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Making New Year’s Resolutions for 2013?

(c) 2012, Davd

Let me start right out by saying, that if you’re not the kind of man to make New Year’s Resolutions, don’t take this post as a “nag” to make one this New Year’s. Many have been the New Years when i did not make any resolutions myself. But the practice appeals to many, and the reflection that ought to take place in preparation for any promise you make, is both a good thing for men in general and a kind of thinking for which the New Year is a conducive time. If you don’t choose to make any resolutions, i do suggest you reflect on some of the following topics and short of resolving [= making yourself a promise], organize some sort of personal effort for your own good and the good of “the status of men.”

Stereotypically, New Year’s Resolutions are about Doing Something Better: “I will lose weight”; “I will quit smoking”; “I will learn French”; “I will go to church more often”; “I will do my own Income Tax paperwork”; “I will take my Mother out to dinner every Wednesday evening”; “I will watch less TV”; “I will get more exercise”; “I will dress better”—does the list look familiar? I’m going to suggest some resolutions that are more affirming of your manhood, and probably more fun and more satisfying. First, though, some comments on that stereotypical list above, and a few “Do’s and don’ts”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with making weight loss, exercise, language learning, and cutting back on activities that look like a waste of time, the subject of New Year’s Resolutions. If you yourself want to choose a resolution of one of those types, i suggest you plan how you’ll carry it out, before New Year’s Eve. It’s also a good idea to clarify, with some serious reflection, why you want to do what you’re thinking to make a resolution.

I myself have “lost” about ten pounds since last summer, for instance; and i do intend to continue reducing my weight in the New Year—but it’s a lifestyle adjustment to aging, to slower metabolism with aging, and to lost height with aging, not something i am doing systematically. I can’t predict how easily, nor on what sort of schedule, nor by what practical process i will reduce my weight further—i simply recognize that it would be a good idea to get another ten pounds to ten kilos lighter (but don’t know whether ten pounds or ten kilos is the amount by which i now exceed a roughly-ideal weight for me, given that i do much more outdoor manual work than most men my age.) So i aim, in vague general terms, to lose weight in the coming year, but don’t “resolve” anything about it.

As with losing weight, if you choose to resolve to exercise, learn a language, etc., set up a plan, a set of (approximate) times you’ll exercise and kinds of exercise you’ll do; or a process by which you’ll learn that language. If you believe you watch too much TV, plan-up some substitute activities to do instead—specific kinds of exercise, maybe, or learning a new skill.

Stopping smoking and doing tax paperwork might be poor choices for a New Year’s Resolution, because will-power and self-discipline are not enough, may not be half enough, to carry them out. Nicotine is addictive. Paperwork can require skills that are not easily learned in a hurry, that some people don’t even have the temperament to learn, and that are worth learning if you expect to use them many hours each month, but well may not be worth learning if you expect to use them once a year for a total of a day or two1. It’s a good idea to have expert help learning fancy paperwork skills, and either expert help or a support group when quitting an addiction.

If a resolution to “dress better” or “take my Mother out to dinner” is someone else’s idea, not yours; then i strongly suggest it’s a bad idea for you. (If you’re a salesman or a hotel desk-clerk, for instance, and you think dressing “better”—whatever that means on your job—will improve your work success, then maybe it’s a good resolution for you. In that case, you should have a good visual image of what “dressing better” entails for you specifically, and be able to write something of a plan for carrying it out.)

More generally: Don’t make a resolution because someone else nagged you to! If you’re going to obey someone by doing something (she?) wants you to do—call obedience or compliance by its right name. A resolution is an act of your will. Taking Mother out to dinner every week reads more like an act of her will.

(If Mother has incentives to offer you, or threats even, and if they are legal rather than emotional, then i suggest you might negotiate: Offer, for instance, to cook for her not every Wednesday but two or three days per month, and then clean up the dishes after. But keep in your power, to take a Wednesday when your old buddy from the Army or the university comes to town, and go out to dinner or out fishing with him. And if a month goes by when you cook for her every Wednesday, that’s being extra-nice rather than doing your duty: Keep your promises to significantly less than what you can comfortably do—give yourself plenty of elbow room.)

Make any resolutions age and capability appropriate. At 70, i am not going to resolve to learn Biblical Greek, much as i wish i’d had the occasion and means to learn it before age 40. I have too few years of life-expectancy left now, to be sure i can set aside the required time (and i don’t know in advance how much time would be required); and if i succeed, i have too few years of life-expectancy to make the substantial use of Greek that i could have made starting before age 40. Likewise, if you’re lame in one arm or leg due to past illness or injury—or older than say, 40-50—don’t resolve to take up a sport like judo or gymnastics. I’m very glad i did take up judo—in my early thirties, which is late for competitive hopes, but not too late for the fitness and self-confidence benefits. (On the other hand, if you’re younger than 40, you’re not likely to be able to choose the “grandfathering” resolution.)

