Pining For “The Man”

My Great Great Uncle Charles Smartt: citizen, soldier, husband, “the man.”

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.

The wedding of my parents. (Left to Right) Grandpa, Granny, Mama Snob, Papa Snob and my Aunt “Dinkie”

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 father with my Big Sis.

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.

10 thoughts on “Pining For “The Man”

  1. Excellent essay describing the yearning us single sistas have in finding “the man” and what some of us believe really fits the bill for “the man” of our dreams. Beautiful old photos that belong in a coffee table book highlighting outstanding African American photography of the 1930s, 40s & 50s.

  2. ruthdfw: Thank you. My heart burns for “the man.” That’s why I wrote it. I think people forget that traditionally, old school, a man was supposed to take care of his business. You married the mother of your children and you fought like hell for them.Per the photos, I’ve got tons. I’m really fortunate that my aunts kept all their photos and all their mother’s photos. And seriously, their husbands were handsome as young men. Right now I’m going through the pictures and categorizing them to put together our family history, starting with my dad’s side which those three great great aunts are related to. My family on both sides were good at documenting their lives both through pictures and orally. I’m really lucky.

  3. You are very lucky. You are graced beyond what you know. I don’t have those types of people in my family and nor does most Blacks. Most Blacks I know fantasize about celebrities to take the place and fill the voids of their make-shift ideas of leadership. If they only could have a chance to experience your heritage…your legacy.People will never testify to what I am saying. It is embarrassing. It is shameful. You feel naked seeing it and saying it. You feel defective for thinking it and acknowledging the want…the desire.It’s easier for people to also conclude that only famous people come from healthy family units. They would never have considered it was someone so simple as you…someone in cyberspace proving the point that it did exist of ordinary, extraordinary people…not stars…not celebrities. Most of them don’t have it either.I know my former students don’t have photo albums of acknowledged legacy and heritage. They have photos from Chucky Cheese. People stopped going down south and the south changed as Walmart made it little urbanized country segments of mixed bred cultures. Everyone ran away from holding onto heritage if it was not cosmopolitan and “new”. This here…your family’s exhibition of value and honor…that is not even produced at modern family reunions.Your family has something…enviable.

  4. andrea: I think more people would have this if more people would love each other fearlessly. While most of my elders were firm disciplinarians to their children, they were also dependable and caretakers. And the loved their wives most of all.My father has told me on more than one occasion the only time he would not be on my side was if I had hurt my mother. He loves me, but my mother is his number one priority. It was the same with both my grandpas and my uncles. It’s like the Lenny Kravitz song, “Stand By My Woman.” It never occurred to these men to do anything but that. They loved their spouses fearlessly so the children learned to love their parents fearlessly and later their spouses in the same manner.But this is something you have to want to fight for and it goes both ways. My mother told me last night as she was preparing to cook the usual Memorial Day feast that if my father were not here, if he weren’t alive, she wouldn’t cook at all. My dad is the only person she truly cooks for, we just benefit because she’ll make enough for five rather than enough for two. It’s not that she doesn’t love us, but my father is number one. Children grow up and leave you. But your spouse is supposed to stand by your side forever. That’s why I was so full of shame over my divorce. I loved a man fearlessly, but he didn’t return the gesture. I wanted to be married to one person forever, like my parents. To me divorce was a shame because it is very rare for anyone in my family to get divorced. Knocked up without a husband, sure. But divorced? God no. So I was devastated. As big of a realist as I am, I still believe in true love and devotion. And not the flowery stuff of greeting cards and Meg Ryan films but the kind of love where when things are hard you weather through it, where you sometimes just enjoy the comfort of someone else being there, where you don’t have to talk all the time or pretend. We you can just relax because the love isn’t going anywhere. Where it isn’t solely based on youth and beauty and sex. Where you truly fall for the other person’s soul.So, yes. In that respect I was very fortunate. I realize that. I tell my parents I love them all the time. My grandmother as well. I’m grateful to come from such tenacious, proud people. And I have so many stories to tell. Neither side of my family was meek. The men stood tall whether they were sharecroppers, shoe shiners, Army sergeants or engineers. The women were educated, talented, creative and always, always wanted more, to be better than they were. Team up a hard working man and a woman with a plan and shit will get done. Best believe it. My grandparents had nine kids and were sharecroppers yet managed to get off that cotton patch, free themselves from their debts to their white landlord, buy some land and build their own ranch house in town. They had relatives with fewer children and better jobs who didn’t have near as much as they had. But my Granny was a woman with a plan and my Grandpa was a man willing to work hard. No one could defeat them.It was the best kind of team you could have. And people made fun of my Grandpa because when he came home from work he gave all his money to my grandmother. But they had the last laugh in that ranch house. That’s what trust is about. That’s what I want in a marriage. I want that kind of trust. The kind where while other ignorant men are bossing around their wives, controlling them, your husband says, “My wife is smart. She loves me, so I trust her with my money, my own life because this woman will take care of me.”And she did until the day he died.That’s what I want. That’s what all women should want. What all men should want. That is what we deserve.

