VIEWSrnMy Old Manrnby Thomas Flemingrn”C. ‘ ometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” God knows, Tam-rn’my Wynette had hard times to complain of, but ifrnbeing a woman is difficult at the end of the millennium,rnbecoming a man has always been hard. Increasingly, as I lookrnat males of my own age, to say nothing of “guys” in their teensrnand 20’s, the whole thing seems impossible. The entire centuryrnlooks like one long adolescent male whine, from Alee Waugh’srnThe Loom of Youth to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye tornRichard Farina’s Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me tornthe feeble whimperings of Jay Mchierney and the other quasimalernmembers of the bratpack. In retrospect, it is easy to admirernHemingway for his virility, but as my own father pointedrnout to me very early in my reading career, real men do not talkrnabout being real men any more than saints think of themselvesrnas saintly. The real thing is always unconscious of itself; therngenuine article is always naive.rnMy father was a hard man to emulate: a great shot, a legendaryrnfisherman, a man who could be as dangerous with hisrnfists as he was abusive with his tongue. I have inherited therntongue as well as his taste for whiskey. One or the other is surernto kill me.rnFrom everything I have heard of my father as a young man,rnhe was as much the playboy as the hero of one of his favoriternplays. A brilliant student, he got himself expelled from school,rnmostly for insolence. But for all his eady days as a roisteringrnmerchant seaman, he had a puritanical streak when it came tornwomen, and a Catholic regard for modesty and honesty. Andrnyet, he refused to set foot in the Church of his ancestors untilrnmy mother converted to Catholicism in order to drag him in.rnOf course, his favorite drinking companion was a two-fistedrnmonsignor who, even in the 1960’s, would expel improperly attiredrnwomen from church.rnHis intellectual hero was Mencken, whom he knew slightlyrnin his youth. Accused of prejudice, he would inevitably paraphrasernthe master: “Take away a man’s prejudices, and what isrnthere left?” Whatever side of the political divide he happenedrnto be on, my father would be at the barricade he hadrnerected between himself and the forces of darkness. Like sornmany men who see the wodd in terms of black and white, hernsaw everything in red down to some time in the 40’s. Despiterna defective heart, he volunteered repeatedly for the marinerncorps during Wodd War II but ultimately had to content himselfrnwith being a merchant officer on convoy ships. The inabilityrnto shoot back must have driven him half crazy, and it isrnsure that one disastrous trip, on which his ship leaked so muchrnoil it was expelled from the convoy, triggered the ulcers thatrnwere to torment him the rest of his life.rnWhether it was over German music or American politics,rnthe old man was never known to pass up a good fight. As a redrnorganizer for the National Maritime Union, he was there whenrnJoe Curran was axed in the back; indeed, he was beaten to thernground trying to protect the NMU leader. As time went on, hernmellowed considerably, becoming a kind of conservative in politicsrnand accommodating, to the point of deference, to myrnmother. One of the last pieces of advice I received was that Irnshould not always try to have the last word with a woman, especiallyrnwith a woman I was married to.rnI suppose I inherited my horror of marital infidelity and divorcernfrom my father. A man is only as good as his word, hernwould say, and if he breaks that word he is nothing. It hadrnnothing to do with what the priests taught. A man who cheatedrnon his wife made himself a cheat in his own eyes. My moth-rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn