Men, we do enough to make ourselves look silly.
We wear fedoras, even though we’re not direct descendants of Vince Lombardi, in Justin Timberlake’s close circle of friends, or play bass in a really cool band, for instance.
We pick fights at youth soccer or baseball games.
We Grow a soul patch or wear skinny jeans. Wrong, at any age.
See, no one’s around to guide us.
Those of us who don’t know any better repeat the mistakes first introduced by men such as Galileo, Alexander the Great and Bob Saget.
Those of us who have learned from those foibles are apt to keep the knowledge within, and snicker as the generation next stumbles in the same fashion.
Many lives were lost and several villages burned and pillaged so that I might bring you these lists – things men should sacrifice of their own accord when they reach the milestone ages of 20, 30 and 40.
(And I asked a few friends. Some of the big ones I even thought of on my own.)
This is not a comprehensive list; you men must learn and discover and stumble and fail and deteriorate at your own rate and in your own way.
This guide, though, will help reduce the scarring, ebb the bleeding, and hinder ever so slightly your rapid decent into the abyss of failed manhood.
Good luck, men. Go with God – or, at least, Tim Tebow, Martin Luther, or John Wayne, but not the John Wayne from the movie someone shot his kneecaps off.
By age 20, a man should …
1.Surrender thy visor
I have one visor, a Charlotte Knights jobbie. I used to wear one when I coached middle school soccer, too. But the visor is kind of like the fat guy with the tiny umbrella, the economy-size bottle of Febreeze for the house of 20 cats, or a Diet Coke when you super-size your Big Mac combo: Why bother?
There’s this elemental design flaw of the visor that irks the hell out of me: Why are you basically wearing a hat with a hole in the middle of it?? In the interest of full disclosure, there was a period in my life in which I wanted to grow an ungodly amount of hair on top of my head, sport a visor, and have it bush up and spill over the sides like ground-cover foliage on cow-manure crack.
I’m happy to report that I’ve outgrown that phase. Unless you’re the Ol’ Ball Coach, or a pro golfer with a serious endorsement deal for whatever’s on the front of the visor, you should leave it in the back of your closet.
2. Give up the socks-sandals combo.
Not sure where all this got started. I don’t feel strongly either way; a man’s feet are his traction. But I hear enough about it. No one on the other gender’s team loves it. So let’s just stop. I’ll tag in the whole “grown-up wearing Crocs” infraction, too.
While we’re at it, men’s dress shoes that clickity-clack like women’s heels.
3. Take down your beloved girl posters down from your bedroom wall
Brooklyn Decker (left) can escort you through the loneliness of your teens. Kathy Ireland played her roll for me. Ask your dad about Cheryl Tiegs. She’s all yours, until age 19. Then, you sort of have to talk to real girls. They’re all bumpy and soft and smell like vanilla, and can also bite. You’ll spend your next 40 years trying to demystify them.
Welcome to the club.
4. Drive a car devoid of any word graphics on it, or a muffler that sounds like a lawnmower on crack
When you’re 5 and showing off your matchbox cars, a silver Honda Accord with a pink racing stripe and “Haymaker” etched out in lightning bolts is cool. When you’re a grown man … well, your car should say as little as possible, playa, even if you’re Too Legit.
Or Ain’t Skeerd.
And that pencil sharpener masquerading as a muffler? Leave it in the high school parking lot, yo.
5. Never “hang out,” or “chill, at the mall
Twenty-eight is “in your twenties” the way Katrina was a goodly storm.
Let’s be real here. If you’re 28, the mall’s not your spot anymore.
Unless you’re going there. To buy something. Like, a tie and shirt for your next job interview. And unless you’re holding the hand on your 5-year-old to get her ears pierced, you should definitely not be in Claire’s.
6. Be strong enough to resist any of these reasons for signing up for a credit card at a little tent somewhere:
b) they were giving free T-shirts!
c) they were giving free pizza!
d) the hawt girl with the clipboard gave me a free T-shirt and pizza!
This can work in college. College kids will do anything for pizza. Or a free T-shirt. But, you’re like, grown up. You’ve moved on to bigger, better things. Like, buying a car because the the girl with the clipboard was hawt. Or a timeshare. Or donating your kidney.
Just don’t sell your soul for another chunk of plastic, that’s all.
6. Never cave to the peer pressure of dressing in character – to see a movie.
The possible exception is Power Puff Girls, if they made a movie, and if you had a 4-year-old daughter in tow who was at least half as enthusiastic about it as you are.
By dressing as Harry Potter or a Stormtrooper, at age 26, you’re actually helping identify yourself in a very important category during human mating season. So, thanks.
7. Steer clear of your friend’s kid sister.
Even if she’s hawt, and holding a clipboard. Or even if it’s “just on Facebook.” I never understood the need to nosh the forbidden fruit. I had a friend in junior high who insisted on crushing on any girl who dumped me. Seriously?
