I don’t mean “how to be a man” in the traditional sense of cleaning a rifle, closing a deal, or winning a bar fight. I confess to relative cluelessness when it comes to any of those things. But while I wouldn’t want my son to be versed in the behavioral skill set lately (and sometimes lazily) categorized as features of toxic masculinity, I also don’t want him to be a pushover. The ostensibly proper balance — confident and strong but not arrogant and aggressive, sensitive without being a crybaby — is subjective and murky.
If he gets hurt, physically or emotionally, what amount of crying is appropriate? If someone relentlessly bullies him, is he ever justified in fighting back? How vulnerably nontoxic should he make himself in a world that preys on the undefended — but whose opposite is the grotesque alpha-male caricature?
After four decades, I’m not so sure I know the answers. As a fiction writer living in a liberal enclave of Brooklyn, one would think I satisfy every condition of a modern man unafraid of his most naked emotions, but that’s not completely true.