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Testing my manhood



There are a lot of things that men are expected to be – self-reliant, handy, strong enough to open pickle jars, laid back when it comes to dressing and grooming, and unafraid of the dark, night noises, large insects, and other men. All in all, it’s not that hard a gig. Just watch a lot of sports, drink a lot of beer, and try your best not to cry during movies and weddings.

We’re also supposed to be into the whole red meat and barbecue thing, although I’ll let you in on a little secret – the barbecue thing is a front for another supreme manly trait: Laziness.

Women think men barbecue because it’s in our DNA, something that goes back to the caveman days. In truth, I think we choose to barbecue because it’s a hell of a lot easier than making potato salad. As a bonus, you get to be outside, and you can easily grill with a beer in one hand and a spatula or set of tongs in the other. You get to look busy while the propane does most of the work.

I’ve gone through the manhood motions all my life, walking the walk, talking the talk, and shaving as rarely as I can get away with. I’ve played contact sports with the best of them, piling up a respectable list of concussions, broken bones and soft tissue injuries in the process.

My resume is also respectable for a guy. Before I got into journalism I was a gas station attendant, a landscaper, house painter, a tree planter, a short order cook, and – my favourite – a caddy.

But there’s one area where my male resume is lacking. My secret shame, if you will. I can cover it up for the most part, but sooner or later I’m always exposed.

You see, I can’t drive stick.

It’s not my fault. Really.

My family always had automatic cars, and so did most of my friends when I was growing up – standard cars are a pain in the ass in a stop-and-go city like Toronto, so almost nobody drives them. I’ve never owned a car of my own (another sore point), and only one of the cars I’ve rented over the years has had a stick shift.

I have had a few opportunities to drive standard cars here and there, but almost always on road trips where we seldom got off the highway – once you’re in fifth you stay there.

While travelling on the island of Crete a few years back some friends spent an afternoon trying to teach me to drive a little rented 4X4 minivan. I was starting to get the hang of it when I stalled out on a rocky, mountain road and we almost drifted backwards into a 1,000 foot gorge. Although all of the passengers were willing to take a gamble and give me another chance, I was the first to call "shotgun" for the rest of the trip. I tried and I failed.