By Nick Offerman
The following is an excerpt adapted from Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman's new book, Paddle Your Own Canoe, on sale starting today. Offerman will be appearing at the New Beverly, in an event organized by Book Soup, on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. Tickets are required.
“How to Be a Man”
Step One: Eat a steak, preferably raw.
Step Two: Wash it down with your whisky of choice, preferably a single-malt scotch. My two favorites are Lagavulin and the Balvenie, but I won't turn my nose up at Talisker, Oban, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and many more.
Step Three: Find a socialist and punch him/her in the face.
Step Four: Craft a small wooden watercraft from cedar (for the hull) and domestic hardwoods, like ash or walnut or white oak (for the gunnels and other trim). Carve a paddle from cherry and Alaskan yellow cedar.
Step Five: Make sweet but powerful love to another human. If you have adhered to steps 1 through 4, how could they resist? Upon climax, unholster your enormous pistol and empty the cylinder as you fire rounds laced with double entendre into the night sky dripping with stars.
Or not. Sorry, everybody, totally just kidding (except, of course, about the whisky and boatbuilding). I feel like these are the ideas that are somewhat mis-associated with my public persona, as well as with my TV character Ron Swanson. While I firmly adhere to much of this list, these are not, in fact, what I truly consider to be the steps one must tread if one seeks to attain a quality in life leaning toward what we're here calling manliness.
I seem to have been associated with certain traits of machismo in the zeitgeist, at least for this brief, golden moment. I find that fact to be somewhat embarrassing, given my firsthand knowledge of my personal failings and propensity for jackass behavior, but I get it, based on superficially perceived signals of manhood, like a full, thick moustache and the ability to use tools. When people ask me questions relating to my “manliness,” I like to remind them that I am primarily an artist as an actor, writer, and woodworker.
Even in my family, I'm not the one you'd call manly. In most of the country (and the world), there are teenagers who could whip me in most contests, because they are working hard every day of their lives, swinging an axe, hauling buckets of water, wrangling herds of cattle, hogs, and horses. Conversely, I memorize written lines of (brilliant) dialogue. Then I go to a trailer where my hair is coiffed and MAKEUP is applied to my face. After that, I squeeze my beefy corpus into specifically unattractive garments before heading into the set, where I then deliver my prepared scenes with all the deadpan élan I can muster. If hungry, I can request a sandwich fixed to my liking. My mewling is easily silenced with a bottle of water or a cup of corn chowder.
Please don't misunderstand me. In my life, there are and have been times when I did and do work like “a man.” I have engaged in years of labor on my family's farm. I have framed houses. I worked two summers on a blacktop crew, paving parking lots and driveways in the Illinois humidity. I did some roofing in Chicago. I have known and enjoyed hard work for many of my prime years. But now, I am a clown who occasionally gets to mill a tree into table slabs.
Having thus established my current meager rank on the great tourney bracket of manliness in life, let's began this chapter in earnest. First of all, let's change up our semantics. I wish to examine some human attributes that I think of as, yes, “manly,” but I would also like to touch upon some personality traits that I feel are charismatic in people of all sexes, that many readers might instinctively think of as “manly” but I will simply call “capable.”
Chivalry: In a nutshell, there are certain situations in everyday life in which we fellas have the opportunity to behave, well, decently. The initial “women's lib” movement brought the role of modern-day chivalry into question. “If you ladies want to be treated as equals, then shouldn't you be able to open your own car door?” The answer to that is, quite simply, “No, dude. You're an asshole.” Women are, quite clearly, powerful and smart, quite often more than us bros. However, when ladies like to wear shoes that are difficult to move around in, or perhaps a foxy skirt that limits their choices in sitting positions, then it's simply nice to lend them a sympathetic hand. Whatever the adversity, if a man is on hand to provide ease to a lady's cause, I think he's a shitheel if he stands idly by when she could use an umbrella, a handkerchief, or a steady arm.
Grooming: Again, who is making the rules? How does a “man” groom himself in this modern age? As a character actor blessed with a thick head of hair and thicker thicket of bracken upon my face, neck, and lip, I have enjoyed excessively utilizing these accessories in every possible permutation I could muster. I have done Mr. T's majestic hairdo in both brown and platinum white. I often shave my head bald. I have exploited my whiskers for beards, goatees, Vandykes, muttonchops, and of course all manner of moustaches.
Another thought that I think goes for everybody, but men especially: Be Handy. For Pete's sake, I know not everybody can build a canoe, or even a Popsicle stick. That doesn't mean you need to throw your hands in the air and say, “I'm useless.” There are many facets of our daily lives that entail minor tool use, which damn near any idiot can master. You can use a screwdriver. You can use a hammer. Trust me.
Adapted by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Nick Offerman, 2013
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