Friday, January 12, 2018

Shawn Brimley was a Man

Man at Work
Masculinity, manliness, manhood--I'm using them interchangeably here although I suspect incorrectly--have been on the ropes for a few years. By masculinity, I mean the display of virtues not exclusively identified with biological men, but virtues generally and socially understood to be associated with biological men. Among these I would suggest are strength, honor, protectiveness, compassion, resilience, responsibility, leadership, stewardship, and decisiveness. I won't be drawn into a debate as to the inclusiveness of this list or its applicability to the feminine--I'll only say that I think a modestly sentient reader will be able to understand what I'm getting at.

This traditional concept of masculinity has been radically distorted of late, both by those who seek to undercut it and those who seek to wield it as a weapon. Our media is replete with tales of what has come to be known as "toxic masculinity", the cumulative effect of which is to pervert any real understanding of the traditional meaning of the unadorned noun while advancing a political agenda comfortable to those using the malformed term. Equally distorting has been the rise of amped-up roid-ragers who peddle their supplements and their misogynistic conquest philosophies alongside master-race political rhetoric. This crowd is cheered on by a President who has urged crowds to physically assault hecklers, and whose past admitted history of sexual assault is passed off as "locker-room" banter. Nearly lost in these dueling "house of mirrors" concepts of manhood are the exemplars of the traditional view. And Wednesday, the group of exemplars was reduced by one.

Shawn Brimley, about whom I wrote in this blog on Monday, died on Wednesday. He has been wonderfully eulogized elsewhere; I particularly recommend Andrew Exum's piece in The Atlantic. He will be buried on Saturday, and I will attend his funeral in company with hundreds of others who loved him. The young Brimley family has lost its Dad, and its husband, and their loss is irreconcilable. Mentioning my loss in the same paragraph as theirs is perhaps a conceit, but more to the point, it restates the entire purpose of this elegy: I have lost a living model for the kind of man I have always wanted to be; the kind of man every man should want to be.

Shawn Brimley loved his wife and children with a singularity and a quiet ferocity. As another friend Jerry Hendrix and I agreed yesterday in a chat, they were everything to him. Shawn loved his country--America--as much as any natural born citizen, and served to make it better and stronger. Shawn cared deeply about the people he worked with, and he extended himself to promote their fortunes. Shawn cared about those in need, those left behind, those in pain, and those in doubt. He walked the walk, while most others talk the talk, if even that. He was the most complete man I have ever met, and were one to attempt to define the manly virtues, one could do no better than to consider him. I know this sounds like hagiography, that I am puffing him up to speak well of the dead or in an effort to comfort myself. It is neither of these things. I am stating a simple truth--that this country and this world would be a much better place if more men thought and acted like Shawn Brimley--and if they did, masculinity, manhood, manliness--whatever you wish to call it--would be prized and sought after rather than lampooned and attacked.

Someone very wise once told me when I took on the role of fatherhood to two fatherless daughters that my job would be to provide them with a model for that which to accept no less than. That the best thing I could do for them was to love their mother, so that they would one day know how to recognize real love without confusing it with other, sometimes damaging emotions. I think about Shawn's daughter as I write this, and while I am heartbroken for her and her brothers, I am glad that she got a chance to form a view of manhood during very impressionable years that may someday sustain her.

Shawn Brimley was a man. And a magnificent one at that. 


ames said...

Thank you for this beautiful piece; not only a moving tribute, but your (male) voice is critical to the dialogue required to rework not just the definition of what it means to be a man, but the expectation.
Not only has your article offered solace to the family, it's uplifting so many of us who need, especially at this moment in time, to believe we're part of a broader team working to change what we see in the media right now.
With thanks,

Caitlin said...

This is a breathtaking tribute - thank you so much for writing it. Shawn is dearly missed. I also find myself glued to his wife Marjorie's new blog,, where she has been sharing her journey since his passing. It's heartbreaking, but also somehow uplifting at the same time. You can feel the void he left, but her strength is astonishing.

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