The Man Code

By Michael W. Gos

Uvalde, Texas

few years ago, I spent most of a summer in Uvalde.  It is a small town on the south end of Hill Country, and from my perspective, it is perfectly located.  It is about 5 hours from Big Bend and less than an hour to Bandera, Garner State Park, and my favorite restaurant, The Laurel Tree in Utopia.

But what I like best about Uvalde is the atmosphere and lifestyle the people living there have created for themselves.  One example is a business that really tickles my funny bone—something I’ve never seen anywhere else.  The Bottle ‘n Bag boasts “liquor and guns.”  If they had bait and tackle, it would be a country boy’s dream.  Their cigar collection is pretty good too!

But by far, the thing I was most impressed with about the town was what I call “The Breakfast Club.”  During my time in Uvalde, I regularly frequented a restaurant for breakfast.  Every morning I would see a group of 10-12 men who gathered for coffee, breakfast, or both.  The “meeting” usually lasted about three hours with members coming and going as their work day dictated.  The retirees generally stayed the whole time.  I loved the comradery, but it was the discussions that really struck me.  Guys who might ordinarily be reserved were not only talking, but laughing and having fun.  I decided when I got back to Houston, I wanted to be a part of that kind of a group every morning.   I’d name it the “Old Codger’s Club” in honor of an ancient organization in Britain.  The problem is, those kinds of things just don’t seem to happen in suburbia.  That is our loss.

My wife is not only one of the smartest people I’ve ever met but she is always looking to learn something new about anything and everything. One thing she is fascinated by is the way men talk to each other.  She says it is so different from the ways of women that it is hard for her to fathom.  Through study and perseverance, she has started to make inroads into our rules of communication, what topics are allowed and which ones we never speak of.  She has figured out that guys almost never talk about “feelings.” And we will absolutely never ask another guy, “Do you want to talk about it?”  If he wanted to do that, it would already be happening.  She has a long way to go in deciphering the code, but with diligence, she’s making great progress.

I think an understanding of men’s discussion, however, requires more than just an understanding of the unwritten, but strict, codes of conduct.  While the rules remain intact throughout our lives, our conversation topics and venues change as we age and sometimes these changes are hard to understand.

What is the trick to deciphering the communication code for men? 

In our teens and twenties, let’s face it, we are pretty silly.  We talk about things like girls and what pick-up lines work best.  (Mine was “Your butt’s too small.”  The most common response I got: “I love you!”).  During this period, our gatherings tend to happen after work, sometimes till late into the night, in college dorm rooms, and in bars.  Needless to say, that latter is a situation ripe for trouble, and trouble often ensues.

In our 30s, conversation switches to our newly acquired houses and families and how we need to handle the chores, inside and out.  The venue is no longer regular.  There are still a few after-work bar meetings, but for the most part, we are so busy with life that we either talk at work or at occasional parties.  By our 40s, bars are mostly a thing of the past and the topics are mostly financial—how to improve our monied positions.  But of course, women could still be on the table, especially as the first round of divorces progresses.

In our 50s, we start to settle down.  We talk about work, how pleased or disappointed we are with the kids, and what we are doing to make our way to retirement.  Frankly, we get a bit  . . . boring.  When retirement finally comes, the venue has changed to breakfast and when we get together, we are truly a bunch of old codgers who sit around talking about the weather and telling lies about horses and war.

My mother and her siblings used to tell a story that I absolutely loved—a story that I think demonstrates several important aspects of male interaction. My grandfather (who I never had the honor of meeting) was in his early 30s when his fourth child was born.  It was his first son and he was so proud, he wanted to tell everybody.  He was just a poor steelworker with very limited English ability, but he saved his pennies, bought cigars and decided to get together with the guys the first chance he got.

My grandmother (who I also never met) was in the hospital with the baby.  She sent my grandfather on an errand.  He was to go to the county clerk in town to file the birth certificate.  He took the paper and started off.  But on the way, he just “happened” to run into his band of friends at a local bar.  Well, the inevitable happened.  He passed out cigars, the magic elixir flowed and he told everyone about how he and Grandma had decided to name the boy John, after him, his father and several generations of grandfathers.

And the beer kept flowing.

A couple of hours later, when the gathering had reached the “I love you, man!” stage, it was getting close to closing time at the clerk’s office, and my grandfather knew he still had an errand to run.  He said goodbye to all and then hugged his best friend and told him that he was so important in his life that he was going to name his boy after him. Then he left for the clerk’s office.  That is how we got my uncle Geno.  Needless to say, Grandma was furious, but it was too late.  There was nothing she could do about it.

Because few women understand the communication code for men, they often think men are cold, unemotional and callous, that we speak in grunts . . . if at all.  But turnabout is fair play.  Women’s codes and the content of their conversations cause us men to see them as sometimes silly and often rude. (Why do you keep interrupting each other with interjected comments?)  I suspect the fact is that neither of those evaluations is even close to reality. It is more a matter of style than substance.

What is the trick to deciphering the communication code for men?  It affects our conversation in three ways:

Strict rules govern what we do, and don’t, talk about and how we approach that dicey ground in between.

While the rules remain the same forever, content and venue tend to change as we progress through life.

In spite of the rules and limitations that govern our communication, there are still a myriad of ways for us to get into trouble, something we are very good at.

Sitting in that restaurant in Uvalde every morning, I got to bask in the reflected warmth of the meetings, but always left extremely jealous I wasn’t a part of it..  I sure wish we had an Old Codgers Breakfast Club here in Clear Lake.

One Comment to “The Man Code”

  1. Dane McKitrick says:

    Michael,
    For many years there was just such a group in the area. It traces it’s roots back to the 1970’s and early 1980’s at the Ken’s Donut Shop. (site of the current Einstein’s Bagels) When Ken’s closed the group moved down the street to Ashlee’s Donut’s on Bay Area Blvd in front of Don Pico’s.
    For nearly 30 years, a loose and ever evolving group of about 25 or 30 ‘Old Codgers’ would meet there each morning starting at about 6:00 AM and with folks coming and going until 10 or 11.
    Sadly, many have passed on. Others moved away and with the Coronavirus issue, Ashlee’s has been reconfigured so that it can only accommodate about 6 at a time. That works well though because that is about how many of us remain.
    Stop in some morning around 8 AM and meet the few of us stalwart holdouts. Tuesdays and Thursdays are best anymore but other days sometimes still work.
    Best,
    Dane

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