Make sure your resolution is possible, at least to the best of your knowledge. For instance, don’t resolve to start a Boy Scout troop or a soccer team on your own. If you make a resolution like that, make it jointly with enough other men to do the job, including a few spare players for the soccer team and at least two spare-and-assistant Scoutmasters (plus people who can do the paperwork required, and a promise of a place to meet) for the Scout troop.

With those comments and cautions, then, here are some “possibilities” for New Year’s Resolutions, if you’d like to make one or two. (Take care not to make too many.) They share the properties of being manhood-affirming, positive rather than negative, and at least potentially good for you. They are not a complete list nor anything near to that; and if readers want to write in suggestions, and resolutions they have made and valued from earlier years—well, i’d always like to learn more about how to affirm and enjoy being a man.

So here are a few of many things you might “resolve”, positively, potentially good for you, and affirming your manhood:

Let your beard grow: Stop shaving it off routinely. As a man, you naturally grow hair on your chin—don’t you? Most men do; and what better simple, nonviolent but assertive way to declare that you’re a man and like being a man, than showing your beard in whatever length and trim suits you best?

This one, i can write about from experience. I’ve had a full beard—of the “Abe Lincoln” sort, approximately—for well over half of my 70 years. As an undergraduate, i was required to take military training, and the military required me to shave; when i left off military training, i soon left off shaving—and never wanted to go back. I’ve made only a few, minor adjustments to the length and “trim” of my beard as it changed from a strong reddish brown to a grey bordering on white. It was never a New Year’s Resolution, it was simply the hair that naturally grows on my chin, trimmed for length and shape. But as a New Year’s Resolution in affirmation of manhood, it suits—and having made it a New Year’s Resolution, you’ve got one more reason not to cave-in if someone starts nagging you to shave.

It’s a fine resolution to make if someone nags you to make at least one resolution—it makes a significant change in your appearance, it affirms your maleness with absolutely no violence (not even “naughty words”), and the failure will be visible to everyone you meet if you don’t keep it.
Letting your beard grow is the kind of resolution that normally has a term of “this year”. A year is usually long enough for anyone who tries nagging you to abandon it, to tire out; and it’s long enough to try different lengths and “trims” (a term that includes shaping the beard’s length and in many cases, shaving around its edges, especially on your neck. I suggest you start by growing a full beard, a little longer on your chin than on the sides of your jaw; shaving the lower part of your neck perhaps, and then if you want to, try shaping how much of your face stays covered.) By the time you’ve had your natural beard for a year, you’ll know how you like it and if you want to keep it; and others will have got used to you as a bearded man.

Join a men’s group—if, of course, there’s one you know of that you like, or expect to like, and can join. If you know two or three other men who’d like to start a men’s group, you can jointly resolve to start one; but remember, don’t resolve the impossible. If you can make a plan of action “toward forming a Men’s Group”, and want following that plan to become a New Year’s Resolution, fine.
There are quite a few possible main-focus types for Men’s Groups. I would urge you to make mutual support—a modest sort of “adoptive brotherhood” that can grow as the group strengthens—one of your purposes; and to meet at least twice a month, preferably weekly.

Learn Judo, or some other demanding physical skill. This is a resolution suited to younger more than to older men. I chose Judo—it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution, as i recall, but it was a decision to take up the sport for self-improvement—a year or two after becoming Associate Professor at a university with a very good Judo team.

Pick a skill that employs the large muscles, gracefully and with power, and you’ll almost certainly stand and walk better for learning it, and feel “more manly”. (There is one skill that doesn’t fit that pattern, and isn’t masculine any more than feminine, that i do recommend next, for different reasons.)

Take up fine cooking. There’s no basis in anatomy, physiology, or psychology for the notion that cooking is women’s work. There is a basis in pre-industrial history: Women were near the cookstove or cooking fire more of the day and the week, than men were;  so they found it easier to do the cooking, than men did. When i had a small commercial herb garden, though, most of the chefs who bought fine herbs from me, and most of the “line cooks” who worked for them, were men. Cooking is men’s work if, as, and when men can find the time and place to do it, which often they couldn’t, back when men hunted and women gathered.

