Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where Are All the Gentlemen?

James "Jimmy" Stewart*
Gentlemen. Are they an endangered species? And, if so, whose fault is it?

Perhaps it's another one of our oft heard laments about the end of good manners, the death of politesse, the e-mail over the handwritten note, the cell phone ringing in the middle of a funeral (yes, twice), the unreturned message, the lack of courtesy on every level. . . Some blame feminism, but I don't buy that excuse.

Or, is polished behavior mere veneer and not the real deal?

I'm not sure, what do you think? I am willing to compromise however, if I can't have the genuine model I'll take good manners with good grace.

I've known a few: My father, Philip Miller, Lawrence DeVine, Robert Olen Butler, Arnaud de Baillencourt, My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and my dear, dear friend, James, who agreed -- after much prodding -- to write today's post.

James is a true gentleman, courteous, honest, direct, kind and sometimes curmudgeon-y, which I think is a charming ingredient in the cocktail.

Gary Cooper*

Here is what James,  Man of the 50s , has to say:

I saw recently that two new shows will premier soon. They are similarly named "Last Man Standing" and "Man Up". "Man up" seems to be a popular catch phrase these days, though I find it a little ironic when a woman says it to another woman. 

Once I was involved in a high school prank. Details aren't necessary to this story,let us just say it was stupid. My father was deployed and I was turned over to the father of fellow prankster and my best friend for punishment. Major Wassel stared at us with his steely eyed glare (I often wondered if he practiced in front of a mirror) and told us, "It's time to saddle up and become gentlemen." Note not just men, but gentlemen.

So the age old question: What is a gentleman? Is it the way you look? I try to avoid generalities. They lead to stereotypes, and that leads to prejudices. Having said that, I generally follow the "if it looks like a duck,walks like a duck and quacks likes a duck, it's probably a duck". Now I've known men in three piece suits with gold watch chains who acted like the south end of a north bound horse. And before you blow a gasket, I know your cousin Killer, who dresses like a Mongolian war lord, is the finest gentleman you know. I think I met him at a biker bar outside of Dayton Ohio once. So, while most gentlemen I know tend to dress the part, that ain't it.

Cary Grant*
Good manners you say? OK it is a part to be sure. However most of the biggest phonies I know have had perfect manners. It's hard to be sure, but does it seem natural? Kinda like Cary Grant ya know. In a word: sincere. That is a huge part of being a gentleman. All the practiced charm means nothing if you have to force it. In my humble opinion the true test is if when he walks away you're thinking "that was nice" he was a gentleman. 

But as I always say, what do I know?

***Stewart, Cooper and Grant were reputedly bona fide gentlemen, on and off screen. By all means, if you can think of a contemporary who meets the high standard definition of gentleman, please share. Perhaps you can only site the men you know and not a "famous" name.


The Suburban Minimalist blog said...

My husband - though far from perfect, because aren't we all - is a true gentleman. While replete with all sorts of quirks and idiosyncrasies that are by turns endearing and annoying, he's unfailingly polite and always sincere. It makes him seem kind of archaic in some of our less-polished circles, but I really appreciate his gentlemanly ways.

He's humble and kind and can change a car's oil as readily as hold a squirming toddler.

I feel lucky that our two boys have him as an example, and how nice to know that good - dare I say old-fashioned - guys are again all the rage. Much as your James and his Major Wassel.

Thank you for this great post!

(I am in love with your blog.)

Karena said...

Tish my late husband was a true gent! He has been gone awhile now; and let me tell you replacing him has not been easy!

I think because I am a modern/renaissance woman I want a partner with many of the same interests and traits of a mannerly man!

Love and Hugs,

Art by Karena

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I love this post. As a high school teacher, I see so few young men being raised as gentlemen and the affects of media are devastating. Media not only discounts gentlemen, it degrades women and gives young men an unhealthy viewpoint. I agree that it has little to do with outside apperances and more to do with heart.

déjà pseu said...

Great post, James. I'm am very fortunate to be married to a gentleman. Or as we say, "a mensch." It's a shame that being a gentleman no longer seems to be a societal ideal. I think we're all the poorer for it.

the golddigger said...

I knew a gentleman. Dr J, my mother's gentleman caller until his death last year (how we miss him) was gracious and kind and considerate. He was a lovely, lovely man.

I was worried about how the interactions would go between my family and my husband's not very nice, usually drunk parents at our wedding, but Dr J took over my husband's dad and kept him amused and calm, despite the polar differences in their life philosophies. I was worried my husband's dad would insult Dr J - husband's dad thinks anyone who does not share his beliefs is an idiot and doesn't mind vocalizing - but Dr J didn't react. I was quite happy not to have a drunken rage at our wedding supper and I attribute much of that to Dr J, who took one for the team.