OK, I know this has nothing to do with kid sisters, but how annoying. Anyway, leave your buddy’s sis alone. This isn’t the American frontier, where marrying your buddy’s sister would mean more hands on both farms. Today, it’s a violation of the man code. It just is.
Her best friend, however, is fair game.
8. Refuse to use LOL, smileys or sad faces.
I knew a dude in college who got his foot in the door by talking about the cute puppies in those RCA TV commercials. “Aw,” the girls would say. “I love them too!” And it was on. I wanted to punch him.
Dudes who use emoticons are no better, and should have their shaving, belching and throwing-spirals cards revoked, immediately. Dudes don’t do smileys. Ever.
9. Not expect to be treated as a grown-up, when you turn up for work/class with the stamp from the club last night still on your hand.
This is where 20-something girls have the edge. I knew a girl in college who could nap after the club closed, roll out of bed for that 8 a.m. class, pull an Atlanta Braves cap down on her pretty brows, and get to class, club-stamp and all, and look fly.
If you’re a dude pulling the same stunt – you’re just a dude who needs a bath.
And a breath mint.
10. Remember to vote/donate/volunteer.
This one’s tough, because you’re probably used to mama getting things done for you. No more. You’l have to know your stuff now. Be a man of action. You wanted the right to drink at 18, because you could serve your country.
You somehow forgot your privilege of voting. Giving your time. Doing for others. Now’s the time. Trust me, it’ll make a better, smoother transition … to your 30s.
By age 30, a man should …
1. Keep his baseball cap pointed directly forward.
Leave this to fellows chilling at the mall. Hey, you’ve arrived. You’ve matured. You probably have back pain. Some grey hair. The beginning of crow’s feet. Wearing your lid backward is just going to make you look like one of the bad guys in a Home Alone sequel.
You’re closer to Chipper Jones than Ken Griffey Jr. at this age. Look it.
2. Leave the baseball mitt in the closet/trunk/garage when you attend a game.
I didn’t used to believe in this. I used to tote the glove, in case a foul ball came my way (most times, it did.) No longer. Never mind that I can’t find my mitt; on principal, I’ll even the playing field with kids and their gloves who try to snag a foul at the stadium.
Besides, what says “pathetic” better than a man bowling over kidlets for a $4 baseball?
3. Reserve the sleeveless look for backyard, solo activities.
True, you might have guns like Christian Bale’s, but you’re also not in Hollywood.
You have armpit hair. And clumped deodorant in your armpit hair. And let’s face it, you probably *don’t* have guns like Christian Bale’s.
So, that leaves you with the armpit hair and clumped deodorant.
Save the sleeveless look for lawn-mowing day, Batman.
4. Check himself before he wrecks himself (when it comes to alcohol consumption).
The man in his 20s has a tough drinking habit to break, I suppose.
He might feel college graduation cut him down in the prime of his beer pong career.
He might feel a mighty pull toward killing a keg or destroying $10 stadium beer.
But when you’re too old to go sleeveless with your cap on backward, you’re just going to look like an old fool when you’re sloshed.
5. Know that driving a sports car means “I can’t afford this, but I want it anyway.”
How cruel is it that by the time we’ve earned enough to drive a sports car, we’re officially classified in the at-risk category for midlife crisis?
Thing is, if you’re fishing for the 20-somethings, your 30-year-old self might consider the sporty, two-door model the perfect wingman for your exploits. Just make sure you clip coupons for all your pending dates.
6. Think twice about razzing minor-league outfielders.
I watched kids at a game politely learn an opposing outfielder’s name, say it to him in their singsong way, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he’d turn and toss them a baseball.
Until Mr. “I Just Turned 30” showed up, insulted the player’s home state, questioned sexuality, and trashed his mascot, all with slobber running down his chin. Two-beer minimum for dweebs, anyone?
7. Not think about Hayden Panettiere more than you do Amy Adams.
Hayden’s 22, Amy’s 37. At age 22, Hayden and her contemporaries think you’re *ancient* at age 30. You are. If you’re 32, and she’s 22, you’re more than a touchdown ahead in the age score. If you’re 32 and Amy’s 37, you’re golden.
Why am I giving this math lesson? Think more silver screen or prime time and less Nickelodeon, and you’ll be golden, too.
8. Not think it’s gospel, because you read it in “Maxim.”
If a magazine were a man, Maxim would be the dude you’d laugh with, but wouldn’t leave your wallet with. Or trust with your car, your goldfish, or your girlfriend. Even your girlfriend’s goldfish.
Unless you particularly enjoy the presence of the man interested in the shiest, shortcut and simpleton’s existence.
Reach for GQ if you’re looking for guidance.