Any skill that produces something valued, tends to be satisfying and enjoyable to do. I don’t enjoy many kinds of “housework”; but cooking’s fun. It’s also assertive to be able to say “I can cook, you sit down and rest” to a woman after a day’s job-work; and it makes much more graceful and effective, your preference not to do the dish-washing or mop the floors. Furthermore, if you are a good cook, you have one less reason to feel dependent on a woman, and one more way to contribute if a group of men are camping out or hanging out.

Two variations on fine cooking that have a masculine image and often go together, are [home]brewing and wine-making. I’ve followed both hobbies for decades, and don’t regret it at all. More years than not this century, i’ve never entered a Liquor Store except to get empty cases for my wine—the old cardboard cases gradually get dusty in storage, and during the humid summer months the cardboard may weaken, until after 2-5 years most cases are due for replacement. I brew Cooper’s Stout and amber [“real”] ale most often, and sometimes a “Canadian style” kit from an English firm with the Greek-looking name Doric. I haven’t yet malted my own barley, but if i find more time ….

Among wines, i like a robust flavour, so i make up Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Riesling kits most often, and if i found a modest-priced Shiraz kit i’d try it. I also make dandelion wine, inverting the sugar with rhubarb for a locally-grown must; it takes at least twice as long to ferment [“attenuate out”] as a varietal grape concentrate kit. A pleasant hobby, wine-making, conducive to moderation and to drinking what you really like, that produces welcome, inexpensive gifts, and saves a lot of money relative to buying at the Liquor Store.

Learn a trade. Cooking can be a trade if you take learning it to that extent. Other than cooking, i especially recommend trades that make good use of the large muscles—the muscles that are better developed and usually more graceful in men than in women. (Carpentry, high-voltage electrical work and wire-pulling, much of farming, commercial fishing, logging, masonry, vehicle mechanics, and welding are such trades. Tailoring is an example of a trade, not much followed today, that uses the small muscles more, and might favour women.)

As i first-draft this post, the CBC Radio News has mentioned shortages of trades workers at least four times in the past two weeks. Tradesmen are traditionally more independent, less bossed-around, than most workers, and with a trade, it’s easier to set your own hours of work and how many hours per week you work for pay.

Learning a trade is a young man’s resolution. The next one is for older men:

Dedicate one day a week to grandfathering. This is a little more substantial as a resolution, than most (as is learning a trade); and much more dependent on the co-operation of others. If you like the idea, negotiate with your son or daughter and spouse-thereof, for a regular “Grandfather day” or evening when your grandchild[ren] can expect you to be around for them. Most young-adult parents will be glad to have a day when the children, or even one of them, isn’t their responsibility.

Most fathers these days have paid employment that takes them away from home—just as my father worked as a local truck driver when i was a boy. I saw him most evenings, but almost no mornings—he had to be on his way to work before i usually woke up. Weekends, he liked to sleep in, and often went fishing or tournament bowling or to Elks Club activities, or “took my mother out”, which he couldn’t do on workdays. Grandfather Edd, who was widowed and retired, had more time and patience for me, and was glad of my company partly because he lived alone. (Also, Granps didn’t have to deal with Mother’s nagging and pressuring nearly as much as Dad had to.) I learned more of workshop skills and of math and science, from Granps than from Dad, though Dad knew the science, the math, and most of the workshop skills; because Granps had the time, in larger “blocks” and without distractions from the womenfolk.

It’s entirely OK to choose to grandfather just the boy or boys on a regular basis, and include the girls some times but not other times. Most mothers, from what i’ve seen, would value some female-only time with their daughters, so you “taking the boy[s] off her hands” still counts as a valued favor to a mother. (There can be exceptions where a grandfather and granddaughter share an interest the boys don’t share—in art, history, or music, for instance. In those situations, give the granddaughter special time for those special interests, and if you share other interests with the boys but not with her, give the boys special time for them. It is good for a girl to learn the nature and merits of the male perspective, especially if it can be done via common interest rather than by lecture.)
Grandfathering is especially valuable to boys who have no father at home.

I’m sure i could find more good examples of potential New Year’s Resolutions, but i’m also sure i’d never think of them all; and this post has passed 3,000 words in length already. I encourage readers to write in with your ideas and your experience of resolutions that worked and that didn’t. To finish-up, though, i’d like to mention some good ideas that are too big, or too difficult to plan-for-success, for me to recommend them as Resolutions.

Too Big for New Year’s Resolutions: A few examples of “more substantial” projects—tasks too large to be mere New Year’s resolutions—for teams of men who want to be ambitious.

