He just looked good.
In every photo in my great-great-aunt’s collection, her husband Corporal Charles Smartt looked good. Smooth double black skin. Serious look on his face. Boots spit-shined, a handsome military man. His wife, my Aunt Ollie loved him and they spent their life together in California, specifically living in a wonderful little house in Santa Barbara.
My aunt was an “incognegro.” She, and her sisters Bertha and Josephine, could have easily passed, but Ollie and Josephine chose to marry the darkest, handsomest military men they could find. Aunt Josephine, Josie’s, husband, was my Uncle John Myricks. He was a Buffalo Soldier who went to West Point to learn Veterinary medicine, tending to the calvary’s horses. They were educated men. They were confident men. They were men that if you had a problem they would work to find a solution. They were exemplary in every way.
They weren’t perfect. But they were the man.
When people say someone’s “the man,” these days it can be fore just about anything or nothing all at the same time.
Dunk a basketball. You da man! Spit some game. You da man! Juggle some girlfriends. You da man! Beat someone at pool. You da man!
But what is the true definition of a man? One that is not based on sporting skill or the mere ability to engage in coitus with a multitude of dimwitted females? What really makes a man? When people say “man up” is it merely a call to be cold and withhold feelings? Is it to deny pain and problems? When young men announce that they are men by what criteria are they basing it on? Is it simply chronological age? Or is he announcing more? Is he announcing that he is the master of his world? Or is he merely announcing he’s the master of his domain?
I am not writing about these sorts of men. I’m writing about “the man of honor.”
While I find all sorts of men attractive, my heart beats strongest for black American men. When I see one, all put together, full of the sort of confidence that only self-respect, education and class can bring, I fall in love a little, no matter the age. My eyes wander. I daydream. If they are young, I want to give them children. If they are old, I want to hear their stories.
For me, the definition of a man is what my uncles were and what my father is. While I have benefited from the feminist movement greatly and defend a women’s right to have choices, I know that if I met the right man, the man, I would be honored to follow him, to fight for him, to love him, to protect him. These are not benefits I would hand out lightly. I wouldn’t submit for ANY man. But for THE man, I gladly would. I’d be proud to do so.
Maybe it’s because my mother, a stay-at-home mom who was opinionated and educated, encouraged my sisters and I to be intelligent and self-sufficient while showing us another side–the security, love and trust that can come from a healthy marriage. The fact that for all the feminism and modernization, I came from a two parent home where my mother had an education of her own and familial roles were defined. My mother cooked, cleaned and looked after us, making sure we were well educated. My father worked hard, moving up in his career, balancing the household budget, providing for the us and sending my sisters and I to college.
My mother was loving, but firm. My father was firmer, sometimes withholding emotionally, but he was a man of honor. The love was quietly there in how he did anything to support us and protect us. He took care of us financially, celebrated our triumphs and encouraged our talents. Why wouldn’t my mother trust him, love him and be willing to follow him? He is “the man.” If there is a problem, he fixes it. He told her that she wouldn’t have to work as long as his job could support the five of us. He kept his promises. She doesn’t worry about money or their home because he has taken care of it. Just as he doesn’t worry about his health, his comfort as she takes care of him. He is loyal and dependable and always on time.
Just like his father. Just like his uncles Charles and John. Just like almost every man on both sides of my family the had honor. They were prideful men who turned into larger than life John Henry’s when duty called, when it was time to stand up and fight. These men were not self-involved or vain. They were not petty. And they loved their women, deeply. And stood by them.
That’s why my heart yearns for a black man. I’ve seen the best in them through the challenging and charming men of my family. I have seen the potential. I have seen the sense of duty and pride in taking care of their families and the women they pledged their fidelity. The women they promised forever.
And this is what I want, what most black women want. Their heart breaks longing for that man, the man, head held high, will strong, ambitious, loving and understanding. Whether in a freshly pressed uniform and shiny shoes or in a wool suit coat with thick striped tie or in coveralls and work boats. There is nothing more beautiful that a couple joined together — two against the world. And together they can’t be defeated.
I won’t rest until I find that in a man, a many, but it would be a dream if the man is a black man.