Just Call Me Mr. Right

The other day I went to the San Diego Zoo (yay!), because if you can’t stare at animals while they’re wondering what went wrong with their lives, what good are they?

I was standing alone, beholding the Malayan sun bears, when a father and son came up to the rail beside me. The boy was maybe seven; his father, in belted shorts, tucked-in printed T-shirt, and baseball cap, certainly dressed like he was. But whatever. I was there to stare at the animals in the pens.

The boy pointed at the lolling bears, and asked his dad what kind they were.

“That’s the Helarctos malayanus,” the man pronounced. He went on to give a considerable dissertation on what sun bears eat, where they live, how long they live, how much they typically weigh, and how you could tell the males from the females. What luck for me: that guy really knew his bears! Throughout his talk I kept my eyes on the bears, the better to absorb his information.

Toward the end of his Malayan Sun Bears 101, I looked over at the professor. That guy didn’t know anything more about bears than I do. He was reading from the informative placard the good people at the San Diego Zoo put before every animal display, in case the animal’s hiding and you feel like doing a little reading. And he was trying to hide that he was doing that; he was sneaking his looks at the placard. He had actually positioned his body to block the boy from knowing the placard was there at all.

This faux-yogi of bears was trying to trick his kid (and also me, I guess; he wasn’t exactly whispering) into thinking that he just happened to be the world’s leading expert on Malayan sun bears.

Oh, wretched charlatan!

Then again, what man hasn’t done that? That’s what all men do, all the time. It’s like one of the testicles of every man in the world is named Know, and the other Everything. Once those bad boys drop, every guy is instantly committed to the idea of being Fully Knowledgeable about everything.

Oh, wretched burden!

It really does bite Malayan sun bear booty. Men feel that they must be … well, perfect beings, basically—or they fail. Part of the emotional burden men carry is the pervasive, ever-present conviction that being a man means they’re supposed to:

  1. Know everything
  2. Be like a magnet to women
  3. Be in complete control of their emotions
  4. Make a ton of money
  5. Be exceptionally wise
  6. Be naturally athletic
  7. Have everything always go exactly as they planned
  8. Scoff at physical pain
  9. Know all about cars (and machines in general)
  10. Be able to talk with animals

(Well, maybe not talk with animals. But I certainly expect dogs to instinctively obey me, and horses to be compelled by the power of my animal magnetism to do my bidding. And if I were honest, I’d have to admit that I would expect any wolf I came across in the wild to right away show its acquiescence to my domination by whimpering and lowering its head. But I don’t expect to chat with gophers or rats about the weather, or anything like that. I’m not stupid.)

Anyway, this drive to be impenetrably perfect is the reason that on average men die four years sooner than women. They die from the stress of having to be someone they can’t possibly be.

Enough, I say! It’s time that we men relieved ourselves in the bushes of having to be right all the time. That God made us in his image doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be just like God. We’re supposed to be like, well, us. Ignorance, incompetence, and all.

How much better would it have been if that father had said to his son, “I have no idea what kind of bears those are. Let’s see what this sign says.”? And then, side-by-side, his arm around his boy’s shoulders, the two of them, together, could have begun to learn.

*****

(P.S. I’m under no illusions about the degree to which women are also compelled to always be right about everything. It’s a human thing, I know.)

Related post of mine: Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Husband.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Kara K

    Love the “faux-yogi of bears”. Not fond of the implication that women don’t feel pressured to be perfect. I think all adults feel the pressure to know everything (women have the added pressure of having to know everything while wearing high heels and carrying a baby). Fortunately there are placards all over the place, if we care to look.

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t actually say/imply anything about women at all. One … point at a time.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      That they are, and if we are honest with ourselves and with others, we will make it obvious that we have to rely on those placards more often then not.And you forgot while you are wearing those high heels and carrying a baby,the womb or not, to be, at the same time cooking a gourmet meal just like your or his mother used to make.I gave up on that aspiration for perfection when I FINALLY realized my cooking skills just provided nourishment.

