Moving on up

Jerry Seinfeld famously put ‘helping someone move’ just below ‘driving someone to the airport’ on the scale of things you can only ask a good friend to do. I know some people resent being asked to do this kind of favour, but not me. My line of work leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and calling, but not manliness. I don’t know what masculinity would look like in a pastor, and I don’t know if it would be a good thing. But when I’m at work, I don’t swing a hammer, I don’t throw sacks of grain over my shoulder, and when I come home, I don’t need to shower or even change my clothes to look presentable. In my current hobbies, I don’t take slapshots or kick fieldgoals or try in any way to exert my physical dominance over other men. Helping friends move is one of the few ways I have where I can connect with that kind of masculinity.

Now, I recognize that me equating many of those things with what it means to be a man is maybe part of the problem. I do get to “feel like a man” in other ways. When my wife and children come to me for protection, I feel like a man. When they feel that can rely on my love and support, when they know they can count on my continued presence, and when they implement the lessons I’ve taught them and are better off for it, I feel like a man too. Of course these are not the exclusive domain of men, or fathers and husbands. Still, for right or wrong, this is how many of us are wired.

So, when I was asked recently to help some friends move, I was happy to assist. As often happens, the tasks were divided along gender lines; the organizing and cleaning was being done by the women and the heavy work of lugging stuff around was being done by the men. It isn’t just grunt work though, we men were doing problem solving too. We needed to optimize storage space in the moving van, navigate stairwells with long and oddly shaped furniture, and then position the van to best facilitate unloading.

But as we started bringing things into the new place, I observed something interesting. None of us men, even the Man living there, felt comfortable determining where to place things. That kind of decision making fell on the Woman. All of us waited with varying sizes of loads to take instructions from her. Anyone watching from the outside would say that she was in charge, and yet none of us felt inferior for needing her direction. There were no jokes about anyone being emasculated or whipped and no accusations of the wrong person wearing the pants. One might simply say that we all understood our roles within the larger task of moving. We could maybe pat ourselves on the back at being modern, liberated men who have created and are now enjoying an egalitarian paradise.

This exampled is a little overstated, but it does reflect a larger parttern that many people have ben observing lately. More and more, it seems, in churches and various community organizations, the decisions are being made by women, who were perhaps all along better suited for the process of sitting around and talking about the options, weighing the pros and cons, and evaluating if the necessary resources could be made available. And the men, who no longer seem interested in sitting on committees and attending meetings, show up to do the work. The minutes might not show who pushed the wheelbarrow or who sanded and then repainted the equipment shed, but the job got done.

Traditionalists have long worried that women are taking over. All of this has made me ask myself if/when then that happens, and if it’s done right, will the men even mind?

There are a number of tangible and intangible rewards for heping a friend move. The intangibles are probably enough; a hug and a handshake of appreciation, a strengthened friendship, new friends made, the sense that the favour may some day be returned. The tangibles help too; a cold drink in the shade and a hearty meal when it’s all done (I didn’t have time to stay for the food in this instance, sadly.) But this time, each of us men were also given a Starbucks gift card, as a token of apprecition, which at least one of the guys and I immediately gave to our wives when we got home.

* I recognize that much of this post relies on gender stereotypes that can easily undermine the contributions of a lot of valuable people in our society. I know that a couch can be carried effectively regardless of who is holding up the other end, a wall is painted and a committee is chaired well regardless of who is in charge. I don’t pretend to fully understand the nuances of what it means to be a man in today’s society, nor do I pretend to be able to prescribe what modern womanhood can and should look like.The roles of men and women in our world are changing, and from the haze around those adjustments, I offer these thoughts.