One of the things that women find most annoying about men is our desire to fix things that, maybe, do not need to be fixed. (Guys only) Think back on the last time a woman, dear to you, spoke to you about an issue that was bothering you? Got it? Ok, so what was your first reaction? You suggested a solution; a course of action, right? If you didn’t then maybe you just charged out there and tried to implement the solution yourself, didn’t you?
It didn’t work out so well, did it? In fact, the chances are your best efforts ended up doing a bit of damage to that particular relationship. Frustrating, yes, all you wanted to do was to make things better and you ended up in the doghouse.
The above comes based on many data points, all collected dutifully over many years and from various subjects by this somewhat chastened scrivener.
The cause is straightforward enough. Those relating the issues did not do so looking for a free fix. They came in search of one who would listen. The problem was something of a mismatch between expectations on both sides. The male side, it seems, often just does not get it. We figure that if a problem is brought up it is because an immediate solution is sought. Because we often obtain our ‘power’ from our ability to effect change we figure that is the best response, namely to actually do something; to fix whatever is wrong. What we fail to realize is that what is sought is not a solution. Frequently the solution is known and other times one is not required. What is needed instead is support and understanding.
These concepts are not things that always come easily to us guys.
You may wonder where this is coming from. Has this blogger screwed up some relationship so badly that a public apology is in order and this is the lead up? No. Last week, you see, on the local radio morning show the question was asked, ‘why should guys hang out together?’ and it’s been on my mind ever since.
The initial answer was, ‘duh!’ but upon reflection it became clear that sometimes things that are obvious on the surface are not so when you give them some consideration. The answer had nothing to do with sports; women are quite adept at discussing most sports, they just mostly choose not to. Not politics either and for the same reason. Likewise hunting, making things and the like. Besides, not every guy likes discussing those things. Consider, for example, example, talking about sports. Playing is one thing but talking about it? Sorry—can’t relate.
It’s not about smell or touch either. Enough said.
For some reason a bunch of memories of my maternal grandfather started trickling back, probably due to the proximity in time to Remembrance Day. Some clarity ensued.
Grandfather ‘Grando’ McCormack spent all but five years of his life living in Dublin, Ireland. He took a five year break from that, though, to spend a bit of time on ‘the Continent.’ From 1914 to around 1919 that young Irish Catholic boy, John, ‘Jack’ McCormack was an infantry soldier in the British army. He was a little older than many of the other young men who volunteered and, so, rose to the rank of sergeant. He spent his time in France and was one of the many who served on the Somme. He was gassed; the mustard gas often used at the time was hell on any exposed skin and was particularly bad on the lungs; but survived and was eventually discharged honourably. The skin healed and, so it seems, so did his emotional well-being. His lungs didn’t; they bore the scars for the rest of his life.
Following the war, he settled back to Dublin to his wife, Madge, or ‘Grannie Mac’ as my sister and I knew her. Together they raised our mom. At some point they moved out to Killester and spent the rest of their lives at Abbeyfield, living in one of the stone duplexes constructed for Irish veterans by the British government.
Our mom married a Canadian and moved away in 1959. Dad promised that she would get home frequently and he kept his word. Her firstchild, Mary, was born in Dublin. The second, me, would have been but, as always, was a bit anxious to get on with it. That, alone, would not have been so bad, but Mom and Dad were living on an Island at the time, a half-hour run even by speedboat, from the nearest hospital. Oh, and it was late December. Apparently I couldn’t even wait for the little boat to cross. No matter, it’s not relevant here anyway. What is relevant is that, as a family, we made frequent trips to Ireland. Grannie Mac was able to make an extended trip over; she spent about a year there. Grando’s doctor, however, warned him that because of his lungs, if he visited Canada, he, ‘might as well take his coffin along with him,’ so that was that. No matter, we were able to visit Killester frequently.
And those visits…magical. Think about it, rural Canadian kids lucky enough to be able to spend summers just north of Dublin. Killester is on the Howth road; close to so much. Howth, Dolymount, Bray, Dun Laoghaire, Clontarf, Kilmainhem, the Liffy, Grafton Street, Moor Street, O’Connell Street. On and on. Then there were the Aunts in Cork and the trip, either by car or train to spend a week there. Blarney. No, the castle. Yes, we kissed the stone, hence the blog.
