Everyone wants to be happier in the New Year. Most will attempt to do so with fad diets, gym memberships, spreadsheets and divorce, but few will truly succeed in moving the needle on their happy-o-meter. Most people do not realize that there is much happiness to be gleaned from drinking deeper from the well of human accomplishment, imagination and ritual. To eat better, to consume higher culture, to appreciate one’s self and one’s growth beyond the brutish display of the bathroom scale, and to connect more deeply with the world and the other humans around you.
To being a *gentleman.*
Now, as Semi-Professional Nano-Celebrity Dad Matt Boresi™, I am required to be a gentleman. I have an advanced degree in esoteric navel-gazing from a university where even the undergraduates have their own clothing lines and take very fancy drugs. I have several tuxedos to accommodate my fluctuating weight as I consume rich dishes whose recipes are collected from obscure Northern Italian villages. I write operas. I embody many of your fanciness goals and know which forks and spoons go where, but these are not things that can be achieved overnight. It takes months and even years of practice and a deep, deep well of narcissism to be this cultivated, but if you dig deep, there is a gentleman underneath the pizza stains, begging to avoid dangling participles.
If you are a Chicago dad, you are likely not very gentlemanly to begin with. Dads tend not to be mannered, as parenthood involves a great deal of food-in-pouches, throw-up, denim and other things that are not mannered. The Midwest is a place where many people settled to escape the clutches of manners, and while Chicago was originally a multicultural trading post of very fancy pelts, it is now largely a place where even the copper lion statues in front of the art museums often wear fiberglass football helmets to appeal to the Basic.
In order to be a gentleman, you’re going to have to put some work in.
So, let’s explore some steps to stop the tidal wave of toxic masculinity destroying our society and end up happier as a result!
Step One: Be Handsomer
In order to feel more gentlemanly, you need to look more gentlemanly. This is not difficult in Chicago in the winter, because you are probably wearing a sweatshirt right now. Stop it. I am not suggesting you run out and replace your wardrobe, but as things wear out and you buy new clothes, I can all but guarantee you that as a Chicago dad you are wearing your clothes at least one size too big. Blouses are for pirates and ladies – if you are neither, your shirts, your pants, your suits, nothing should blouse.
If you are concerned about your weight, take the Italian Sausage off the top of your Italian Beef.
Your beard should either be very long or very short. If you look like neither a lumberjack nor a Latin pop star, you are doing it wrong. Consider deliberate facial hair, though, as it does wonders for your rapidly melting jawline.
Your eyebrows look like hell. You should have two, and they should not curl. Be wary of having them professionally done — if you make them look too narrow you will look like Ronald McDonald and if they are too far apart you will look like Jimmy Fallon. No one wants to look like a clown.
As for the rest of your head, this is the year you should try to be either less or more bald. If a blow dryer, better product and adding $10 to your haircut budget will make you look less bald, do that. If the time has come, shave your head and consider facial hair or statement glasses. There’s also that thing Brian Urlacher and Ryne Sandberg keep shouting about on every billboard in town – I’m not sure what it involves, probably putting hair from a corpse or from your butt on your head. You can look into it, but I’m skeptical.
The key to all these beauty and sartorial choices is just that, choice. Dadbods and Normcore clothes are about not making choices. Gentlemanly Dads make choices.
Step Two: Raise Your Culture Game
While money can help you be a gentleman, gentlemanliness is not about money. It is about politeness and depth of taste. Donald Trump has solid gold toilet seats and paid a fortune for his wives, but he is still a boorish two-bit carny. A gentleman’s taste is largely about enjoying acquired tastes that involve process and nuance. Again, it’s about living deliberately and trying to taste and feel and learn things. Improving the culture you consume is the fast track to gentleman town.
Take adult beverages, for instance: Milwaukee’s Best and Barefoot Cabernet are made in enormous horse pails and have no tasting notes beyond that of acridity and impending intoxication. Today try Apex Predator by Off Color Brewing and perhaps a Girasole Zinfandel. It’s only $15 and it’s doesn’t taste like the plastic cup full of vinegar they give you at receptions. Suddenly the world has twice as many colors. Suddenly you are here on earth to do something besides reproduce, poop and die. Suddenly you are at least middle-brow.
