Unless you want them imprisoned or unemployed or in ska bands, make sure the young men in your life have plentiful male role models. We’re pitiless, violent, stubborn, and, starting at three years younger than whatever age you think, sexually frustrated. We need adults of our gender to show us safe ways to channel the evil lurking within (extremely specific pornography, talking about “hops” and “single-malt” to sound like less of a drunk, pushups).
Unfortunately for me, the non-family adult males of my formative years can be broken into two groups: the Superfans and the Manchildren. Let me explain.
If it’s your job to raise boys and they look for surrogates in the media, don’t get too worried. They all do. Just make sure the surrogates are cool. Male-targeted media is basically a strobe light held inches away from our faces by a bikini model who screams “BUY THE EXPENSIVE ONE AND YOU CAN COME IN MY MOUTH!” Being able to decipher which loud distractions other men like best (football, Bruces Willis, Springsteen, & Wayne) will ensure a strong, if insecure, social standing for your budding li’l sociopath.
Throw in a few male high school teachers and he might just manage to bullshit his way into the role model world later in life. I wish this post didn’t sound so sexist, but honest? Young men don’t trust women on anything. To them, truth can only come from someone with hairy chests and good punchin’ knuckles. They’re way fucking worse than I am, and that’s saying something, because according to people who don’t get my jokes I blame sexual assault on its victims.
My favorite media role models as a kid were mostly basketball players and comedians. Like any Chicago child of the ’90s, I worshipped the Michael Jordan Bulls and everything in their universe, be it Dennis Rodman’s hair dye, Space Jam, or this awesome thing:
One of the few combinations of my two favorite things was the old Superfans SNL sketch series that Comedy Central aired in constant reruns. For those of you who are ignorant/foreigners (ew), the sketches featured a bunch of grotesque fatsos with thick, supposedly Chicagoan accents eating meat and talking about their love of hometown sports. Even twenty years later, when I tell people where I’m from, I’m often greeted with a Superfans impression.
My normal reaction is to say that no one in Chicago sounds like that. This is a dodge. Pockets of the accent still exist in the blue collar near-western suburbs. I should know—I used to hear it every Sunday at Mannheim Baptist Church from men with the role model finesse of workshop accidents.
From 1996 to 2001, my dad was the pastor of a church whose building and members were both made in the Depression. Attendance declined steadily each year as the regulars died or went to nursing homes, making it a more depressing place to grow up in than most juvenile cancer wards. Church leadership? A Korean war vet, two guys named Frank, and whichever cat lady in the Social Committee had the most functioning organs that week.
I can remember eight parenting-age men total, including my dad, one out-of-place sane guy, and three oddballs who’ll be the stars of next week’s post. That leaves three middle-aged blue collar guys who came because their wives did. I call them the Christian Superfans.
The funniest of them all was Rick Riesterer, a union tough with a glorious mustache who moonlighted as our sound guy. (Seriously.) He had the thickest Chicago accent I’ve ever heard, and for five years gave not a single fuck. Each week, he’d spend two minutes double-checking cables in the isolated sound booth in the back, then promptly fall asleep. After the service, Rick, having Refrigerator Perry-sized balls, would compliment my dad on his sermon.
Bill was the weird one of the bunch. He and his fiancee found our church in the phonebook while looking for a place that’d marry them in a week. They had their ceremony in the basement a few days later, where half-sandwiches and punch were served. Bill was large, clueless, the only black person there, and thrown into leadership roles largely because he didn’t know he could say no. He taught Sunday School for a few weeks, until the fact that didn’t know enough about religion to answer third graders’ questions caught up with him.
We mostly remember him for his pancakes.
That leaves John, more or less Rick’s evil twin. He looked like him, cared as much, and came to church for the same reason, but had a better-paying job, a hotter wife, and a douchey disdain for everything. If Rick was the Herman Cain of that place—entertaining, impractical, may or may practice what he preaches—John was the Rick Perry—soulless, calculated, suburbanized. Or maybe the Newt Gingrich, because I’m pretty sure he cheated on his wife, and I think she had some light cancer for a while.
Strangely enough, at the time I knew John better than any of them, because his wife and my dad were best buds. I don’t remember him well, though, which I think was his plan. Like a true, dickish man, he avoided us whenever possible. (I have since adopted this pattern by never responding to Facebook messages.)
Am I going to land this thing? You bet! I think a big part of me growing up weird has to do with a depleted stock of role models. Until middle school, I never had a male teacher, never went to camp, never played a sport. The only men I could look up to were my eccentric family members and the bizarro exercises in masculinity I found at church, plus whatever warped shit I picked up from the media.
Like anyone trying to make the transition to real person, I’ve tried to cut back on the inane acting-out I practiced during the years I tried to create an identity with hardly anything stable to base one on. More on this in the next post, but as an example of the bullshit kind of kid I was, I give you me in high school for your mocking pleasure. Goddammit it makes me want to stab myself in the cunt.