I’m a fairly typical guy when it comes to action movies from the 1980’s. I’m literally a “Die Hard” fan of the genre. Give me some Predator or Aliens to watch and I’m good to go. The prototypical tough guy served well as my stereotypical hero. I loved these guys and I wanted to emulate them. Mostly brawn, little brains and cheesy catch-phrases was the tried and true way to finding and rescuing a girl on the big screen, so why not real life?
Unfortunately, this recipe for “success” helped carry me into a high school social scene that was frankly devoid of girls. What was up with that? Not that I had big muscles or great hair. In fact, my ears stuck out like antennae and my buzz-cut did little but attract the local Marine recruiter.
The idea was planted and germinated that if I look tough, act tough and speak tough then everything is just going to magically go right. I took a “Boyz in tha Hood” approach to respect: if you want it, you have to give it.
What happened over time was that this idea infected more than my notion of respect but eventually my notion of manhood. I needed to have an answer for everything. I should be able to fix every problem and if I didn’t have an answer to a problem, I would get one. The idea of being comfortable with the “unknown” was entirely foreign to me. Why trust in others when I can do it myself? Why not be like Jean-Claude Van Damme who could train a little harder, run a little faster and do crazy nasty splits to prove how much of a man he could be? Believe me, I tried to do those splits and let’s just say my manhood wasn’t cool with that.
I eventually left Mr. Miyagi’s waxing techniques behind as I grew up but I didn’t leave behind the idea that being tough was surely the key to success. The directorial vision of my post-adolescent life was more characteristic of the late Tony Scott, rather than his brother, Ridley: a “Top Gun” Tom Cruise versus a “Legend” Tom Cruise, if you will.
This isn’t to say that the 80’s lacked balance. Who can forget John Hughes’ ‘Breakfast Club’? In fact, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson portrayed a transformation in two hours that is taking me 31 years. They initially conveyed an exterior toughness. That kind of toughness which helps to preserve a rather frail masculinity. That kind of toughness which makes your eyes and mind wander from insecurity to insecurity. That kind of toughness which demands far more energy than the human heart can afford to spend. At the end of the movie Estevez and Nelson are like two different people, emotionally vulnerable and empathetic to their peers. Good grief, it’s at this cathartic point in the movie that I wish art imitated life…my life!
I have learned, indeed am learning that my toughness, my emotional insecurities, my need to always have an answer is a poor excuse for masculinity. Who wants to be around that person anyways? Those women in the 80’s action movies were paid to portray a helplessness that didn’t reflect reality. I don’t think that women are looking to be rescued, I think they are looking to be respected. That respect doesn’t come at the end of a demand but rather at the end of a sacrifice.
My role model for masculinity didn’t get paid $20 million to star in a blockbuster action movie. He didn’t drive a 1961 Ferrari GT California like Hughes’ other 80’s star, Ferris Bueller.
Rather, my role model for masculinity submitted himself to death, even death on a cross. He hung between sky and earth, dejected and without fanfare. His vulnerability knew no end. His masculinity was submissive and without category, peer or demand. His eyes didn’t wander from insecurity to insecurity. He was meek but not frail. He knew his own belovedness and could expend that energy without fail. He was and is Christ.
For too long, I’ve allowed a definition of masculinity derived from popular culture to dictate my thoughts and actions. Who knows where that definition was first formed and cultivated, whether nature or nurture? Who knows and who cares? 80’s movies aren’t exactly the most relevant topic for today’s increasing eclecticism in media saturation. However, emotional vulnerability, selflessness and humility are relevant and increasingly so.
I’m convinced and have decided to define my masculinity apart from the glow of the TV screen or the lights of Time Square. I’m convinced and have decided that my masculinity will be shaped by the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table, both broken and poured out. I’m convinced and have decided that I am most masculine hidden in the lap of my Heavenly Father, letting him speak that same belovedness to me that He does to His Son.
In the Breakfast Club, Estevez’ character tells everyone “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.” I completely agree. It’s just that I don’t want to hide it anymore. There is the beginning of masculinity and there is the beginning of it all.