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Mandate to Elevate

Since I was a young man, becoming aware of who I am, of my core values and identity, I’ve understood that I tend to be a kind and gentle male of the species. I’ve also become aware that this identity constitutes my ‘difference,’ that my lack of aggressiveness, and my incapacity for physical or emotional confrontation sets me apart in a way, marginalizing me from many of my peers. This trait has had interesting, unexpected, and in cases amusing ramifications.

Despite years of society’s attempts to drum out of me the harsh, judgmental behaviors and reactions other males seem to display with some ease, I’ve resisted that labeling. When certain male colleagues, fewer of them all time I’m pleased to realize, display their immediacy with violent self-protection, and with bunkering behavior when vulnerability rears its threatening head, I’ve learned not to pity them so much as to be grateful those actions are foreign to me.

The behaviors and attitudes that seem intrinsic to many of my colleagues with the XY chromosomal pairing seems exhausting, enervating: The easy dismissal of girls and women; the constant (and consistent) vigilance for potential injury that seems always to invite it; the ease with a martial mentality; the conflicted and the (often comical) atavistic display of plumage; the leg-lifting marking of territory all seem soul-sapping to me. Where do they get the energy?

I’ve had opportunities to explore this mentality. When I was in high school, for example, due to my retiring, deferential approach to the other pre-pubescent boys (I was in an all-boys school) I was viewed as a soft touch, a kid not to be taken seriously. Once a classmate acted out around this. For whatever reason, he took exception to the way I was treating one of the school outcasts. He stared at me—I remember it well, sixty years later—and he sneered, “Edgington, are you queer or something?”

I was fourteen at the time—this was in 1962—and I had no idea what ‘queer’ meant. But that boy’s harsh tone told me that ‘queer’ was not a good thing to be. I recall leaving the outcast boy alone for a few days and feeling sad about it, as if I was being defined as something I was not. Which was true, of course. My temperament once again gave more heft to the angry boy’s feelings than to my own.

Over time, I’ve learned to not only recognize this trait in myself, but to cherish it. I am different. In a good way. As difficult as this is to write (my deferential self is busy editing as I go), it’s something I’ve learned to accept and to use to some advantage. For one thing, I learned that my gentleness and ease marks in high contrast those (increasingly) rare times I step out of character to spit and sputter about this and that, typically a balky computer issue challenging me to be a better man, a time I often fail miserably. Computers are heavily male if gendered, in my opinion.

And something else, as well. I’ve learned that many if not most of those colleagues who lift their legs on things, whose plumage blooms when their territory is under threat, those guys have this trait as well. It may be deeply buried, tamped down with frantic effort, but it’s there, nonetheless. And as terrifying to those men as it can be to let go of, it could be their salvation when there’s no longer sufficient plumage to bloom, or when lifting a leg throws them off balance and they fall. I believe all men discover, as their plumage molts away, that their true selves has much more of the gentle X side than the testosterone-laced Y side does.

Does that put me ahead of a curve? A gentle voice in the wilderness of male-dominated self-exploration? I don’t know about that.

I do know that the age I’ve achieved is busy revealing many men to me who seem to gravitate to the benefits and endorsements that their Y chromosome affords. I welcome them. It’s cold out there. And warmth is a very good thing, especially wearing no plumage.

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Byron Edgington
Byron Edgingtonhttps://www.byronedgington.com/
Byron Edgington was a commercial & military helicopter pilot for 50 years. An award-winning writer, he is the author of several books including The Sky Behind Me: a Memoir of Flying and Life, A Vietnam Anthem: What the War Gave Me, Waiting for Willie Pete, a Novel of Vietnam, PostFlight: An Old Pilot’s Logbook, and recently released Journey Well, You Are More Than Enough. Edgington served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot, including a yearlong tour in Vietnam. As a commercial pilot, he flew all over the world, including 20 years of air medical flying in Iowa, news & traffic in several U.S. cities, a stint as a corporate pilot, and three years flying tours on the island of Kauai. After retiring from aviation in 2005, he returned to college and received his Bachelor's Degree in English and creative writing from The Ohio State University at age 63. In 2012 Edgington won the prestigious Bailey Prize in non-fiction from the Swedenborg Foundation Press for his essay titled ‘Lift Off.’ Byron Edgington is married to his best friend, Mariah. He has three daughters, and six grandchildren. Recently returned to the U.S. after living in Medellin Colombia, he now lives and writes in Iowa City Iowa.

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4 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Lots to ponder here Byron!

    You reminded me that there are two groups of males. The rough ones and then those who are somewhere in between gruff and female … and most lost. They do not resonate with the alpha male behavior and still are men to be sure.

    And, based on the theory in 𝘍𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘍𝘪𝘳𝘦 by Martin Brossman written years ago based on his work with men, he explains a model of why most men inhabit an adult body; yet remain with the emotions of adolescence. They never grow up.

    I believe the lack of role models over the last 50-75 years is the cause of the incredible statistics of divorce. Long term marriages dissolve when the man hits midlife, can no longer ‘pretend’ to be an adult (it’s exhausting), and go right back to sixteen again, wanting to sow oats all the time!

    Women wake up after 20, 30 or 40 years next to a teenager! “Where is the man I married?” Perhaps the man you married was still 16 years old, motivated by the same things.

    [Not to exclude women to a degree also lack female role models.]

    • Leslie: Many thanks for the response, and for the female perspective on this, much appreciated. I often wonder how many boys in a man’s body there are out there, and if I’ve personally shaken that tendency myself? Thank you for writing.

    • As an answer to your wonder, Byron, an article some years back described the overwhelming reason men wanted out of a marriage that “they didn’t want the responsibility”. Typically this came around when they had a couple of kids. It is funny how many men want professional responsibility as they don’t want it for their own progeny. What does that say about how responsibility is valued in society?

    • Charlotte: Interesting that you’d bring this up just now, because we have very close friend/family situation in which this appears to be a case in point. Yes, 3 kids in 5 years can cause a burden, but that burden should have at least been anticipated. As you may suspect, the load is almost fully on the mom at this point. I fear this marriage will not survive, at which point the husband’s load will increase far beyond anything he has now. Someone much smarter than I am once said ‘Marriage is our last, best chance to just grow up.’ I agree. Thanks for writing.

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