Becoming a Man

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/magazine/becoming-a-man.html

What I learned about masculinity from my father, my father-in-law and my own transition.

By P. Carl
Jan. 21, 2020

It’s April 2018, and my wife of 20 years, Lynette, and I are on our way to my parents’ house. This is our first cross-­country drive since my transition. We drive Interstate 90 from Boston through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, then finally to my childhood home, Elkhart, Ind. One highway, 880 miles. Though I’m 51, I’m outfitted as if I’m in my mid-20s, the decade of my life I most mourn missing as a man: I’m bearded, wearing overpriced sweats, exclusive sneakers that you have to compete to buy before they sell out and, as always, a Chicago Cubs baseball hat. My integration into the straight white America of middle-­aged, middle-­class couples who road trip across the United States is seamless.

Every time we stop, some white man starts a conversation with me. Lynette is in disbelief. “You’re such a guy’s guy,” she says. “I just don’t get it.” It’s true. I fit right in with all the white dudes along this Interstate. The guys who really love to chat it up with me are usually about my age, maybe a few years older, but they think I’m a younger man and talk to me in some version of “fatherly bro.”

We stop for the night at the Hampton Inn near Ashtabula, Ohio, and we meet John Bolton and his wife — it’s not really John Bolton, the former national security adviser to President Trump, but he looks just like a slightly younger version of him: bushy white hair and what they call a walrus mustache. Mr. Bolton’s relaxed-­fit jeans, golf shirt and white Reeboks (sneakers that are back in fashion, though I doubt he knows this) make him indistinguishable from all the other 50-­something white men we have seen pulling off the Interstate. He sees me get out of the car with a bottle of small-batch bourbon. He and his wife are pulling pillows and sleeping bags from their Hyundai, as if they are on a camping trip. They have done this drive before.

“Hey,” he says, smiling. “Don’t be partying it up too loud tonight. We have to pull out of here early tomorrow. You a Cubs fan?”

“Yeah,” I reply, “since birth. Grew up in Indiana, and we don’t have our own baseball team.”

“No kidding. We’re from Noblesville, about 45 minutes out of Indy. You know it?”

“You bet I do. They had a pretty good basketball team when I was in high school. I’m from Elkhart.”

The conversation continues the next morning at breakfast. We’re all heading out early. Lynette and I learn that Mr. Bolton and his wife have been on four cruises, all to the Caribbean. “Cruises are the only way to vacation,” he tells us. “You have to try one.” The local Fox affiliate is blaring in the room with the free breakfast buffet, airing the story of two black men who were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks for a few minutes without ordering while they waited for another man. There are two other white couples eating waffles and boxed eggs, and we all look at the screen. Then everyone around us quickly looks away.

Mrs. Bolton starts to choke on her bagel. Mr. Bolton stands behind her and says, “You need me to hit you in the back?” He looks at me. “I like to have an excuse to hit her.” He thinks he’s funny. I see Lynette grimace. How many times have I heard my father make these “jokes” about my mom? When she needed some dental work done in her early 70s, he told her, “You don’t need teeth in the grave,” and refused to pay for it. He couldn’t wait to tell Lynette and me this joke during one of our visits, repeating it 50 times to emphasize his clever humor. Lynette and I left my mom a check for $1,200 on our way out the door.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/magazine/becoming-a-man.html

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