The HenryMan List
by Patrick McLean
A little advice for my little nephew.
So, I have a nephew. And since I did such a wonderful birth announcement for my niece, it seems only fair that I do the same for little Henry. And, as the second child, I know he’s not going to be happy to hear it, but Henry, go and listen to what I wrote for your big sister. It goes double for you.
And even though the most important things to say at this time are. you are born, you are welcome and you are loved, I feel that there’s something more to say. You see, you’re a boy. And some day, you will be a man. Which means that you’re playing for my team. And that’s no small thing.
And since, despite what the world might have us believe, manhood is not a function of size or age or what kind of car you drive ñ I thought I might share a few things that might help little Henry out on his journey to manhood. Please Henry, go to school on my mistakes. I paid for them in full.
First, life is not fair. Life is beautiful. life is full of mystery and wonder, but life is not fair. And when people try to make it fair, it just makes it worse. I took me at least 30 years to understand this, so give it a little time to settle in. Also someone uses the word fair, especially in public discourse, they’re probably just trying to sell you something that is unfair in their favor.
Learn how to fix things. You know, they used to say that what separated man from the animals was that man used tools. Which was a little stupid when I first heard it. I mean, a beaver’s teeth might not be tools, but a dam damn sure is. But when scientists discovered that certain kinds of apes used twigs to catch ants, then people fell back on the idea that man was the only creature that uses language. But dolphins and whales seem to but dent in that idea. To say nothing of the fact that somebody went discovered that bees tell other bee’s where the honey is by using a 6 dimensional dance. It’s all very confusing. Can I tell you that an animal that uses tools is not a man. Nope. But I can tell you one thing. A man who doesn’t know how to use tools is animal.
Besides, there is a satisfaction that comes from taking something that is broken and restoring it to good working order. It is as sure an antidote to the soul draining parts of our disposable, post modern society as I know. And while we’re on the subject, I’m sorry we couldn’t pass you down a less wacky world. It is perfect in it’s way. And it’s challenges are nothing but tests to make you stronger. I know that’s pretty thin advice when you’re in it. See rule 1. Life ain’t fair.
Gamesmanship. To be a man, you’ve got to play games well. Not all games. But you need to know how to clinch a win. Come from behind. Win and lose graciously. It could be football. It could be poker. It could be badminton. It could be chess. Doesn’t matter what the game is. learn to play games well with all the skill you can muster. And remember, in the final analysis, a game is just a game. And so is life.
And while we’re talking about gamesmanship and life ñ learn to play hurt. I’m not saying play some stupid football game with a hairline fracture in your neck because a winning season is on the line. That’s just stupid. No, what I’m saying is, play when you don’t feel good. Play through some pain. And learn that it get in the way of you enjoying life. Because most amazing experiences in life generally happen when you’re tired and don’t feel so hot. Don’t let a little discomfort get in the way of bliss.
As a side note, watch out for the first time you strain a muscle. Shockingly painful the first time that happens let me tell you.
Learn to handle a car in a skid. Not only is this cool. It can save your life. Your dad will show you. He’s good at it. Just don’t tell mom.
Learn to cook. You are what you eat. You are also how you eat. Americans have a tough time with this one right now, but it is true. To say nothing of the fact that it’s fun, not that hard and impresses the hell out of people. Especially women. And, although you might not believe it for years yet, there are many fringe benefits to impressing women.
And while we’re on the subject of women ñ and this is hard, because men are pretty much idiots about women and women are pretty much idiots about men — There is a difference between men and women. And this difference is one of the greatest things in the world. It’s also a source of a great many evils and frustrations. (see rule number one — it’s just not fair around here.)
Appreciate the qualities of both sexes. In more ways than one, this intermingling is what keeps the species going. Men have the ability to not only justify doing something dangerous and stupid, but to revel in it. It is your birthright. Wear it like a badge of honor as you put a bucket on our head ram into a wall. All progress depends upon this inspired lunacy ñ but someday, you know, recognize it for the stupidity it is.
Also recognize that not to approach things only as just a man or just a woman is the beginning of something much, much grander. Its called being fully human. I’m still working this one out myself but drop a footnote. It’s worth coming back to again and again.
Learn to throw a punch. A good, compact, powerful shot. None of those looping redneck roundhouse punches. With any luck, you’ll go your whole life without having to use this skill. But having it will give you confidence. And strangely enough, the confidence is often more important than the ability.
Be polite. There’s never a reason not to be polite. And the hidden lesson of good manners is that it’s one way you demonstrate self-control. And no matter how tough or cool somebody acts, the truth is, there are very few things in this world as scary as someone in complete control of themselves.
Now it might seem that learning how to throw a punch and always being polite are contradictory. They are not. On very rare occasions throwing a punch is polite and standing inactive is the rudest thing you can do. but before we get too far down this road, let’s jump to the next one which will make it all clear.
Do the right thing. always, everywhere, without exceptions. It seems like a very simple rule, but the tricky part is that the rules ( and if you haven’t encountered the rules don’t worry you will and they suck. ) the tricky part is that the rules aren’t always the right thing. This can be awkward, painful, or downright dangerous. Sometimes the rules are in direct opposition to what is right. But the way I explain it to myself is the rules aren’t what’s right. The rules are what we have to deal with to get the right thing done. This is one of the reasons it helps to be creative.
And while we’re on that subject, they’re going to tell you that your uncle is creative — and sure, it’s true — but being creative is like being a piece of yeast. Sure you’re magic, but without flour. (Or mashed corn or potatoes or even apple mash) you’re good for exactly nothing. And the flour is hard work.
The harder I work, the more creative I become. In fact, we could pretty much call that the secret to everything. It’s just hard work. Probably not as hard as you think at the start, but anybody who’s good at anything has worked hard at it. The good news is that work sucks way less than the rules.
Listen carefully to people, but don’t put much too store in what they say. Watch what they do. Watch what they do when it matters, and then you’ll see what they are made of. Men who sound brave often run. People who seem like cowards often aren’t. And once again those who talk about making things fair are usually cheating.
And lastly, be the kind of person who holds doors open for people — even strangers. In a small way it makes the world a better place. And even though it’s a small thing — every little bit helps
Welcome to the world little man. That’s about all I know. And some of might be on shaky ground. But welcome to the world. Now it’s yours.