    • Rob B

      Kara…I don’t think there was an implication that women don’t feel pressure. I think the point to be made is that men DO and so many think or expect that we do not.

  • Ace

    Well… the problem with this:

    “1. Know everything

    2. Be like a magnet to women”

    is that in exercising #1, you run the potential to put the kibosh on #2, if you aren’t careful about how you go about doing #1.

    See You Might be a Manspainer If… for further details.

    ;)

    Of course, John, you seem to forget that this – “Anyway, this drive to be impenetrably perfect is the reason that on average men die four years sooner than women. They die from the stress of having to be someone they can’t possibly be.” – could almost be switched around to apply to women, who also are stressed to be perfect.

    Oh, in different *ways* of course – Women don’t have to be athletic/indestructable/impenetrable but they MUST be thin enough, perfect appearance, perfectly kept house, perfect 2.5 children & a dog, and since it’s the 21st century, not only must we be the perfect homemaker but also have a successful career, etc etc etc.

    Hell, I’ve overheard little girls as young as FOUR YEARS OLD make comments about being unhappy with their weight or appearance (no doubt in direct mimicry of their older female relatives they’ve overheard bitching about the size of their thighs or the angle of their noses) while wandering through children’s clothing departments.

    Unfortunately we live in an uforgiving world where nearly everyone in some way or another is forced into being something they are not. As Mary Pipher in her book “Reviving Ophelia,” put it, “Girls become ‘female impersonators’ who fit their whole selves into small, crowded spaces.”

    Of course boys often asked to do much the same. Don’t like sports? Too bookish? Gay? Too bad.

    The things we do to our children…

    Gender roles suck, anyway. I heartily encourage everyone to rebel, as much as possible. Do something your sex aren’t supposed to do today and anyone who doesn’t like it, well Shore Family Motto applies.

    (There are biological reasons for the gap in life expectancy between men & women of course, but I think we’d ALL live longer if we ALL stopped stressing over dumb garbage like not being too “queer” for the neighbors’ comfort.)

    • jes

      I’ve seen “Shore Family Motto” mentioned a couple times now… what is the motto, though? Thanks

      • Anonymous
      • Anonymous
        • http://strelitziamusings.blogspot.com/ Birdie

          Oh my gosh, I wish our family had a motto as succinct as yours. Thank you for the biggest grin of my day.

          On the subject of “knowing everything:” as a Sunday School director, one of my greatest challenges is convincing parents and volunteer teachers that “I don’t know” is a viable answer. It will, in fact, be a theme of the class I’m teaching this Sunday to preteens and their parents. It is such a gift to be relieved of that burden on all counts. I often told my own kids about parenting that we were making it up as we went along. (Still are, FWIW.)

  • Jgurkowski

    If this guy was reading this, and able to fool you into thinking he was quoting it verbatim he must be have some talent even if he lacks fashion skills.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

    you act like trying to know everything is a BAD thing! ;-)

    • Ace

      I think it’s more pretending you know everything when you don’t that he was criticizing.

      Of course trying to know everything is a perfectly worthy, albeit utterly unattainable endeavor. :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

        i won’t ever know everything… that is my aspiration… i think i might attain “knowing a little about a lot”.

    • Anonymous

      What Ace said. Life is a reading test.

      • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

        ummm… i was being facetious. i did know what he was criticizing. sorry for any misimpression.

        • Anonymous

          yeah, facetious, parody, tongue-in-cheek, all get taken literally here from time to time.
          NHNF

  • Mindy

    The funny thing is, John, that most of us female people have known, since the moment we left our teens, that men are not, can not and will never be all of those things. WE don’t expect it. WE know it isn’t possible. And the only reason we live longer is that we are just waiting you out, waiting until you kick it so that we can finally stop holding in our tummies and just relax, for crying out loud.

