I recently went backpacking with a guy who built his own house from the ground up. He did everything from the foundation to the trim work. Impressed? That’s nothing. He’s got a buddy who not only built his own house, but kills his own food and tans his own hides. I don’t even know what “tans his own hides” means, but it sounds pretty damn cool, especially to a guy like me who doesn’t know how to do anything. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few skills. I can dunk a basketball, I have a strange knack for inventing tasty soups, and I’m probably the best “speed quarters” player below the Mason Dixon. But I can’t do anything “manly.” I’m not a “car guy,” not a “mechanical guy,” not a “construction guy.” If you have a problem with your carburetor, don’t come see me. I’ll just spill soup on it. When my lawnmower coughs black smoke, I don’t fix it. I go buy a new one.
I’m simply not a “manly man,” which is a tough thing for most men to admit. Take my father. He’s a smart guy. Valedictorian, aeronautical engineer, can literally design an airplane so it will fly–but watching him change the oil on our Volkswagen bus was like watching a monkey try to comprehend the Constitution of the United States. He simply has no talent for “manly” skills, but he refuses to admit his deficiencies.
And I’m probably worse off than my old man. At least he mowed the lawn once a week. My wife mows our lawn. I cook the meals. The only manly thing I can do is grow a beard, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I have a bushy beard is to cover up the fact that I don’t mow my own lawn. I don’t even drink coffee. I drink hot tea. There’s nothing manly about boysenberry Zinger Tea.
Most men today are in the same boat. We know more than we should about color patterns and less than we should about cleaning fish. We simply don’t know how to do things anymore. There was a time when every man could build a cabin, shoe a horse, fix a buggy, shoot a rabbit, plow a field—whatever skills were necessary for survival, your average man could do them. The only two skills necessary for survival in this country are being able to set up automatic deposit and knowing how to pronounce “Venti” at Starbucks.
After discussing how to tan a hide with my backpacker friend, I started making a mental list of all the “manly” things I don’t know how to do. Chop wood. Change a car’s oil. Fell a tree. Pick up a stripper. The list is extensive and shocking. There should be some sort of refuge where wayward men like myself could go to learn how to do all the things that “real men” should know how to do according to the male archetype. Call it “Man Camp,” a place where accountants, salesman, and computer technicians can go to reclaim their manhood by chopping wood, taking apart engines, and practicing fisticuffs.
I’m not saying men should take a step back into the Stone Ages. Generally, I think our gender has been much improved over the last few decades. I think it’s great that smacking flight attendants on the ass is now illegal. I’m even okay with the fact that I’m not supposed to call flight attendants “stewardesses” anymore. You want to be Mister Mom? Great. Me too. But I also think every dude, whether he wears an apron or wields a chainsaw for a living, should know how to change a tire, catch a fish, and cauterize a wound with a fire-hot knife.
Turns out, there’s already a man camp out there. It’s called Aspen Man Camp, a Colorado-based retreat, and it was designed to address the overall domestication of American Men. At Aspen Man Camp, you spend a week in the woods learning practical man skills by enrolling in clinics like “Night Time Ninja Training.” Yep. “Night Time Ninja Training.” I don’t know why Ninja training can’t be done in broad daylight, but I like the sound of it. You can also get “Edged Weapon Training.” I assume this means swords and knives. I’m not sure how practical it is for a man in today’s world to know how to wield a weapon from the Dark Ages, but I think it’s awesome nonetheless. After completion of Aspen Man Camp, you don’t get the typical T-shirt, you get a ninja suit and assorted ninja weapons. I don’t know how you’re supposed to get nunchucks and throwing stars onto an airplane when you’re done with Aspen Man Camp, but whatever. Maybe that’s covered in the night-time ninja training.