Gretel Ehrlich once described ranchers as “midwives, hunters, nurturers, providers, and conservationists all at once. What we’ve interpreted as toughness...only masks a tenderness inside.” I thought about this yesterday as I was reading yet another "man-book" proposal; what it means to be a man, etc. We usually think of ranchers or cowboys as toughness incarnate, but Ehrlich suggests a tenderness that we've seen many times, but may have been hesitant to point out.
I've followed what has been called the men's movement for quite some time now, in both the christian and secular realms. I've read the required reading texts in both. I truly believe, as one writer says, "that the world needs a man's heart." But trying to pigeon hole that heart as tough, always and forever, troubles me. The proposal I was reading was advocating a toughness that can always take the punches, anything life throws at you. Now to be fair, this "toughness" is based on a faith in God and the requisite humility before Him - but it still had the be-tough approach in perspective. And I'm afraid that's all some folks hear. And even more afraid that it's all some men hear.
The men who have influenced my life the most have been tough and tender. I just remembered that's the name of a cleaning solution my wife uses on our counter-tops to kill off germs and such. Anyway, these men have been tough as nails. I've walked with two men out of the Grand Canyon, from the river to the rim in one day, and we were all dehydrated and hallucinating (the Virgin Mary and Pat Sajack kept appearing in the rocks), but these men kept putting one foot in front of the other. And we eventually walked over the edge of the rim back to our pickup as the Virgin and Pat waved goodbye. Toughness.
One man I know would spend every summer camping in the same place on the same lake. One summer, a few years ago, someone tried to get his lake view. It came to blows. I kid you not. He called forth his inner-pugilist and boxed the other guy's nose. His opponent did get a swing in that left a black eye on him for weeks, but he didn't get his camping spot. Black and blue badge of courage. Tough. Crazy, but tough.
But these men, all of them, have a tenderness that's just as accessible and obvious as their toughness. They don't hide it or try to work it out in counseling or anything. It's part of who they are - men. Men who can put you in your place one moment and cry at a Hallmark commerical the next. Men who can get up and go to work everyday and come home and still find the strength to play Barbies in the floor with little girls. Men who can stalk an elk for hours and then, as they stand over the kill, pause and thank God and the spirit of the elk for giving himself over so that a family can have meat in the freezer for a year. Men who are quite content using a car key for a q-tip and are just as content opening the door for ladies, not in some let-me-take-the-power-position-from-you way, but in a God-made-ladies-and-I'm-thankful-as-hell-He-did-so-I-respectfully-let-you-go-first kinda way. Men who can literally scream at the way folks drive on the I-25 and men who literally cry when the pastor says, "Who gives this woman?" and he peers into his little girl's eyes and says, "Her mom and I." Then he peers into the grooms eyes with toughness. Men who can't take everything life throws at them, so they have to ask for help or depend on other people or God or both. Men like John Walton, from that beautiful tv production by Earl Hamner. Or ole' Gus, from the Lonesome Dove scriptures. Or Wendell Berry or Sam Keen or Rick Bass or William Stafford or Father Rohr. Men like Mark and Mo and Bo and Joel and Don and Tommy and Thomas and Coyle and Richard and Huey and Randy and Ron and Rob and Cory and Xan and Steve and Sam and Todd and Shawn and Robert and John and Winn and Robert and Brennan and Fil and my dad. And Jesus. And on my better days, a man like me.
We're men of our convictions, call us wrong, call us right. But we bring our better angels to everything. You may not like where we're going, but you know where we stand. Hate us if you want to, love us if you can. With thanks to T. Keith for those lyrics.