    • Marcelo

      And…being a guy…I knew you would say this.

    • Marcelo

      And…being a guy…I knew you would say this.

      • Ace

        O RLY?

        *insert owl-themed macro here*

        • Marcelo

          heheheh

  • Anonymous

    Nothing made feel dumber than when my young children began drilling me with questions that I could barely answer. I agree with John. Using that placard as a teachable moment for both father and child, models humility to the kids, in that men DON’T have all the answers. However, not sure it magnetically endears women. My ex 86′d me for not having the answers, or at least not knowing where to go to get them.

    • Ace

      “My ex 86′d me for not having the answers, or at least not knowing where to go to get them.”

      Well, some people have rather unrealistic expectations in life.

      I get flack for being a pessimist but hey, at least I’m never disappointed. ;)

      • Anonymous

        She is what I call a fatal optimist. She expects her experience to be the exception, not the rule. Divorcing me with no redress was bad enough, but she refused to entertain the possibility that such course would eff-up our 10 and 12 year old kids. She’s been fortunate so far, but my pessimism bets she’s headed for a fatal blow. What really blows, is that after nearly 3 years, I still keep her in my prayers. Maybe more for the kids sake than my own, but being a spiritually devout man, it’s hard to pray for someone and not love them. For me, love and prayer go hand in hand.

        • Ace

          Hmmmmm, you can love somebody without making excuses for their bullflop, I think. You can also love somebody and be terminally angry at them for very legitimate reasons as well.

          I hope things turn out well for your children regardless.

          Here’s a favorite quote of mine from Doctor Who for you, just for shits&giggles:

          “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”

          I’m a fact-finder and a fact-gatherer myself, not a fact-alterer. er.

          • Anonymous

            Terminally angry doesn’t even touch it. Lasers coming out of my flaming eyes and steaming blasts of sulphuric smoke out of my flared nostrils are more accurate. I also meant the fatal optimism as a critique, not an excuse. It will be her undoing. I just hope and pray my kids don’t pick up that stupid plucking trait.

          • Ace

            Well I can’t claim to understand people who go through life with their heads buried in the sand, but a lot of people do it. Some do okay that way, others… well as you say, come to no good end.

            If your kids have a lick of common sense (which you do seem to have) they will probably turn out fine anyway. I know a lot of people who have a total flake for one or both parents (or parents who were genuinely insane for that matter) who ended up perfectly normal and fine, if it makes you feel better.

          • Anonymous

            Would you let me know what perfectly normal is? I haven’t met that yet. : )

          • Ace

            my definition of “perfectly normal” is insanely broad, actually.

            I figure if you aren’t spending a lot of time in prison and/or don’t yet have a preferred room/nurse in the mental ward of the local hospital, you’re perfectly “normal”. ;)

        • Diana A.

          “What really blows, is that after nearly 3 years, I still keep her in my prayers. Maybe more for the kids sake than my own, but being a spiritually devout man, it’s hard to pray for someone and not love them. For me, love and prayer go hand in hand. ”

          I really respect you for continuing to keep your ex in your prayers. Thank you for walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

  • JauntyJohn

    Dear Mr. Shore,
    You, sir, are, as the kids say, “da bomb.”
    No, wait, the kids probably aren’t saying that anymore. — but still, you are.
    I would ask you to marry me, but sadly there are so many things working against that (foremost, I wager, objections from the lovely Mrs. Shore) that I will merely doodle our initials inside a heart on the cover of my diary.
    Wisdom is rare. Wit even more so (since, as Dorothy Parker put it — between swills of gin — “Wit has truth in it.”) Thank you for sharing the abundance you have of both.
    And now I must wipe coffee off of my monitor. “…It’s like one of the testicles of every man in the world is named Know, and the other Everything. Once those bad boys drop, every guy is instantly committed to the idea of being Fully Knowledgeable about everything…”
    A full on spit take, is what happened when I hit those lines.
    All the best,
    JauntyJohn

  • Shadsie

    Well, my guy and I *both* think we know everything – and have occasional yelling-matches about it. Since we both enjoy writing and we call upon each other for editing – this is often over grammar.

