When I think of manly, I think of my friend Travis.
It’s weird that I don’t think of myself. I’m just not that guy. I’m the guy who gets excited about artsy chocolate truffles, can tell you what a pecan duja is, and who you can find saying phrases like, “Wow, that cilantro foam on the deconstructed caterpillar roll was amaaaaaze-balls!”
So, when I think of manly, I think of my friend Travis.
If dictionaries used pictures, there would be one of him under that word. It would show his strong jaw covered by a lumberman’s beard and is leathery as fuck from all the time he spends in the sun. A beef-fed, corn-finished Georgia country boy who owns a small cabin near a lake.
Under the picture, you could read, “See also Redneck Metrosexual.”
The first time I heard him refer to himself as a redneck, it shocked me. I didn’t think of him that way. The way he likes to explain to me, rednecks can be progressive and inclusive, too, and you can see that in the use of the term “y’all.” It doesn’t get more inclusive than everybody.
The lake is close enough to walk to with his fishing rod, but he can also take his Jon boat, which is like a dinghy but for rednecks, and cruise for an hour to the dam, visiting boat friends, and sipping on Crown Royal.
“You know, Carlos, boat friends!! You hang with them and do boat things but you wouldn’t do anything else with them outside the lake.”
I didn’t know.
The cabin, of course, has enough artillery to defend the Federal Reserve Bank, and it will be used when the government finally comes to take his grandfather’s rifle — the man he was named after.
Travis and I work together. We either meet in Atlanta, where our company is located, or in conventions across the country. When the meetings are over, we sit down with a glass of WhistlePig and trade stories.
I always want to hear about his hunting escapades. On the last one, he and two of his buddies caught a 12-foot and 760-pound alligator.
Almost all his stories go like that: Travis hunting deer; Travis almost getting killed by a wild boar and having to unload his 9mm on it because he is a slacker when it comes to oiling his rifles; Travis in the Alaskan frontier hunting polar bears? Narwhals?… Whitewalkers? I don’t know what you hunt there or, more importantly, why you’d go there.
Once, I asked him if he had ever noodled for catfish. If you don’t know what catfish noodling is, it’s when ‘git’er done’ folks wade into muddy lakes and go around it punching the edges until a catfish chomps down on their arms, and they pull the disgusting fish out. These catfish can reach up to 100 lbs.
Travis answered, “I don’t mess with that shit. That’s how you lose arms.”
This is exactly what I think about hunting alligators.
I like Travis because I believe that under the rough and gruff lies a sensitive man. Of course, that’s what I tell myself about every single rough-around-the-edges person I meet, and maybe it’s the reason I always end up being friends with people like him. There is no questioning where you stand with a person like that, they’ll fucking tell you — right to your face. That’s why he only has three friends.
One day, I called him in such a place of vulnerability. It was the afternoon after he had gotten his vasectomy done.
He knew he didn’t want kids. He knew that it needed to be done. But when the rubber meets the road, or in his case, when the electric cauterizer meets the vas deferens, he didn’t want more rubber.
It seemed to me that from everything weighing on him, the end of his family’s name loomed the heaviest.
It might seem silly to some people that you can be upset over a last name, but I get it. I have experienced such emotions with my last name.
I remember being a kid and telling people my last name turned into marbles inside my mouth.
I have some good memories with my dad’s side of the family, but not enough to feel myself the bearer of the name. I know it comes from the Basque region because I have a cousin who is obsessed with our genealogy. He traced it back to a place where there was an actual plaque with our name on it, and he sent us a video.
“Dear Cousins, I am sending you this video with this plaque that has our name, Garbiras.” It was unclear if the plaque memorialized the street, the mound he was standing on, the sewage manhole underneath it, or if the sheep looming behind him was related to us. But he sure was happy he found our name on that plaque.
I’m not attached to my last name, and there is no reason for me to be attached to it.
My mom took the brunt of raising my sister and me. I saw friends in similar situations take their mothers’ names, but I wouldn’t consider that. But I won’t change it. Even if I was the only other person with my father’s name, it is my name and I am not going to change it.
When I met my wife, she had a similar affiliation to her name, and when things started getting serious, she told me she had no plans to change it.
I got it.
Twenty-five years as someone, and here I come with plans to not only change a very important piece of her identity but to burden her with a clerical nightmare of changing all her legal documents and credit cards.
That’s no way to start a marriage.
I can’t take credit for my egalitarian stance. In college, I had to study so much feminist theory that Judith Butler would’ve looked at our curriculum and said, “Whoa, estrogen much?”
The fact that she wanted to marry me at all was shocking enough.
I felt like a modern man, unencumbered by chauvinistic views of the past. That only lasted until we started talking about having babies, and my wife shared with me her plans of giving our babies her last name. “I will carry them for nine months, why shouldn’t they have my name?”
Which makes sense.
But it doesn’t.
Eventually, I caved in because I love my wife so much, and she knows. We compromised and punished our unborn children with the longest hyphenated name possible, Rege-Garbiras. An early message to them that things in this family are corky.
It might have been all in vain since my daughter, Jovie, recently started referring to herself as Jovie Rege Cotijas as if I was related to the infamous man who patented the style of cheese, as if my name was Don Carlos Cotijas.
She could’ve easily punned my wife’s name with gems such as reggae, ragged, rickety.
But she didn’t.
She came up with a pun on her father’s last name so clever that escaped the boys in my school for twelve years.
To give my daughter more credit, in her almost five years of existence, we have only eaten cotija cheese once, and she retained the word long enough to apply it to a similar-sounding word.
She has also employed similar retention to use uncommon words in the right setting, like when she put little green balls of Play-Doh on a bigger orange ball of Play-Doh, looked at it, and said, “It’s a Pollock.” Or when she was FaceTiming my mom and told her, “Let’s pretend your name is Punani!”
I have to tell you, I never used that word. I’m so curious to know who the hell is walking around my daughter saying, “Punani.” Or calling my mom one.
So I understood when Travis experienced a feeling that snuck out of nowhere regarding his name. We live in a society that pressures men to do extraordinary things in the name of family and to also bring children into the world that would do the same. When we should be focused on letting people be people, a world where being a good, honest person is more than enough.
Not bringing kids into this world is a sensible option. It’s an antiquated idea that the value of a man or a woman is tied to their reproductive life and the glorified addition of more taxpayers.
Besides, just because Travis doesn’t know it, it doesn’t mean there are many little Travises running around hunting alligators, deer, and boar.
They are just not carrying his name, and as such, they are not his financial responsibility. That’s something he can enjoy while coasting on his dingy sipping on Crown on a muggy Georgia afternoon.