Increase your social efficiency by sharing cars, a house, or both. It’s possible to live decently well on about $400 per month this way, in a low-housing-cost area, by finding a structurally sound house in need of work, fixing the defects [mostly maintenance if you're lucky or can choose well] and sharing it with 4-5 friends. By living so frugally—and “frugal” does not mean bad or even boring food, nor clothing, nor shelter, nor “wheels”—you gain a whole lot of freedom, autonomy to do the kind of work you like and keep the kind of hours you like. The hyper-linked post gives considerable detail.

Go on to job-sharing by starting a worker-co-operative. This [general type of] project goes well with frugal use of your income, because starting any business often entails months of low income while you establish yourselves. In one of the most famous blogs in the androsphere, The Misandry Bubble, the economist author writes, “A single man does not require much in order to survive. Most single men could eke out a comfortable existence by working for two months out of the year.”. Supposing that to be “full-time” work, an obvious alternative is to work one full-time day per week, or two half-days, etc. While starting a new business, you’re likely to work one or two days a week “for pay” and at least as much more to build up the business in ways that won’t produce immediate income.

Set up a puberty transition program for boys. The Boy Scouts, back in the days when i was one, were fairly close to being such a program, and i wonder if Baden-Powell noticed the separation-mentoring-initiation sequences of pre-industrial tribes where he had been outside England, and designed the Boy Scouts with them, as well as adult explorers, in mind.

The process of winning a Black Belt in judo or another east-Asian martial art, also provides much of the transition experience from boyhood-under-Mommy’s-thumb, to independent manhood. Military cadet programmes contain less, in my view, because they have so strong and explicit a command structure; but they did have much merit in my youth, when they were still all-male. (I’m not convinced that a mixed-sex programme can serve as a puberty transition experience for boys.)
These examples indicate, at the least, that transition programmes exist in ready-to-adopt forms. I can imagine and would encourage, groups of men designing their own, perhaps as a variation on one they know of like the monastic novitiate, a pre-industrial Vision Quest or other transition, or the traditional Boy Scouts; perhaps as a formation and admission programme for a worker or housing co-operative or a Men’s Group; or perhaps “designed from scratch”.

Build your awareness of the politics of gender: This is an effort you can make alone or with other men; and i’d recommend it for a Men’s Group. It’s not something you can set yourself up with a plan to do reliably, however; and so i don’t recommend the overall “awareness building” nor any of the following specifics as a Resolution:

  • Take notice of laws you obey because of intimidation (threat of punishment) rather than because you believe they are right;
  • Respect yourself at least as much as a woman of equal capability;
  • Apply the “reverse the genders test” to Feminist and government gender demands,
  • Confront some female-superiority notions women hold, and then agree to tolerate them as long as they allow me equally strong male-superiority notions.
  • Refute misandry whenever you know the refutations;
  • Seek refutations for misandry in cases where you don’t know them already;

Thirteen has been an unlucky number for longer than my lifetime; and this coming year doesn’t look like it will bring good luck: There are the United States “fiscal cliff” and debt ceiling threats, the debt predicaments in Europe, and some disturbingly low crop harvests (maize and to some extent other grains in the US, apples in Ontario) that are already showing up as much higher prices in the grocery stores; just for instance. The Green Parties look to me to be correct in saying that economic growth is not going to solve our predicament. Frugality and social efficiency are more promising, but they’re not going to be all fun and jollies, especially not at the start.

Resolution, plan, or even mere intention—get together with like-minded men and prepare for a tough year. Going through tough times with good men can be a whole lot more fun than facing them alone, or than what’s worse still, pretending they won’t come until the hardships can no longer be ignored. And the honest, more-self-respect than hubris kind of pride, the memories that you’ll keep the rest of your life, usually come from going through the hard times rather than the easy ones.
Whether or not you “make Resolutions”, be resolute.

Notes:

1. If you’re thinking, that demanding such paperwork as the duty of every working citizen, is asking too much, i quite agree. It’s one of many ways that bureaucratic government can become abusive. Toward the end of this post, you’ll see another mention of the fact that the laws are enforced by intimidation rather than the free consent of most people, far too often.

2. If the threats are emotional, i suggest you get together with your Men’s Group and work out a way to make yourself insensitive to emotional blackmail.

3. .. and maybe share some of it. New Year’s comes annually, and i might even like to use some of those for New Year’s 2014

4. also, because they had infants at the breast for roughly half their young adult lives, women were ill-suited to do work very far from the home. This was how things were, until infant mortality and more generally, human mortality was reduced by medical and public-health innovations devised mostly by men.

5. Grapefruit also is a good choice for inverting the sugar, and gives dandelion wine a good flavour, especially if it is made sweet, say like an oloroso sherry.

6. .. from womenfolk and small children.

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