What Does It Mean to Be a Man? Apparently, Many Things

Regardless of your taste for white wine or ability to rebuild a transmission, you fall somewhere on the Man-O-Meter. The good thing is, it really doesn’t matter where you fall anymore.

Most Saturday mornings at 7:30, a “Dawn Patrol” of seven or so guys from the neighborhood gathers in front of Chad’s house for a five-mile hike over Chester Springs’ hilly terrain. We’re all “men of a certain age” (early 40s through mid-50s) with varied backgrounds and relationship scenarios (married, divorced, re-married) so we can definitely use the exercise, not to mention the male bonding.

On a recent chilly morning, I began to realize how varied each of the Dawn Patrollers was in his overall maleness. Don’t get me wrong: We’re great friends. But our sensitivity and toughness levels are all over the map. Some of us excel at selling, strategizing or nurturing. Others lift heavy loads and are more akin to Grizzly Adams than Felix Unger. 

Suddenly, I had a brainstorm. “Picture a semi-circular meter like an old elevator-floor indicator,” I told the others. “The far right is ‘Man’s Man.’ The opposite side, ‘Metro Male.’”

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They all looked confused. I continued. “Let’s take Sean, for example. The guy is a carpenter; he works with his hands for a living. He shaves his own head. He rebuilt a car. Hell, he rebuilt his own home. Sean may not know the difference between claret and cabernet, but he could shoulder-pin a Kodiak bear. He’s the ultimate Man’s Man.”

“What about me?” asked Chad.

“You’re holding hands with me on the far left,” I responded.

“Yeah,” Chad conceded. “I guess our recipe exchanges, shopping excursions to Wegmans and the excitement we get from finding a nice ripe cheese at Trader Joe’s doesn’t exactly put us in Sean’s category.”

Everyone nodded. They were getting it.

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I pointed to Wally and Scott, both pilots. “You’re far right by default. You both control millions of dollars worth of equipment, not to mention people’s lives.”

“What about Tom?” posed Carl, a Man’s Man with leftist leanings thanks to his appreciation of fine cuisine.

“Oh, that’s easy. He does manual labor for a living, plays guitar for fun, smokes cigarillos like Eastwood in a spaghetti western, and drinks cheap beer straight from the can. Tom occupies a whole other category: Major Dude.”

When we were younger, any of us might’ve been labeled a jock, a slacker, a gear-head, a band geek—whatever. But back in high school, if you didn’t fit in, you were out. Today, what separates us across the Man-O-Meter’s great divide is what makes us unique. I can’t fly a Gulfstream, rebuild a transmission, bowhunt a 10-pointer or strum a Grateful Dead tune—and that’s OK with these guys.

Our hike ended, and we said goodbye until the next Dawn Patrol. “C’mon,” Chad said to me. “Let’s hit Wegmans.”

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Ken Alan reviews restaurants for Main Line Today and also wrote the “Country Rock” feature. He’s standing firm on his own Man-O-Meter reading—and who are we to argue?

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