Thursday, December 6, 2007


"If" by Rudyard Kipling was my father's favorite poem. He had a framed copy in his office and was buried with a copy as well. Know-it-all punk that I am, I never paid it any regard. In fact I don't think I ever bothered to read the whole thing.

Recently my friend Danny sent me an excerpt from the poem and it really resonated with me.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

This passage - paraphrased form the original poem - really hits me. The first two lines encompass one of my biggest goals on the way to self-actualization. Not that I want to feel grey and neutral all the time, but just to recognize that great experiences are transient, as are bad experiences. There will always be a better day. Stuff like that. Maybe it's kind of a Buddhist idea. I'll have to do some research. In any event it gets me on a visceral level that I can't quite explain and I guess that's what good art is for.

The last phrase, "You'll be a Man, my son." I've been contemplating that a lot lately. A related question is posed by equally brilliant poets, Flight of the Conchords: "What man who's the man what makes a man a man am I a man yes, technically, yes."

I take umbrage with the classic Sports Talk Radio definition of manliness. That "real men" like hun'in' and buffalo wings and wearing sweatpants and only like movies with big explosions and think modern art is stupid.

On the other hand, there are some classic definitions of manhood that cause me angst. You saw what happened when I tried to change a tire. You know that I'm terrible at things requiring physical co-ordination. I'm not handy with a hammer, I don't own a good flashlight nor have use for one, and I'm still not really clear on what a mortgage is... just a house payment, right? Why's it gotta be so complicated?

But maybe that's okay. The poem, which I will link to later, offers up a different route to being a "man." Some things I'd like to aspire to and feel I should aspire too.

Now, I don't buy into the whole thing. Some of the wisdom seems a bit too "folksy" these days. And there's a lot of stuff about just "sucking it up" and keeping things in, which I don't agree with. But overall, yeah.

The truly ironic (actually not ironic at all) thing is that Rudyard Kipling also wrote The Jungle Book.

The animated version of the movie features a prominent Orangutan, and Orangutans are my favorite living beings, besides people.

But the real irony (nope, still not ironic) is that King Louie is the only character in the movie that does not appear in the book. Ironicer still is that while the Orangutan social system is hard to pin down, it is anything but a monarchy. Orangutans would never stand for a king.

Also, real orangutans hate big-band swing music.

Anyway, here's this:



  1. Stellar post, B. I don't think knowing how to change a tire or pitch a 90mph fastball constitute the measure of a man any more than boob size or cooking ability constitute the measure of a woman. I like what Kipling has to say, and I also like what Elton John sings on the soundtrack to the venerable "Rocky V":

    It's the fire in the eyes, the lines on the hand
    It's the things you understand
    Permanent ties from which you once ran
    That's the measure of a man.

    You've come full circle, now you're home
    Without the gold, without the chrome
    And this is where you've always been
    You had to lose so you could win
    And rise above your troubles while you can.

    Now you can love, now you can lose
    Now you can choose
    That's the measure of a man.

    Based on that criteria, you, my friend, are all man.

  2. You know to enjoy pretty big donuts. Your Dad would be proud.

  3. Thanks, and thanks to your dad for this one.

  4. I met someone who knew your dad today. She had only good things to say about him and spoke of him highly. Sounds like he was a great man...