Man Caves

January 8, 2010

Growing up I thought my dad was terminally un cool. I’d hide my head in embarrassment as he educated my friends on the faults of Hollywood for not bestowing accolades on Chuck Norris that, according to him, the actor certainly deserved. Also, before any trip to the mall, he’d sit me down with whomever was accompanying me, look through all the store circulars and strategize with us on how to stretch our dollar the farthest. He’d listen to country music at decibels loud enough to wake up people in the neighboring county and had a penchant for dropping ill-timed jokes to wait staff at restaurants. To me, he was the grand marshal of The Dork Parade.

When I was fourteen my parents added a two car garage to our house. Their decision was prompted by long, cold Ohio winters and, like every other American family, a lack of storage space for all the things we seemed to constantly acquire. With the help of my grandfathers, one a carpenter and the other an engineer, we built the addition in a way that was in concert with the original design of the house. It was a simple two car structure with a single pitched roof and bay window facing the street that matched in dimension to its sister windows on the same side of the house. It took us one complete summer, but by that Labor Day we have a safe haven for our cars and, more importantly a dry place to store all the things that we couldn’t live without, but thought were better served in boxes.

As the summer faded in autumn we noticed that our boxes of stuff weren’t the only things that seemed to have a permanent home in the new garage. My father seemed to spend most weekeds out there, as well. At first I thought he just went there to be un cool, but I soon learned that he was actually being productive. He ‘d tinker on the lawn mower or fix a broken door handle with the slew of tools he had at his disposal. It seemed that with what he had out there he could fix anything. From a loose button on our coat to re-soling our shoes, if we had a problem all we had to do was go out to the garage and knock for dad’s attention.

As he morphed into the resident fix-it man, weekends weren’t the only time he spent out in his new hang out. He’d come home from work and, instead of coming inside the house, he’d stay in the garage until dinner and then, after he finished dessert, he’d head back outside. Granted, at times that was great. We knew that our cartoon watching would not be interrupted by dad’s insistence that we watch “The Andy Griffith Show” or having to listen to Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” on repeat for what seemed like an eternity. But then something happened that made everyone in the family suspect of the true motivations for dad’s obsession with the new garage: he installed an extra phone line. He assured my mother, my two brothers and me that the new phone was in case we were on our way out and someone called, but we weren’t buying it. For awhile I convinced myself that dad was a secret agent and the garage phone, like Batman’s bat phone, was used to catapult him into fighting crime in far off lands. Then, for a few weeks, I thought that maybe he had another family somewhere and the garage phone was his only way of contacting his illegitimate child and his prostitute mother. But after all the speculation, the phone actually came in handy. When dad wasn’t out there, I was able to sneak out to the garage and gossip with all my female friends about all the boys they had crushes on in our class.

As winter approached and the temperature dropped, dad spent less time in his new hang out and more time in the house with the rest of us. But as soon as the spring sun melted the winter snow, he was back out in the garage doing whatever he did. The garage became the Bermuda triangle that swallowed dad up and only rarely spat him out for bathroom breaks. That was, until he installed a bathroom, equipped with a shower and a kitchenette. Horror ran down the spines of my brothers and me as we thought the worst: our parents were getting a divorce. My mother comforted and assured us that my parents were, in fact, happily married and had no plans of ever splitting up. She said that dad sometimes just needed to get away and have some time to himself. Twenty five years later my parents are still married, more happily than ever, and my dad still spends most of his time out in the garage. And now that’s actually a cool thing.

My dad was right about a lot. Chuck Norris’ show “Walker, Texas Ranger” ran for eight seasons, was created by Academy Award winner Paul Haggis and was shown in over one hundred countries and spawned, at least, one made for television movie. Country music has never been more popular and, in these days of “The Great Recession” it’s insanely popular to get a lot while spending very little. But perhaps my dad’s greatest contribution to human society is his pioneering efforts to create the man cave. Granted, his garage was far from the modern idea of the man cave, with surround sound and a flat screen television, but without him and others like him, married men everywhere would not have a place to escape when their wives nag them about taking out the trash or ask them “Does my ass look big in this dress?”.

