirus mess has begun is to take Tuffy on a long walk, sometimes with my wife and sometimes by myself. He gets this crazy silly smile when he starts panting, and it always puts me in a better mood.
Like any young pup, he’s curious. You can see the questions racing through his head a mile a minute.
“Where did they put their socks?”
“Why don’t they want to play anymore?”
“How come I’m not getting any table food when I’m sitting so nicely?”
But you know what question Tuffy never asks? You can tell that never one time has he thought to himself, “Am I a dog?”
And this makes sense. He just fucking knows. Whether it’s millennia of animal instincts or just some sort of creator-endowed knowledge, he just knows he’s a dog. Tuffy knows his purpose and what he is; in fact, you could argue that it’s, truly, the only thing he knows. Because of that, his life is pretty simple compared to a human being, and that probably means that he’s much happier than us, despite the fact that we have things like jet skis and HBO Go and this cool machine that hard boils eggs for you.
I am not a dog. I’m a person with doubts and insecurities. And so, when I ask myself, “Am I a man?”, it kind of feels like I’ve already answered. Because, if I was, wouldn’t I know it?
Day one of garage door opener installation went pretty well, all things considered. I unfolded the enormous poster that I was supposed to use as a guide, took out all of the parts, loaded up the installation video on my phone, took a deep breath, and started to go to work. The first series of steps were simple and easy enough, and I started to think to myself, “This isn’t as bad as I thought. I think I can do this.”
Then everything went to shit.
I wasn’t just installing a new garage door opener, I was also uninstalling the old one that was there. That meant a lot more work and a lot more problems. For example, there had been places where the old owner of the house had to install metal plates to set up where the track would secure itself to the wall, and I would need to alter where that was sitting on the wall. Just a bunch of little things like that, except all of those little things started to build and build and build.
Eventually, I started hearing that little voice in my head. And the voice changed from saying, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this,” to, “I can’t do this,” to “Why did you even think you could do this?”
My wife called her father and asked if he would come over and give me a hand. This was a very good idea on her part, and it was clearly needed. Furthermore, I like my father-in-law, who is a nice dude and has always been very decent with me. What my wife didn’t realize was that I was in the middle of a full emotional meltdown, and the only way I could see her act of trying to help was me thinking that she was telling me, “I don’t trust you to do this, so I need to bring over someone better who can.”
From there, the crying began. And it lasted a while.
So, what makes up a man?
If we are to believe the Pointer Sisters, a slow hand is essential. If we are listening to Salt-N-Pepa, there are a bevy of requirements including the voice of Barry White, the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the face of Denzel Washington. If we give our credence to Taylor Swift, there is a collection of womanizing and control aspects which occur. Also, one must be able to defeat the Huns, if we’re paying attention to Mulan.
The weirdest pop song explaining what people are looking for in a man comes from, fittingly, one of the weirdest pop groups: The Eurythmics. In “I Need A Man”, Annie Lennox makes it clear that she is not looking for a man who styles his hair or has a good skin care condition. What is her only requirement? She tells us, “’Cause there’s just one thing that I’m looking for/And he don’t wear a dress.” Ms. Lennox makes it very clear: David Bowie would not be a potential suitor.
Ok, enough about popular music.
I think everyone’s definition of masculinity starts with their father, and that’s no different for me. My dad was a good husband and a good father. He provided well for all of us, making sure we always had what we needed. He was great around the house; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix or install. He was one of those dudes who always changed the oil in all the cars and never needed a repairman for anything. He always drove a stick shift when he could. There was nothing he didn’t try, and seemingly nothing he couldn’t master. He could build a treehouse and then go work on his novel. And he always seemed to know what to do.
And, probably because of all of this, I never felt comfortable talking to him about the biggest concern that I’ve had my entire life: that I don’t feel, at all, like him.
So, how does one figure out if they’re a man?
Have no fear, because you can take an internet quiz!
According to a quiz created by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, I possess a “feminine leading energy”. That would later be confirmed by this separate quiz, which claims I have a “mostly feminine energy”. The closest I came to masculinity after taking a few tests was this one, which claimed I had a “half and half energy”.
This was not doing well for my psyche.
Eventually, and with the help of my father-in-law, the garage door finally started to come together. It also took many trips to Home Depot, where I always feel out of place. Every time I go into a hardware store, I look at these people and they always seem to know where they’re going. I always feel like they’re all looking at me and thinking, “We know you really don’t belong here. Scurry off, impostor.”
Slowly, but surely, I worked my way farther and farther down the installation poster. The motor got connected to the ceiling, the wiring got installed. I was starting to get a little more spring into my step. It was finally time to see if all of my sweat and tears (no blood, which was suprising) paid off. I plugged in the unit and gave it a try.
Sometimes I look at the people who I consider stereotypical men, and I kind of come to a realization: they’re not really the best guys, are they?
Don Draper from Mad Men was arctic cool. Men thought he was the coolest and every woman desired him and anytime he spoke, people listened. But Draper (perfectly portrayed by Jon Hamm and his, allegedly, stellar dong) was clearly not a good guy. Not only did he cheat on his wife, he didn’t tell her that he stole the identity of a dead man. Anyone who spent an hour with him absolutely adored him, but anyone who spent more than a day with him thought he was an asshole. There’s no way that his children didn’t need piles of therapy just to have a normal relationship.
And it’s not just Draper who has issues. It’s all of the men you think of.
Rick Blaine from Casablanca was an insane drunk. Bruce Wayne was unable to properly process emotions, so he has to fight crime every night. Tyler Durden was a figment of the narrator’s imagination. Han Solo spent all of his with a seven-foot hairy dude.
All of these examples come with flaws and baggage that make them fantastic to hang out with, but also make them nearly impossible to spend any real time with. And, of course, there’s also one more thing that all of these guys have in common.
None of them are real. And maybe that’s the point.
Honestly, by the time I finished putting all of my tools away after finishing this installation which cost me a lot of time, money, and emotion, it seems like I had been working on this stupid thing for a year.
But it works.
I hit the button and I watch the door go up and down thanks to a 1.25 horsepower motor. And maybe this is a lesson I need to learn. Maybe, even when I don’t feel particularly masculine, I can be reminded that when it’s time to get a task done, I can get it done, albeit with a little help. Maybe I need to stop looking at other men and just realize that what I am is good enough.
Or maybe it’s just a stupid garage door opener.
I mean, that’s probably the case. We all need to learn lessons somehow. And if it wasn’t going to be this, it was going to be something else.
That being said, if you will all excuse me, I’m going to go watch my garage door open and close for the next fifteen minutes. I need this.