9. Not plant yourself on the couch to watch multiple airings of ESPN’s SportsCenter. Even if Brett Favre and Kobe Bryant figure prominently.
It’s Tuesday morning. You’re home. Alone. Again.
You’ve destroyed all the leftover pizza, a few Slim Jims, and the liquid equivalent of your blood in Mr. Pibb Extra.
You’re still in your jammies. The highlights come one after another, and there’s no commercial break between the end of one SportsCenter and the start of the next. What’s a guy to do?
Just.say.no. Do yoga. Jog. Get up and eat a banana, for Chris Berman’s sake.
10. Shoot straight, and not gansta lean while you drive.
By this age, you should know: Hands at 9 and 3. Back straight. Eyes forward. Unless you’re built like Chris Farley’s and Oprah’s love child, click the seat up in the upright position and drive right.
I know, super boring. But trust me, Amy Adams wouldn’t look twice at you all leaned over gansta in your Ford Prius. Nor would Hayden Panettiere.
By age 40, a man should …
1. Dance at a club only if they can actually dance.
And never to “Funky Cold Medina,” and think it’s cool.
We 40-somethings know the quality of Tone Loc. Our music-appreciation DNA starts when we’re, oh, 10 or 12, and should wrap up around age 22. That’s your golden age. If Tone Loc falls into that era, good.
Just don’t feel compelled to shake your moneymaker like you did at age 20. Unless you’ve had lessons. If you have, don’t tell your guy friends.
2. Hang up the jersey.
This one is hard to type. I love my collection. Hockey. Football. Baseball. Soccer. They once made me feel sporty and cool.
Today, if I sport my Tampa Bay Rays jersey, I’ll look more like a coach than a player. In my Nashville Predators sweater, I’ll just look like a loser. This pains me, but, leave the jerseys for those young enough to wear sideburns.
3. Expect to drive a sports car without whispers of “midlife crisis.”
In your 30s, you’re iving beyond your means. Now, you can actually afford it, but with a receding hairline and paunch and Hawaiian shirt, you’re no longer worthy.
Fret not, though, King of Wasted Youth: If you wind up spinning around in a sportster in your 60s, you’ll just look like the coolest grandpa ever.
Patience, my child.
4. Give up the days of shirtless lawn-mowing.
It’s a progression to eventually covering everything but your face and earlobes when you’re an old, old man. This is necessary, so that when you’re in your 60s, you’ll be used to wearing a wide-brimmed hat on sunny days, and long trousers in the heat of July.
But, man of your 40s, unless your name is Will Smith or Patrick Dempsey, let’s not scar the retinas of the teenage girls across the street.
Keep your shirt on. Because you should …
5. Have outgrown the urge to wear beer T-shirts.
Honestly, brother. That Spuds McKenzie tee and Amstel Light freebie you scored before your mane turned silver ought to have gone away by now. There’s no excuse for a man who could be raising a teenager to be tooling around as an alcohol billboard.
Especially if you pair it with a Viagra racing cap. Even more disturbing, I realize, is that in middle school, I had Michelob Light and Coors T-shirts.
Mom, what’s up with that?
6. Keep in mind one’s age before one chooses to blast top 40 with the windows all rolled down.
Let’s not even speak of multiple infractions: I saw a man in a GMC with all four windows down, giving the entire intersection a preview of Carly Rae Jespen when clearly he’d cleared the 40-year-old hurdle and cut the sleeves off his T-shirt (no confirmation that it said “Miller Lite” across the front.)
Stick to your era, and keep the volume reasonable.
My misguided friend likely had to roll all four windows down manually. There’s a better way to live, amigo.
7. Feel you can prove anything about your virility by getting a girl pregnant.
You might welcome a pregnancy scare at your age, to prove your buddies are still swimming like Ryan Lochte on Red Bull.
But careless activity that leads to pee tests for your partner isn’t the answer.
Prove your virility and mate-worthiness other natural ways: Kick down trees like a Secretary Bird or lock horns with a rival like a Smoky Mountain elk.
8. Get his kicks from something less toxic as Mountain Dew/Red Bull/Monster energy drinks.
Hey, we all could use a kick in the pants. If you rip it kid-style with an energy drink, you’re just asking for trouble – can I get a witness, those of you who can smell age 50 from where you’re standing?
You’re likely to be on some medication of some sort by now, and there has to be a risk of bad interaction between phenylalanine and what your doctor’s ordered. Don’t wind up on the news.
9. Attend a Star Wars/comic book convention.
Again, this is a way to distinguish yourself on one side of the natural mating game. I’d like to have been a Stormtrooper, as much as the next guy. I could rock it as Boba Fett.
A man 10, 20 years your junior could possibly don both the Superman T-shirt and the trendy club wear and not spontaneously combust. You, friend, shouldn’t take that chance.