    I don’t need plaques most of the time at the zoo… I actually worked at one for a year. (Petting zoo keeper).

    • Ace

      Yea, I don’t think it’s just men who do that. I know quite a lot of women who will go to great lengths to always be right. I used to be very stubborn about always being right, though I’ve learned to just let some shit drop as I’ve gotten older. Pick one’s battles, etc.

      Two Grammar-Nazis in one house though, my my my, that must be explosive. ;)

      • Shadsie

        Hmm. We once had an argument over having an argument – I remember badgering him over “I have a right to argue with you and be annoyed!” – something along those lines. I think the original argument was over misplaced computer files. Then, more recently, we were yelping at each other over something else entirely, and this prompted him to say:

        “You know what? We have the WEIRDEST arguments.”

        And we laughed because it’s true. Most arguments for us end in laughter somehow.

        • Ace

          Well, there’s arguments and then there’s *arguments* if you ask me. I can get into hearty debates with folks I care about with no real malice involved, but that’s not the same thing as verbal *fighting*, which is entirely different. If you two are ending in laughter, I wouldn’t worry too much.

  • pentiptycene

    This made me wonder what the list is for women because I’m pretty sure we have it just as bad as y’all when it comes to unrealistic expectations. Here’s what I came up with:

    1. Know everything
    2. Be like a magnet to men
    3. Be in complete control of their weight
    4. Make a ton of money
    5. Be exceptionally wise
    6. Be naturally cheerful
    7. Have everything always go exactly as they planned
    8. Scoff at the notion that career and motherhood are difficult to balance
    9. Know all about cooking (and home ec. stuff in general)
    10. Be able to talk with children

    • Linda B

      Amen Sister!!!

  • Dafracks

    Take away 10. Add never age and raise perfect children and we are pretty evenly matched. As a woman who had a husband who was never around and a full time job so we could eat I imagine the stress might kill me too. My Spanish neighbors used to make fun of me in Spanish. Which I speak. They said I was just like a man because I mowed the lawn and spread mulch. I’m going to try and be less perfect and live a little longer but those messages are strong.

    • Ace

      I’m sure they were just jealous of your landscaping skills. ;)

  • vj

    Whenever I feel the urge to try to be perfect, I try to remember the sentiments expressed in the following:

    “Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.”

    —St. Teresa of Avila

  • EG

    Thanks for this post, John. I’m gonna have my 15 year old son read it. Hope he absorbs something for himself and simultaneously understands his father (my ex) better. When I can’t answer a question, I hand my son my phone and have him look it up on the internet. (these days those conversations usually happen when we’re in the car together). Repeatedly showing him how easy it is to find the answer will hopefully make him feel smarter, stronger and not “flat-footed” when he’s in a situation that challenges his current set of knowledge. God bless technology (and those who innovate in the realm). Maybe it’ll make men live longer!

  • pentiptycene

    I was all hung up on the gender thing before, I didn’t notice the real issue: the desire to be perfect has its roots in pride, the worst sin of all if C. S. Lewis is to be believed. Something for all of us to remember when we try to be either the perfect man or the perfect woman or the perfect human. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, everyone wants to do well and I can’t imagine there is anything wrong with trying to be good, but its so easy for the quest to be good to turn into the quest to be better than one’s neighbor, to be perfect. The antidote for this is not primarily a relaxing of societies expectations (though in certain areas this would help) but a realization that what actually motivates the quest for perfection is straight up pride, and that pride is a sin.
    (My inner devil wonders if you all will think my post was good, better than other posts? God forgive me.)

  • Rainer

    1. Know everything
    9. Know all about cars (and machines in general)
    10. Be able to talk at animals

    Well – at least I managed 3 out of 10…


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