Although I’ve realized that I, not my father, was the un cool one those many years ago, I can’t help but wonder why the man cave has come into existence and, in such a short time, become so completely ubiquitous.

Is it a matter of taste? Can most women not handle the idea of sports pendants, leather recliners and beer cozies next to their Precious Moment figurines and Laura Ashley throw pillows? Or are men too weirded out by framed images of cherubs on the walls and glass bowls of dried flowers next to their flat screen televisions?

Or is it a matter of communication? Can couples not find a middle ground between watching the half time show of the Rose Bowl and snuggling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a romantic comedy?

Or does it come down to wanting privacy? Let’s face it…some couple just don’t like each other and would rather sit in their respective spaces, men in their man cave and women in the rest of the house, than actually have to sit across from one another and have a real conversation.

There is no man cave equivalent in same-sex relationships. When two lesbians get together, there is no butch cave and, similarly, when two men get together there’s no top cave. From what I’ve been told by my straight friends, the man cave is the one place where the dominant male of the household can go to simply be a guy, whatever that means. The space is generally decorated with all of the males belongings that, because they don’t match the color scheme of the rest of the house, are banished to either the extra bedroom, basement or, in my family’s case, the garage. So, if that’s what they are, then my next question is: what are they necessary?

I don’t think it comes down to simply a matter of decorating styles. Any adept designer could match up a Thomas Kincaid painting with a football helmet table lamp…it’s just a matter of scale, proportions and color balance. And I don’t think it’s because men need a secret place to go and be their gender…it’s not a fraternity.

I think it may come down to the fact that men and women are just different. They think differently, they react to situations differently and, most importantly, they communicate differently. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been around my straight married friends when a small misunderstanding, like deciding at what temperature the thermostat should be set, turns into a domestic war with her accusing him of being a heartless, uncaring cretin and him offering up her entire emotional rampage to “that time of the month”. Maybe the man cave is as much for her as it is for him.

If that’s the case, can we please call it something else? “Man cave” dredges up all sorts of connotations of pre-historic man beating his wife up side the head with a wooden club, speaking in grunts and killing wild animals with his bare hands. Why can’t we call it what they referred to in the fifties and sixties as the den? Den sounds so much more soothing, though not as exclusionary. My Homo Honey and her husband call his special space his office. Although it’s not a man cave as they have been described, he’s more of a video game kind of guy, it does seem to be his respite when she’s reminding him that she doesn’t like it when he eats shelled peanuts on the living room couch. But just by calling it and office, as opposed to a man cave, makes the time he spends there sound so much more civilized.

My advice to my dad:

I’m sorry I didn’t realize how ultra cool you were when I was young. Keep doing what you’re doing…in another twenty years the rest of society will catch up.

My advice to those men with man caves:

If you use your space as an escape from your wife/girlfriend/spouse then stop. Communication is the cornerstone to any good relationship. If you want to use your man cave as a place to set up an awesome surround sound for you and your buddies to watch sporting events…then go for it. Just call it a den.

My advice to the women who love men with man caves:

The next time you fight and your husband/boyfriend/spouse escapes to his man cave for some alone time, follow him. Walk in, compliment his decorating sense, even if you have to lie, and ask if you can sit down and watch whatever he’s watching with him. Men bond over television. I guarantee it will correct whatever you fought about and, at the same time, acclimate you to the man cave, making it more accepting of the female gender.

My advice to everyone else:

The next time mentions the phrase “man cave” tell them that you read on a recent Twitter post that it’s out and being replaced by the term “den”. Then, post it on your Twitter account. Before you know it, Ashton Kutcher will be tweeing about the guilt-free nights of sports and beer spent in his den, sans Demi Moore.


5 Responses to “Man Caves”

  1. MOM Says:

    The garageden has played a major role in the success of our 40 year of marriage. Anything that is broken can be fixed in that garage.It is now heated and is used all year long. Guess where your dad is now?Cannot wait for him to read this, he is going to love it.

  2. Homo honey Says:

    I love your dad:) and I hate shelled peanuts:) xoxoxox

  3. […] addition to establishing the world’s first man cave, my Dad is an extremely macho guy. A mixture of The Fonz, Burt Reynolds and with a little Dirty […]

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