Before restorative yoga, I look around at the legs and arms sprawled on mats and it’s six dudes. And I say woah boys this is a first. Starting a trend, one of them says. A few minutes later, a woman walks in the door, sees the herd of grazing guy buffalo, smiles, and unrolls her mat midfield. The guys are eyes closed, just waiting. I dim the lights and we begin.
So not the first all bro yoga. But it was the first father son class, I will say that. I mean my dad has come to many classes I’ve taught, so that’s been father son, but I mean audience father son. After class, the father put his arm around his son. Really cool to see.
One of the other dudes, I’ve seen him at yoga before. With a girl. Girlfriend, I assumed. And I thought to myself: classic. Guy goes to yoga with girl. It’s a nesting test. The girl’s testing him. Is this dude into me enough to get bendy and endure an hour of deep breathing and goofy animal poses? Can be humiliating shit for a guy.
But then the dude shows up alone. What?! My mind pivots. Tries to decipher, using the same mating game analysis. Okay. What’s this guy’s strategy. This dude is here for points with the homegirl. He’s solo, yeah. But that’s double the points. You know he’s going to tell her. And that’s the ultimate play because it gives the appearance that he genuinely likes yoga. And yoga isn’t about yoga, it’s a test of a man’s femininity. (Or what we label femininity). The chick is worried, thinking in the way back of her mammalian brain: if we get pregnant, this dude can’t bounce. Why? Because then she’ll be laid up for 9 months, and then 18 years after that, with no one to run errands and bring back shit to eat and you know all that. Yoga is a way of seeing if the guy is really into the girl, for the long haul. Or if he just want sex. Right? Because yoga raises the cost of sex. Doing yoga deducts man points. Which is what the woman wants, to a certain point. Because, men just want sex. And the woman wants insurance against just sex.
I don’t say this. But between my 1inch wide earlobes, this is what’s being tossed around. I can't help but think it. Thoughts just go go go. Like a lateral pass all the down the field, from one player to the next, to the 40, to the 30, to the 20, 10….touchdown!
While we’re on the subject of masculinity. The NFL is dangerous. And I don’t mean the risk of traumatic injury and CTE on the field. I’m talking brain drain on viewers. Damage to the concept of masculinity. It’s open season. And it’s partially why I think the way I do.
Maybe the yoga dude likes yoga? What?! No…. Maybe he likes the lower Alpha brain wave. Maybe the OMG stretch feels fantastic. Maybe he recognizes down dog to up dog to plank to and over and over again is a warrior workout.
Okay. On an average playoff game this year, 112 commercials take aim at the core concept of manliness. You want a F-150, don’t you? How bout a nice cold Bud Light? Over and over. Erectile dysfunction? Hmmm?
I see it in the classroom, too. The football players sit in the back of the classroom. Headphones on, chins down. Regardless of ability—this is the really frightening thing. Earlier this week, I assigned the class to write a piece of flash fiction. Make up a story. Approximately 1,000 words. To be completed in class. Ready, set, go. Everybody else stares at their computer screen for a few seconds, then starts pecking away. The football players in the back row are whispering, then whispering louder, then laughing, then quiet scrolling on phone. For a while, I observe. Because it’s interesting.
This is the situation in the back row. On one end, a big dude trying to work. Real big dude. I feel like he knows school is garbage but it’s part of the system, so he’ll do it. On the other end, the runt of the crew. He’s trying to work too, but only because he sees me looking. So he’s trying to suppress his smile, which he needs to provide the middle two. The two kids in the middle. They really get me. One is the instigator. One Beats headphone covering left ear, the other just above his right so he can hear the questions and comments of his admiring protege sitting next to him. Neither middle guy makes any attempt to write. Or feign writing. The ring leader’s hands are full of phone, scrolling, showing, swiping. The other kid. He really gets me. He’s looking left, looking right. Like he just got the football and doesn’t know what the hell to do with it. He’s watching everybody write like he’s deaf and doesn’t know I just told everyone to write. And he’s boyish laughing at the headphone ringleader, like this is a circus and he’s the clown.
I look at the back row. And I agree. “This shit’s a waste of our fucking time.” They don’t say it. But I know.
So I clear my throat and uh uh uh say out loud: sooo what’s up gentlemen? Nobody looks. (Obviously.) Nobody answers. So I single out the ring leader. Say his name. Then ask him what he’s doing. Ring leader says he’s writing. I say cool, cool. Then I ask: what are you writing about? The back bench erupts with semi-suppressed snickering. Semi-suppressed. Ring smirks. Like getting laughs is the goal. And he just got a first down. Still no eye contact. I ask the sidekick next to him. Junior, what are you writing about? More snickering.
Pause. Let’s break this down. I’m white. They’re black. That’s one dimension of this microcosm. But I’m not old and white. I’m not stodgy and white. I’m not authoritarian and white. So why the indifference? There’s other black students in the class. Sitting in other rows, working hard—finger packing literary spice onto paper. What’s up with the football players?
I don’t know. Obviously it’s a lot of factors. But when I see these NFL truck commercials, one after the other, I cringe. Want to build stuff? Toyota Tundra. Want to left lung shout at people to solve problems? Ford F-150. Need to compensate for a a perceived small penis? Chevy Silverado.
These football players in the back row are sporting fuck-it. Fuck it jeans. Fuck it headphones. Fuck it body language. This “fuck it” mentality that defines their man game isn’t just football’s fault. It’s culture period. Film, music, fashion.
Back to the classroom. (And to yoga)
The very act of writing seems to threaten this violent ape conception of masculinity. Articulating emotions requires introspection. Summarizing an other’s argument requires empathy. Sharing requires vulnerability.
For the most part, on the question of the cash value of higher education, I agree: “This shit’s a waste of our fucking time.”
But, if writing (or yoga) is a tool that can dismantle this no-muffler, fuel-guzzling, oversized vehicle we call masculinity, then we’re going to be doing a hell of a lot more in class writing.
The future of NFL masculinity are the symptoms of CTE: difficulty thinking, impulsive behavior, depression, short-term memory loss, emotional instability, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and behavior.
But check it out. The tide is changing. All this climate change is melting melting melting our ice age concepts of gender. Guys can do yoga. Girls can be strong. Guys can talk about emotions. Girls can lead. I mean seriously. We almost had an all-dude yoga class.
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