Some time ago, I attended a talk entitled, “Armored Boy to Wise Old Man: How Men Grow Up . . . or Don’t.” A major point in the presentation was how males in different societies, definitely including ours, learn at an early age to cover themselves in armor, literally and figuratively. This armor offers protection from negative outside forces, but also prevents positive energies from being received and emotions from being let out. I realize this is somewhat of an oversimplification and generalization, but bear with me.
The speaker told about spending childhood time at a nearby museum that housed a large exhibit of medieval armor. I was reminded of my own childhood time time spent on school field trips to Fort Knox, a short distance from where I grew up in Louisville, Ky. The base not only houses the country’s Depository of (gold) Bullion, it is also home to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor. Trips to the Museum were always a highlight of the week, if not the school year. While I am sure there were other exhibits in the Museum, possibly even suits of armor from the Middle Ages, what I remember best are the tanks. We could climb inside them, indulging male child fantasies. I had always played cowboys and Indians and even once been asked to leave a movie theater when I pulled my cap pistol from its holster and started shooting, attempting to help Hopalong Cassidy (one of my favorite childhood heroes) escape the bad guys. Tanks were so much better. They had more firepower and were armored for protection.
Societal armoring of children starts early, often in pre-school, when kids pester parents to buy costumes of their favorite superhero, or latest Disney princess. Like many other young boys, I remember tying a towel around my neck and running through the house pretending I was Superman and the towel my cape. I was invincible then.
As I got older, I lost the fantasy of operating a tank in the Army, or even being in the military. I did, however, fantasize about driving an earth-moving machine cross-country on the freeways, blade down. So, I was excited to see James Garner in the movie, Tank, as he actualized a variation on this fantasy. As I got older, I decided being in a war, or even just in the military and trained to kill, was nothing I wanted to experience. I continued to wear various suits of armor, however.
At some basic level, the outfits du jour we wore in middle school and high school were a form of armor. We wanted to fit in, to be like the others. Dressing according to the latest clothing trends became a sort of protective coloring, offering psychological and sociological protection. Wearing school colors, or clothes with the name of the school on them, were also a form of armoring. It was as if the force of the entire institution was protecting us. While there was some individuality on the Vanderbilt campus, where I attended college in the early 60’s, there was still an identifiable look on campus. The guys were chinos, button down collar, long-sleeve dress shirts (not white), Bass Weejuns (the original penny loafers) often without sox. Those of us from Kentucky wore lace up pebbly leather Bass Moccasins, which came in two colors – black and brown. I don’t know if the company sold these shoes elsewhere in the country. The only people I knew who wore them were fellow Kentuckians; we were recognized as such throughout the South by these shoes. I do know it was difficult finding a picture of them online; I was successful, however. Coeds wore collared shirts with circle pins, skirts, white sox and loafers. They were not allowed to wear pants on campus, except on the coldest days of the winter. We were proud when people from other universities would recognize us by the clothes we wore. Our “armor” was a badge of pride. [sorry for the size and placement of the photo. I am struggling to learn how to use WordPress in an appropriate matter. If you can help, I would be grateful.]
As my life began to change after college graduation, so did the armor I wore. To find out how, you will have to read my next post.