Only three installments into this series and Andrew has already begun asking when he’ll be getting a Real Woman.
It’s my own fault. I had stupidly relayed a conversation I’d had with Cappa about some cool upcoming “Are You a Real Man?” concepts and that the call had ended with him saying, “This Andrew guy has to be pretty stoked. If he can’t land a piece of ass after all this, he’ll need a sex change.”
It was a good sign that Andrew was ready to get back in the game. But I had to remind him that part of why he had agreed to do these Real Man stories was that he’d really wanted to try to become a better man by looking outward at the lives of Real Men so that he could look inward and become real too. Doing that would also help him with the deeper questions he’d been unable to answer about himself, including why he hasn’t been successful in relationships or found the right person yet.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s all still true,” he said. “And I’ve already learned a lot about myself from building fire with sticks and jumping a truck. But New Year’s Eve is coming and I don’t like watching balls drop at midnight all alone.”
It was still early in the Man-ifesto, but I decided to go ahead and attempt to gauge his progress. Based on the topic at hand, I suggested he make a list of things he believed women were looking for in a man. It took him all of 30 seconds to write:
“Husband. Money. Sex. Kids. (Not necessarily in that order.)”
Then I asked him what he thought the key was to a successful marriage. It took him all of 30 seconds to write:
I had my own thoughts on what he was doing wrong with this line of thinking, but since Andrew is supposed to be learning from Real Men, the advice had to come from one. My dad and stepmother are just shy of their 30th wedding anniversary, so I asked the secret to their enduring marriage. “For me, it has been due to the training I got in the Army,” my dad told me. He had run the motorpool in what was then called the 305th Chemical Company, which dealt with chemical, biological, and radiological warfare. There were only two units of that kind in the world at the time; the other was disseminating Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“What it takes to win the war is also what it takes to keep the peace.”
I couldn’t quite make the connection between blistered skin and eternal happiness.
“Well, in the Army, I learned how to receive orders without arguing,” he elaborated. “Sure, it’s hard when they’re stupid, but you learn respect and to not question command orders.” It translated into marriage as listening to his wife and letting her be right—even when she wasn’t.
That got me thinking: If Real Men in this series are preparing Andrew for life, would they by default also prepare him for a wife? Regardless, that list made it clear he needed some basic training, especially after he interpreted my dad’s advice to mean marital bliss lies in atomic decontamination.
But then Andrew said, “I’m not cut out for the military. I’m kind of a control freak, so it’s a problem if someone is telling me to run up the hill when I know that when I run up the hill I’m going to be shot. I would question the orders. I would also probably think I could do a better job at leading.”
And that’s the thing: I’d noticed while doing our previous Real Man stories about surviving Doomsday and learning to race from Ivan Stewart that Andrew doesn’t really like being told what to do and prefers working through things on his own. So, were we on to something bigger here about why his relationships weren’t working out? Was he unable to compromise? Was he too focused on his own interests? I couldn’t say for sure, but even he admitted there was some kind of a cycle he needed to break. I figured, if the military can make a boy a man, it could probably also make a man a Real Man.
And with that, we pointed a vehicle of Real Men, a ’12 Toyota Tundra, toward the Mojave Desert, home of the Army’s National Training Center (NTC) and Fort Irwin. It’s where ground and air combat teams train for war. The training center was activated in 1980, but after 9/11 it became the epicenter for training the Army’s soldiers nationwide for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. The NTC has even built a perfect replica of Afghan towns, with identical buildings and roads. Training allows soldiers to experience the authentic sights, sounds, and languages they could encounter in order to expose them to the unknown before it’s known. Hired civilians and soldiers role-play as villagers—and as terrorists. There’s also live-fire training. They experience taking RPGs, getting hit from multiple angles, and dealing with mass casualties, all the while learning how to organize and stay strong as a unit in the midst of chaos and hardship.
As odd as it sounded on paper, metaphorically those seemed like the same things we’re exposed to in relationships.
We arrived on a day in which the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss, Texas, was there for its combat training. “The units that come through here are mainly task fleet proficient, but now we’re taking it to the next level,” explained Captain Patrick Tabin, an Observer/Controller Trainer with Scorpion Team Operations Group, a unit at the NTC. “It’s really intended to stress the systems.”
Andrew replied, “That’s what she said.” Then he laughed. Capt. Tabin did not.
Maybe this idea wasn’t so great after all.