My Old Man

"Sometimes it's hard to be a woman." God knows, Tammy Wynette had hard times to complain of, but if being a woman is difficult at the end of the millennium, becoming a man has always been hard. Increasingly, as I look at males of my own age, to say nothing of "guys" in their teens and 20's, the whole thing seems impossible. The entire century looks like one long adolescent male whine, from Alee Waugh's The Loom of Youth to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye to Richard Farina's Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me to the feeble whimperings of Jay McInerney and the other quasimale members of the bratpack. In retrospect, it is easy to admire Hemingway for his virility, but as my own father pointed out to me very early in my reading career, real men do not talk about being real men any more than saints think of themselves as saintly. The real thing is always unconscious of itself; the genuine article is always naive.

My father was a hard man to emulate: a great shot, a legendary fisherman, a man who could be as dangerous with his fists as he was abusive with his tongue. I have inherited the tongue as well as his taste for whiskey. One or the other is sure to kill me.

From everything I have heard of my father as a young man, he was as much the playboy as the hero of one of his favorite plays. A brilliant student, he got himself expelled from school, mostly for...

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