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When Men Were Men Social Narrative

Photo: Quick PS on Unsplash

In reflecting on the recent violent protests and the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, I could not help but think about the recent Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. boxing exhibition with rapper personality and professional entrepreneur Snoop Dogg (Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.) as the color analyst.

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However, that is not what this blog is about. My apologies Mike, Roy, and Snoop. Today's blog is about a discussion that I had with a retired white law enforcement officer (Chip) in 2009. I was on a seven-day six-night honeymoon cruise with my wife.

About the third or fourth morning into the cruise, I finally made it to the fitness center after scarfing down three days of cruise food. As I entered the fitness area, I noticed Chip who was several years my senior whisking around the fitness center speaking to everyone. The fitness area overlooked the front upper deck of the ship. The facility was fully enclosed primarily by the glass with two doors to walk out onto the outer deck for a breathtaking view and all the fresh sea air that you could stand. The aesthetic view of the deep blue oceanic waters is something that I will never forget. Before I could even focus on it, the thirty-minute seven-minute pace four-mile run with a two-minute cooldown was over. I did not even realize that I was drenched in perspiration until Chip walked over to speak.

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After a few deep breaths of that fresh air, I went back into the fitness center to hit the weights. I grabbed an incline bench and some forty-pound dumbbells. Over walks the retired law enforcement officer who appeared to be in phenomenal physical shape for any age. The conversation started with small talk, where you from? What do you do for a living? Next, he extended a compliment stating "I can tell by your workout that you care about your physical health." I looked directly at him to acknowledge my appreciation. Next, I said likewise, it is obvious that you care about your physical health also. That is when he shared that he worked in law enforcement as a police officer for forty years. I said well that's certainly something to be proud of but, serving as a law enforcement officer does not automatically equate to being in excellent physical health. Chip replied you have a point.

I shared with Chip that having served in the Army National Guard for six years, there were several members in the unit that worked for the local police department (PD) and also a few that were in the fire department (FD). Chip asked if I considered joining the PD? I responded, yes but only briefly. The conversation evolved into a casual discussion. Chip shared what he missed most about the P.D. which was similar to the military and sports also when it comes to the camaraderie.

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Next, Chip stated that what he enjoyed most was being on the beat and interacting with the people. Chip shared that he had been retired for approximately ten years and a lot has changed. I took the bait and asked for context. Chip obliged stating that when he was on the beat, he had more autonomy to make decisions on whether to book someone for a misdemeanor or simply handle it man to man. This time, I pushed Chip for more context. What is handling it man to man when you have a nightstick, pepper spray, cuffs, a radio, and a firearm at your disposal? Chip replied, oh you just secure your belt in your vehicle. I said okay that seems fair I guess but what happens if you lose? He said that he never lost but win or lose the suspect was released. The payment was the exchange for both of the men. There was no police brutality and no assaulting an officer, no self-defense just basic rules grappling or boxing. Two men making a conscious decision to handle their beef. No gotcha moments, no weapons, no ambushes, calling for backup or know back when men were men. As I finished my last set, I nodded my approval and stated to Chip that I could see how he would miss that. I shared with Chip that I am not a wrestler so for me it would have been throwing fists.

Now, you may ask was this legal as a law enforcement officer to do that? I am not 100% certain. However, perhaps it should be. In the early to mid-90s, while completing basic combat training and serving in the Army National Guard, we all had days on which we were issued firearms. To my knowledge, no one waited until range day to settle a beef with another soldier. You see leadership understood the need to handle tension in the ranks. Men were men, there was also tension between companies and tension between Drill Sergeants. You're in boot camp for nine weeks and for most it is the first time being away from your parents for an extended period. Drill Sergeants are not there to babysit.

As a squad leader, I constantly wore a bullseye. That is why on weekends when we had free time away from the drilling, we were advised to handle it as soldiers. Of course, we were also reminded that if you got caught you may be subject to the uniform code of military justice (UCMJ). But no one cared! We wrestled, boxed with headgear, and used pugil sticks.

In the end, we were all men and we were all leaders. I respected the men that disagreed with me and they respected me for listening and being willing to settle our disagreements like men. Now, I am all for agreeing to disagree without becoming disagreeable. But, does that work in every situation? Does that work when you are training soldiers for combat? Does that work when you are training to save lives be it the PD or the FD? At the point when the talking ceases and there is no mutual respect, the next reply may not be a servile one. Instead, it may be a haphazard, belligerent, and half-cocked meltdown. Sometimes, I don't like you, you wanna go, no referee, no cameras, just two men squashing their disagreement like men. No counseling session, no homicide, no shooting in the back just men being men. The great thing about the military was that you have men and women with origins from across the world that you rely on to have your back.

I thought Chip was going to ask me if I wanted to go? If the cruise ship had gloves and headgear he may have. Who knows, Chip may have had some gear in his cabin. In fairness, Chip enjoyed being able to share his experience and also listen without an ulterior motive. Had Chip asked, I may have accepted had I not been on my honeymoon. During the conversation, I felt safe, respected, and even valued.

Fast forward to 2021, do you feel safe, respected, and valued as a man when you have a conflict or disagreement? Whatever happened to being able to just get it off of your chest by settling it? What happens in the ring stays in the ring or what happens on the mat stays on the mat. The need to leverage disagreement into respect and trust for fellow man is not a means to an end it is an end in itself.

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