10. Graduate from having a “roommate.”
Sometimes you’re in transition, or just passing through. But if you’re signing lease after lease with another fellow, maybe you should consider standing on your own. Or declaring your domestic partnership to those you love, and stop the clandestine spooning.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Stand on your own, unless you have a Jack Tripper type setup and Mr. Furley hasn’t caught on …
Things a dude should never stop doing, regardless of age:
1. Hold doors open for women, kids and older folks.
Lift things for them. Move things for them. More than once, if they ask. Be chivalrous, at the risk of being sexist/ageist/cavemanish. David Lee Roth once said men and women are equal, but men can just pick up heavier stuff.
I know this isn’t always the case, and who can forget Amanda Peet destroying Steve Zahn in arm-wrestling in Saving Silverman?
You might take a few lumps, but it’s in the name of decency, courtesy, and just not being a turd of a man. There’s merit in that.
2. Watch your language.
Man, I struggle with this at times. There’s no excuse. Keep the blue language under wraps. It’s not just so that the little ones won’t repeat it, and then point the finger.
If you have daughters, you’re showing them that boys can be boorish around them with no regard. As I said, I’ve gotten so damned lax about this one. I resolve to do better.
3. Refrain from spitting, unless it’s sunflower seeds.
If I have a choice between spitting in the presence of a kid or a woman, or cursing, I’d take the bad words – up to and including the F-bomb.
The worst thing my kids can see in any given parking lot – aside from a Pittsburgh Steelers window sticker – is a fresh loogie. That’s the poster child of the unacceptable, and if it shares your DNA, so are you.
4. Hand out a granola bar/orange/bottled water to the homeless chap on the corner.
And don’t make a big deal of it.
Just share. That’s all you’re doing. Not making a judgement on how he got there.
Lauding your humanitarian brilliance for helping a brother out.
You’re just doing what you ought to. There are few words spoken when we do this out of our car. I just hope the girls understand the gesture and a smile take so little to give, but can make a big difference to someone in need.
5. Give a firm handshake, and good eye contact.
What’s worse than a dead-fish handshake and shifty eye movement when meeting someone new? A wonderful woman in Harris-Teeter once gave me a quick tutorial on the proper mechanics of a proper handshake.
“Firm,” she said. “You’re not going to break my hand.” First impressions are important, especially if you’re 37 and wearing a Kansas City Royals jersey.
6. Stick up for someone who can’t do it for themselves.
Be a champion for someone.
Especially if they can’t pay you back. Life gives us so precious few instances to do just this, so when the universe gives you the chance … you shouldn’t do it just out of fear John Quinones and the “What Would You do?” crew will burst on the scene, but because your act of civility might spawn one in the next guy.
That’s good stuff.
7. Pray. Or, at least, hope.
Postulate all you want about who the energy goes to, or who listens, or who grants our wishes, but positive energy is positive energy.
Keep the positive attitude. Whether it’s addressed to Allah or Jesus or a tribal god with the head of a buffalo and the legs of an ostrich, keep the light shining.
Keep hope alive, even when dark prevails.
8. Smile, even under the most stressful conditions. Even when you’re standing next to a Yankees player.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz reached on a single against the hated Yankees in a close ballgame, then proceeded to yuck it up with first baseman Mark Teixiera. Small talk, despite generations of hatred represented between their jerseys.
Despite the desperation of being nearly 9 games behind in the division race. Smile. This is easiest when you can hit with runners in scoring position.
9. Listen. Really listen.
This is done with your eyes, too, brother. Look up from that laptop. That Sports Illustrated. That I-phone. Hear what someone has to say, without your mind racing about what you’d like to say next.
You’ll be amazed that the listening attention you give off seems to correspond accurately with that you end up receiving when the tables turn.
10. Carry your youngest, even if it’s just for a little while.
Pick her up. Give her that piggyback ride. Lift the tween or teen, just to prove you can. Remember, dads, you once were the strongest man in the world in her mind (until she saw MetroMan in Megamind.)
Sometimes, even that second grader needs to be twirled. To believe in magic a little. And it happens to do wonder for the dad doing the spinning, too. Trust me on this one.
* * *
John Wooden so eloquently put it: “Don’t place your rights ahead of others’ feelings; don’t place your feelings ahead of others’ rights.”
Sometimes, being a man – and a gentleman – is anything but gentle.
Sometimes, it’s anything but easy. No medals are awarded. No certificates granted. But you must have in yourself an expectation you’ll do what’s right, and behave as nobly as you possibly can, no matter who your audience.
Never mind the example you might be setting for your kids.
Never mind the reputation you might be establishing for yourself.
Never mind the impression you might be creating in others.
If you walk like a man – truly and humbly and nobly – you’re on the right path.
Unless you’re wearing socks and sandals, your cap on backward, and a Budweiser T-shirt. In which case … we need to talk.