  5. Snob,Please go check out Mirror on America. The angry independent wrote a post about why he hates being black, and the tate of black women and the choices (we) make in a mate.Then correct his azz!

  6. deedlelee: Well, I wandered over there and left a note for The Anger Independent. I didn’t rip him a new one for his lazy hypothesis, but I pointed out that women who date “thugs” date them not because of popular culture. It’s because they usually have some serious issues. Like abandonment/daddy-never-loved-me issues.Celebrities are just hooking up to get more publicity. One can say that thug culture is more popular, but that’s hardly the fault of the black woman. Men created this culture, sold it to the record industry and the industry then mass produced and put it in the hype machine, hence putting it everywhere. So it just came off lazy. But I chose to point out that if he wanted to find cultured, educated black women he couldn’t just sit around and wait for one to show up. You have to make an effort. I gave some suggestions. Reiterated the fact that some black and white women have been attracted to “bad boys” since the beginning of time. And that one cannot ignore the psychological/low self-esteem factor.His column was the equivalent to a “all black men are abusive thugs because of hip hop” column. Only his version blamed women because they were “enablers” of the lifestyle.Whatev.

  7. great post. My Dad is one of “those men” and so was my paternal grandfather and great grandfather. Maybe it’s a generational thing but I feel men like them are rare these days.

  8. It’s funny, I’ve had the opposite experience growing up. My family are originally Turkish immigrants and all the men have been cold and unemotional and all the women have been shrinking violets without opinions, its led me to have a natural aversion to dating someone else Turkish (unless they completly defy my preconceptions).I have second-generation Nigerian, Portugese and Somalian friends who have expressed similar sentiments. None of us are ‘self-hating’ as some people would say, its just a symptom of our upbringing.

  9. mammith: You’re story is pretty familiar to me. A lot of first generation children of immigrants express your sentiments. I went to school with a lot of Indian, Korean, Persian and Arabic kids and they all dealt with a degree of coldness or stoicism in their families that was more of cultural thing, if anything else.My family is pretty colorful with our personalities contrasting with whatever times we were living in. I come from runaway slaves and shitkickers, so that explains the diverse array of personalities. We still have our fair share of stoicism. Most of my older relatives were loving to me, but when they were younger were staunch disciplinarians and not affectionate. Others were always warm and loving, like my great-great aunts who spoiled my dad and his brothers. So I don’t think what you described is self-loathing. It is a reflection of that confluence of two diverging cultures. It can be difficult to reconcile the two.

  10. I think this post and your response to Andrea was breathtakingly beautiful! “Team up a hard working man and a woman with a plan and shit will get done” – these words resonate with me. That is definitely my plan for life and it’s good to see the great result (you) of this philosophy. I don’t know where you are mentally with your divorce but I’m going to say the obvious, don’t beat yourself up about it. Your heart was in the right place and you tried your best with that particular man. He was not appreciative of what you had to offer but believe me when I say there is someone who would be very appreciative. You were provided a great example by your parents and that is a wonderful goal to work towards. Just remember that your path to that same happiness may be different from theirs but end with the same results. Just because it didn’t work with that man doesn’t mean it can’t work with another. Just think of the alternative, married to an unappreciative man forever.You seem to be very aware of what would make you happy and to me that’s half the battle. Now when you meet people you’ll be able to tell which ones are good for you and which ones aren’t.Keep up the great work! I thoroughly enjoy your blog. If I also weren’t unemployed without health insurance I would be contributing to the cause.

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