Nickelback and Pearl Jam sound no richer than a pile of musical instruments at a yard sale – less so, actually. Smash Mouth is an entire band made out of Guy Fieri. Lose your Dad Playlist and tiptoe into the waters of jazz and opera. This is scary, but you can do it. If you’re a total novice, listen to the following: On the jazz side, maybe “Kind of Blue,” “Ella and Louis” and “Time Out.” (Oh man, the jazz people are gonna come at me.) From there you can determine what you like and take of the training wheels. For opera, how about “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Rigoletto” and “La Boheme”? Then wade into deeper waters. Feeling gentlemanly?
How about film? I dare you to watch one movie this week with no superheroes or lightsabers in it. I love superheroes and lightsabers, but one cannot live by them alone. Watch a movie where Samwise does not make a winning touchdown pass in the last 10 minutes. Go watch “On the Waterfront,” “Barry Lyndon” and… I dunno, how about “Bonnie and Clyde”? You’ll like them, I swear.
Also, take the #NoRanchChallenge, which I made up just now. Don’t eat any Ranch dressing this week, or take your spouse anywhere that has Ranch in the name of any of the foods. (Maybe they have Ranch in the back, but stay out of the Ranch-forward places.) It’s the gentlemanly way to dine.
Step Three: Think Better
Adam Carolla isn’t making you smarter. Sean Hannity is actively making you stupid. Twitter is making you MISERABLE. You’ll enjoy the world around you more if you understand the world around you more, and if you move beyond the media’s outrage machine, perfectly constructed to make you rage-filled and spendy.
Here are some very accessible books that will pump up your gray matter and make you a gentlemanly thinker!:
Cosmos by Carl Sagan. It’s science, but you’ll like it.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. For being from 175 A.D., this book has some stuff figured out.
Strunk’s The Elements of Style. It’s a book on writing, but it applies to any form of communication, and it’s worth a read and a reread.
And stop listening to True Crime podcasts for a few minutes (Yeesh, the True Crime podcasts). Try 99% Invisible, a show about the glorious things around us in design and architecture we don’t see, but it’ll tune up your way of seeing.
Step Four: Be a More Thoughtful Partner
You were probably a gentleman once – and that was on your first date. You opened doors and didn’t swear and contemplated antipasti. You asked before you groped. (OK, you made eye contact and got a nod before you groped.) You used to listen to what they said, pretend to share their taste, and worried about what they thought. But why empathize with the cow when the milk is free? Oh, how far you’ve fallen in your gentlemanliness.
Here’s my challenge for your relationship: Find one thing your partner likes that you don’t (something respectable, though; there’s no reason to understand why someone likes “Real Housewives”… they just shouldn’t). Is it mindfulness? Is it Sarah Bareilles? Is it roasted cauliflower? You needn’t force yourself to like these things – but in trying to discover how these things resonate with your spouse, you might learn something about them. How polite of you. How caring. How gentlemanly.
Step Five: Demand Gentleness of Your Offspring
Are you raising little ladies and gentleman, or are you raising hideous beasts? We are not born gentlemanly. Mankind is basically animalistic, and manners must be discovered or thrust upon us. It takes time, patience and baby steps, but your child can, with time, enjoy herbs, clothing with buttons and Cole Porter. Ten times an hour I make the choice of least resistance with my child – but what if twice a day you forced them to make the more challenging choice, the more thoughtful choice, the fancier choice? A food not beige, a song not silly, a truck not monster. If you can do it, they can do it.
Imagine yourself empathetic, fetching, cultured and inquisitive in 2018 – walking before a file of your children neither punching one another nor laughing about flatulence. You can do this, future Gentleman Dad, and it is worth the work. I truly believe you can save yourself and the country in the process. Bon voyage. I’ll see you on the other side and help you tie your bow tie.
This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 6-year old daughter Viva, who is wearing a gown right now. She is always wearing a gown.
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