manhood Archives - The Jose Vilson


Old Spice Guy Isaiah Mustafa, On a Horse

It’s no secret that this manhood series that been intensely personal for me. After reading the latest Esquire issue from cover to cover (June  July 2010 featuring Tom Cruise), I decided to engage in an exercise entitled “What I’ve Learned: Jon Farveau.” I can’t say I’ve had the same life experience or years as the famous actor and director. I do want to end this asynchronous series with a bit of reflection on what I’ve learned about manhood, navigating my way towards an august version of myself.

  • I’m still conflicted as to whether having my father “present” full-time would have done me good or not. When I was younger, I wished desperately for his presence, but as a man, I see that sometimes, things just don’t work out. Even with both parents around.
  • Men try too hard to unlock the mystery of “woman,” and hope somehow that one key works for all. Trust me: it doesn’t.
  • All the cartoons and commercials of yesteryear were wrong: cleanliness for men is extremely important.
  • I still remember my first “crush” but the affinity for her wore off after my first kiss. Mainly because it wasn’t the same girl.
  • I think we desperately need more male teachers, but if they’re only going to be used as people in power, then it’s a waste.
  • I’ve always hated fights, but there isn’t a more furious fight than the one against myself to better myself. That’ll never end.
  • Too many men crack their necks trying to check women out. Yes, it’s warm outside and clothes are more scarce. Yet, I don’t see the need to get wound up like that anymore. My brother, my cousin, and I used to have secret hand codes for that sort of thing. Kept us on our toes. Nowadays, I’m old enough to realize that there’ll be “another one.” Usually.
  • There’s something incredibly alluring about dating an older woman. It’s not just the danger and breaking of social norms as it is that, when you teach her something, she’s got a bigger reaction than if she taught you. Plus, they’re more natural and within themselves. And no, I’m not dating Betty White.
  • I don’t like movies that just blow up stuff and kill people anymore. It’s gotta come at me with a realistic plot, and a lingering message, even if I can’t quite write about that feeling later.
  • Porn is overrated.
  • Ladies, when accompanied by men, should still be on the safer side of the sidewalk. Not even if you’re trying to sell her (jokes!).
  • Nowadays, looking like you’re not trying hard to look good is the best look of all. The right t-shirt and jeans combination goes a long way.
  • Back when I first started on Compuserve (who even uses that anymore?), I wanted to run with the nickname “Iconoclast.” It’s not that I want to break down idols; I just don’t believe in idol worship. I love Martin, Malcolm, Che, et. al., but at some point, men have to find themselves in their rendition of previous men.
  • The first man to ever teach me that it was OK to cry was Mark Jackson (current NBA on TNT commentator and former Knicks / Pacers guard). I remember how passionately he discussed his father’s passing in the playoffs, and it spoke to me. I still carry those lessons on to this day.
  • It’s OK to critique so long as you’re helping to build. If you’re just hating to hate, then you have no business doing it to begin with.
  • Men are dumb. We use whatever intelligence we have to make up for these egregious faults, but we neither have the blood or mental capacity to sustain this Earth, much less a relationship. We make tons of mistakes, and most men probably agree that there’s at least one woman in their life who they don’t feel they deserve.
  • I don’t have children, but if the children from my class were any indication, I should be alright as a father.
  • “There is usually nothing wrong with compromise in a situation, but compromising yourself in a situation is another story completely.” – Immortal Technique

Jose, who’ll start something new manaña.


The Manhood Series: The Other Denzel Principle

by Jose Vilson on July 5, 2010

in Jose

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences

Manhood is one of those topics in the Black community that’s often discussed but rarely put in context. Consider the following: Denzel Washington, whose street credibility and Hollywood status is never questioned, has evolved into an actor whose mentioned in the same sentence as Al Pacino and Robert Deniro, and without the word “not” in the middle. Like those actors, their catalogues are versatile and profound, to the point where they’ve almost become caricatures of themselves.

