A man’s conversation sitting around a campfire can take on the most interesting of flavors. When only two men are at the fire then the conversation will often be spoken quietly, personal, vulnerable, imperfections exposed, and they will actually be quite helpful each to the other. The two will empathize and encourage each other. But add that third man and the conversation changes. Add a fourth or a fifth and the men go through an instant metamorphosis. Sometimes I wonder if all of us men don’t have multiple personality disorder. The posturing begins the competiveness begins to show. Oh, it is quite well hidden as all of us men have been socialized and gained the skill of appearing humble as we strut with chests puffed out.
You might think I as the writer would be immune to such a base reaction but before I know it, I am in the thick of it, brandishing my scars giving exaggerated details of each and every scar. It happens without forethought it is like an alien creature takes over my body and there I am trying to out-man the others. Hours of men telling their stories, laughter that makes the belly hurt and not once has a single truth been told. Don’t get me wrong there is a thread of truth that runs through the gamut of stories but it is such a thin thread at times I often wonder if it is even visible. The stories take on a life of their own as they travel down a path one story leading to the next, subject after subject. Add a little alcohol to the mix and there are no limits.
If you could be in the shadows of the firelight and be a silent observer you might see the older men and the very young men stand or sit quietly, while it is the young to middle age men who are the most vociferous. Maybe the older men have gained a small amount of wisdom knowing it best to keep silent, and the youngest men are in the process of experiencing the stories they will tell in 10 years. But, these youngest are also dying to be included and be men also and tell their stories. Once in a while a youngster will fray into the battle of storytelling. Instantly their stories are dismissed and an older more voiceterous male will over power the welp and cut him off. No one is interested in childhood stories. It is the stories that made men men we want to here, stories of adventure, risk, and valor. The trouble in our feminized world unless a man has been a thug, or gone to war the stories are empty. The warrior may suffer in silence the reformed thug might be silent in shame. So, stories of conquests, bar fights, wild driving, and accidents, all fill the emptiness of the night.
The stories of daily diligence, loyalty, hard work, enduring unhappy marriages, sorrow of kids that often go astray, sticking with unfulfilling jobs year in and year out, paying the bills month after month, staying the course with ongoing medical issues, and being the secure ballast that smoothes out his family’s emotional highs and lows – these receive no part in the story telling.
I wonder if the older man sitting quietly actually has real stories of adventure, risk and valor and has no interest in proving his manhood. He has been there and done that. He sits secure with knowing eyes watching the displays of the silly talk - understanding the men are lost and bored with the dailiness of their civilized life style. But, he also knows some are being tested, some are experiencing bitter disappointments, one might be carrying a grief that would make the others hair stand on end. He also knows some will face trials and pains they cannot comprehend as they stand telling their stories and he knows they are lucky not to know what is before them. It is there in that time they will know what it is to be a man. Then later they will sit silently and listen to the stories float away along with the campfire smoke and watch it dissipate through the overhanging branches of the nearby trees.