Appreciating manliness at its best
Once I would have been called a gay divorcee; now I'd define myself as an independent, busy woman who fills her days, somehow, without a Primary Man. No one walks through my front door calling, "Honey, I'm home!" or, conversely, waits with smoking oven mitts for me. There are in my life, however, a number of Secondary Men — funny, skilful, interesting men. With friends like these, who needs a husband? Only joking. It's a fact that there are some men that no woman, married or not, should live without, and these are mine:
Her Hairdresser: A good hairdresser, like Harvey, is as primary as a Secondary Man can get. With care he studies the wrinkled brow, the drooping profile, and then meticulously cuts and shapes, all the while absorbing the intimate details of my life, and telling a secret or two of his own. A man of tact and grace, equally popular with both sexes, he is rare among male hairdressers in that he pins the exuberant art of his children around his mirror. Harvey discreetly sneaks a smoke between cuts, his one flaw. He is tall, dark, and handsome. If I were married to the Sheik of Araby, I would fly home to have Harvey run his fingers through my hair.
Her Computer Guy: Cheerful young Neil is a tornado of computer information. He has phones affixed to his shoulders while he deals simultaneously with anxious customers in the store. I called him once in a panic. "Virus, Neil!" I cried. "I've got a deadline and a virus!" He talked me through, step by step; it turned out he’d installed virus protection when he sold me the hard drive. He has saved me again and again, steering me through the morass of modern computer buying. All I know about Neil is that he likes pulpless orange juice; I will have a crate delivered to the store.
Her Handyman: Where would I be without Len? Living in the wreckage. The various lights that die at will, the shower head that shrieks, the unwanted swimming pool in the basement: he hasn't solved these mysteries of nature, but at least we can contemplate them together. There are innumerable mysteries he HAS solved, including hieroglyphics from Ikea and a sink stopper that now rises and falls with the help of rubber bands. The new hardwood floor in my living room, which he installed, has brought the house a gleaming elegance, at least at floor level. Len, who looks like a grizzled elf, is really an artist, making a practical living for now. Thank God.
Her Spiritual Advisor: The local minister sings like an angel; he has a kind face and a sense of humour. I've never actually asked him for advice; in fact, I've only been to his church a few times, once for the Blessing of the Animals, when he spent a disproportionate amount of time on the small army of furriness my children brought along. If I ever had a moral quandary though, a profound dilemma of some kind, I know where I'd turn.
Her Fitness Instructor: Though he looks like Mel Gibson, all cheekbones, biceps, and teeth, he's a bit of a mess psychically, which he enjoys being the first to admit. Ron has dispensed invaluable tips about breathing, pacing, power. He has also, as a side-line, climbed into my willow tree with a chainsaw and cut down an errant branch. Knowing Ron is like imagining that my good buddy Mel Gibson is an unusually energetic and open man who volunteers at the Y.
Her Lawyer: is so wise he was made a judge.
Her Dentist: volunteers in third world countries and is non-judgemental about plaque.
Her Husbands: Some of my best friends are other women's husbands. The rules are unstated but clear: no subterfuge here, not worth it. We are forced to make do with conversation, trust, confidences, laughter.
I value all these guys, not only as professionals and pals but as men. Men. My life has been rich with the love of women friends, but nearly bereft, until recently, of real companionship with men. In my feminist youth, men were the enemy, the oppressors, the patriarchy. Later, happily married to a non-patriarchal Primary Man, I lived in the nearly man-free kitchen zone of women and small children.
Now, years after my divorce, I have confidence enough, and freedom, to celebrate the fact that most men are different, so fascinatingly different from women. Though not from small children. Only joking.
I don't want my daughter to get the wrong idea. Women, I tell her, should assume emotional, financial, every kind of independence. Still, she has figured out for herself that a man should be more than amusing and pleasant to look at; that the right man at the right time can play a vital role in a woman's life. (At one time, for her, the most vital was Leonardo di Caprio, but there were many more.)
She was there when I asked my neighbour Paul for help with something I couldn’t bear to do myself; together we watched as Paul, wielding a crowbar, pried loose the rigid corpse of a stray kitten that had died under my deck. She was with me when one guy and then another stopped unasked beside my crippled car and wrestled in the dirt with my spare tire. Strong and invincible as we are, many of us are glad and grateful for the upper body strength and technical advice, for the help, of men.
One of my husband friends once volunteered to do a favour for me. When it was done, he found me and said, "All taken care of." Don't most women, even the most fearless among us, long to hear those words? I do. All taken care of, at least once in a while. Capable hands, that's what my Secondary Men have, and good hearts. Nice men, not perfect, just capable, and courteous, and caring.
If only the world truly valued that kind of manliness; what a place this would be.
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Thanks to all of you for reading. In the midst of heartbreaking and jaw-dropping events and extraordinary acts of valour in Ukraine, sending out this newsletter is my effort at normalcy. My grandfather was Ukrainian. He walked west after serving in the Russian army in WWI, married my Polish grandmother and settled in Warsaw where he was a court clerk. He was shot and killed, along with tens of thousands defending their city, during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. We always say: never again.
And thank you Beth. After a decade as a professional actress, Beth left the stage to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She has taught memoir and personal essay writing at Ryerson University for 27 years and also for 14 years at the University of Toronto. I can attest to why she received the Excellence in Teaching award from U of T in 2012!!
See you next week.😉