It’s with that thought that I watched Fences a few months ago, an August Wilson play set in the 1950s, a revival of a play that featured James Earl Jones in the lead. I saw Denzel sway from loving family man to stern father, swig-stealing garbage man to conflicted womanizer. The whole play, well-written and acted, pushed the Black men and women in the audience to confront a man who in Act 1 has a charismatic and fluid edifice but by Act 2 has a deep dark secret and a battle with himself that many in the community sympathize (and empathize) with. Those suppressed secrets that simultaneously mollify and rot the image of the Black man hammered at the foreheads of those of us in the audience.

The same guy who, in the beginning of the play, gave a soaring speech to his son about responsibility (“A man is supposed to take care of his family. You live in my house, sleep your behind in my bedclothes, fill your belly with my food because you my son. You my flesh and blood, not ’cause I like you!”) couldn’t stop from cavorting with another woman. The audience had to know that he wasn’t perfect, but we still applauded the callousness and “tough love” to his sons, even when it came from the same lack of emotions he showed when making other riskier decisions.

That guttural fatalism, handed down to him from his father, rings so true to the many of us who’ve grown up even without one. We either emulate our fathers, whether we like it or not, or we run as far away from him, whether we like it or not. The varying degrees of these dichotomies exist, and Denzel, the actor and the person, embody so much of that debate that I sat in awe during intermission. The same man who played Malcolm X and Alonzo Harris, who gives tons to his community and has had alleged marital issues, the same man who the hood and the boulevard loves, are embodied in the same person. Impeccable and respected by all, even when we forgive his not-so-secret life.

Maybe that’s why he’s the first person one thinks of when anyone mentions “Black man.” Even this obelisk of manhood has a little dirt on his otherwise sturdy shoulder. It also may be why we love him.

Jose, who had to fill in the wedges in this topic …

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I Am A Man

by Jose Vilson on September 29, 2009

in Jose

On Saturday, NYC Educator posted an interesting speech, and here it goes:

At first, when watching this video, I grimaced. How does a teacher get to the point where they have to use such terse language for a student who’s less than 1/2 his age? For that matter, it almost seems excessive when we hear the n-word used like a pronoun in our schools and we question the effectiveness of such a speech because the kids around him are laughing a bit.

Then again, I’ve personally had to give “that” speech every so often, once with full curses! (I acknowledge the risk of probably getting fired. It happens.) At some points, it was because the n-word was used, but other times, it came as a result of the constant of some student (usually a girl) getting a chauvinist comment thrown at them or after a physical brawl. As a male of my upbringing, it almost becomes incumbent upon me to set my students straight when it comes to certain ideas they have. Too many of my students come from an environment, whether that environment’s home or the streets they peruse, that doesn’t have a successful male willing to tell them when they’re wrong. So they act up with no remorse.

And I probably could have lost my job, but after that, I got the respect I deserved on a deeper level. On nights when I laid up in my crib on Saturday nights sobbing after watching Malcolm X, or feeling the soul rip from Martin Luther King’s chest when he spoke on his view from the mountaintop, I thought about easily seduced and devalued my boys and girls feel in this world. When watching this video, I empathized with Mr. Charlie Martin in his message, but I wondered if he followed that up with a little reflection later on for those boys who feel that they only have their sexual organs to contribute to the general society.

That’s one thing I never left out with any student if I saw any means: the love and care from which you speak. And anytime I wanted to succeed with getting that student to become a better person, I had that follow-through. After all, it’s the same technique many of these children use the n-word and devalue themselves. If they keep getting told they’re nothing but the n-word and treat themselves as such, then it’s easy for them to use it.

And that understanding is where the reprogramming begins … and it takes a certain type of speech and a certain type of person to do it. It doesn’t have to be racial, because I’ve heard this type of diatribe from many types of people. In my case, I know I’m coming in with a similar message to Mr. Martin:

I am a man. Let me show you how …

Mr. V, whose probably got a few students reading who can attest to this …

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No, You Man Up!

December 22, 2008 Jose

Today, I had a coverage for a gym teacher in the gym, a coverage I’ll take any day since I get to spend time with my students and I get to play a little basketball (hopefully and implicitly teaching them about sportsmanship and teamwork along the way). After sweating it out for about a period […]

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