But it was the sixties and the seventies. Ireland was deep in the grip of ‘the troubles.’ Each night, when Grando would turn on the BBC we would hear the long list of grievances, learn of the violence. And, always, listen to the rhetoric of hate. Magical, yes, but not the sweet syrupy kind served up by the likes of Disney. This was the kind of magic that could both delight as well as kill. The TV might show a movie in some other language–the subtitles were something you never saw in Canada–or it could show the grisly result of the latest car bomb. A walk down to the back of the garden, ball in hand, and through the hedge at the end, then onto the football field just beyond could result in a chance encounter with a few locals, followed by a pickup game or it could result in the admonition, ‘get the feck out of here you little mick before I stuff the ball up your arse.’ You never could tell.
It was so very hard to interpret. Stuff that needed the wisdom of an elder. That’s where Grando came in.
Before your mind starts spinning a feel-good image of the tiny little gingy dutifully sitting at the feet of the wise elder, listening to the sage advice delivered in soft dulcet tones let me assure that we are not going there at all. Grando was not the type to live inside his head and he certainly spend no time ruminating on ‘what if’s’ and the like. In fact, ‘ruminating’ was something he seemed to care little about at all. His comments and interpretations, though, cleaned the lenses and allowed some things to be seen so much more clearly.
- On the violence that was so endemic at the time. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with that bloody lot (meaning the ‘religious’ leaders who often helped incite the hatred).
- On the religious discrimination that was so rampant at the time. What’s the big difference? We wore the same uniform.
- On the war. I was gassed on the Somme.
So, you are probably wondering why those few comments should be considered to be so meaningful, so profound. It’s not what was said, it’s what was NOT said. Notice that in each case there never was an effort to blame anyone. The statements were just matter of fact, statements of truth. More importantly there was an implied acceptance that these things were the way they were and that we should just accept them as is, change them if possible, and, most importantly, just get on with the rest of our lives without letting the hate take hold of us.
Grando was no wuss. You did not mess with him. Even in his late eighties he would run down the path to his garden to chase away the ‘bold boys’ who might be after some of his stuff. His hearing aids came the hard way. He made sure that they were paid for, and not by him! Likewise much of his Medicare. The fighting skills he learned in the brutal trenches of the Great War never left him. But, there was never any hatred. What was needed to be done would be done and that was it.
And that’s the person who was Grando. Strong, principled and direct but never hateful, never vengeful. No complaining, well, okay, no complaining for the sake of complaining, just an insistence that the actions needed to be just and that the wrongs needed to be righted. That took courage. Thinking back on it, it’s easy to see how the word applied to his life. Heading out to serve in the Great War was an act of bravery, even more so, considering the fact that he was an Irish Catholic. Working for the rest of his life, despite his scarred lungs, too, took courage on a daily basis. Finally, taking the time to share his life with a tiny little Canadian added in there a nice mix of vulnerability that, it can be argued, shored up that inner strength just as much as the decision to spend those five hellish years in France.
That’s the thing. In the end it’s got something to do with listening, something to do with affirmation, yes, but there’s something else in there that was due solely to the fact that he was male and so was I. Something passed between us; something that could not be articulated in words. Something, frankly, whose very nature defies description. But that something, though intangible, was somehow real. It had to be because it effected a change and that transformation resulted growth; in somehow becoming better as a person. That change, in particular had something to do with maleness.
Yes, acknowledged, it is hard to defend. What was particularly male about all of that? Frankly I do not know, exactly. What I do know is that the message was not one that fits easily into words. It’s therefore difficult to share using any of the ordinary means of communication because it does not really use any of the standard techniques. No words, no body language. It did require physical presence, though. That and the kind of trust that only occurs between people who become used or being together.
And there it is. Sometimes good things happen when guys associate with other guys. Said but not said, expressed but not expressed, just the same as the relationship I had with Grando McCormack.