Another Dr J story: he was in Milwaukee and took my husband and me out to dinner. He asked my husband to drive Dr J's car because Dr J didn't know where we were going. We accidentally scratched the door of his brand-new Cadillac. Dr J just tossed it off, telling us he would have the dealer touch it up when he got home. He wouldn't even consider letting us pay for the work, although we tried to insist. "It's just a car," he said. Not because he was blase about what he had - he lived very modestly, except for his car, but because people are more important than things.

As far as email vs handwritten notes: I have resigned myself to accepting that an email thank you note is better than nothing, but I was appalled when I called the funeral home to ask if they would forward my handwritten note to a friend whose 42 year old husband died unexpectedly. (I didn't have her address because who has physical addresses these days?)

The man at the funeral home told me I could just put a note on their website and they would print it out for my friend. "REALLY?" I said. "You don't think this is an occasion that merits a handwritten note?"

This - from a funeral director. Honestly.

Class factotum said...

And my husband is a gentleman, as well. I don't care that he doesn't bring me flowers any more. A man who will go to Wal-mart at midnight to get a new battery for my car (and then install it immediately) is worth his weight in gold. This is the man who when I mention something that is making me uncomfortable - the reading light in the bedroom, my feet being cold - addresses the situation immediately. He bought a new lamp, he bought me a little foot warmer thing.

He cares about my comfort.

He is also very nice to his mother and to my mother, even though his mother doesn't deserve it. :)

The Clever Pup said...

I'll add to the lists of husbands. Mine stands when a lady comes to the table. Most poor women probably don't know what he's doing. (Inspector Murdoch doesn't even do that) He tries to remember everyone's name. He sends thank you notes and is always the last to enter a bus or subway car.

labergerebasque said...

My Sheepfarmer is a gentleman. His quiet, humble confidence shines from within. He is the epitome of elegance and grace.

Wally B said...

That's a hard one. Sadly, I don't meet many aspiring gentlemen from our youngsters here in the States. Thinking about someone else before yourself is definitely on the decline

hopflower said...

Good manners, compassion, and money have nothing to do with one another. Why are you surprised?

There are not many gentlemen left today. But my husband is one.

Villette said...

Pictures of James Stewart, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, all in one post. Sigh.....

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I say bring back those classic gents!
Good manners, intelligent conversationalists, smart clothes and a rapier wit are tops in my book.

Luckily for me my husband has many of these charms and still opens doors for me. He's a keeper...and we are into our 38th year of marriage.

Gretchen said...

Ooh! Let me reassure folks that there are some gentlemen In the younger age brackets, too. My daughters go to school with some truly wonderful boys, especially the Floyd brothers. Nice to see in 14 and 16 year olds, I think the tirds stand out more than the really good kids by virtue of their being so bad...a solid number of the kids are honestly gentlemen in younger packages. It's terrific to interact with them.

James said...

Thank you for the forum and for the kind words. It is wonderful to see that so many of you listed their husbands. Bless them and bless you all for realizing what you have.

SewingLibrarian said...

My husband is a true gentlemen, albeit a quiet one. My mother noted that right away when she met him. And I must say that many of the boys at my children's school are very well-behaved and have good manners. I noticed that because I don't see as many well-behaved children out in the world at large.

Catherine Robinson said...

Great post Tish...I agree they are few and far between...my husband certainly is he just gets better and better...I'm one lucky lady.
Have a wonderful week.

CJ said...

Great post - Thank you James (and Tish). When I first met my husband, he was a chivalrous fifteen and I was totally smitten. We've been together 38 years and to this day he will never go through a door before me, stands when I enter a room and always walks on the outside when we are together in town. He is considerate, self-effacing, humble and kind and goes out of his way to assist "widows and orphans", those single parent families that occur so often. Add to that mix, charm and a rapier wit...Oh and did I mention capable...and very easy on the eyes.

Jill Ann said...

I had a related conversation last night with my 16 year old daughter. She was complaining about a series of posts on her Facebook, from guys claiming that girls like the bad boys and the nice guys finish last. Wow, where have I heard that before? The more things change, etc...Daughter opined that she and most of her girlfriends prefer the nice guys, and that most of her guy friends are also nice guys. Which I believe is true, since she talks a lot about what goes on among her acquaintances. But while her friends (thankfully) are a pretty good group, it is horrifying to me what kind of behavior goes on....both girls & guys, especially the girls with an uttter lack of self-respect, IMO.

Young at Heart said...

gentleman?? I wish..........

kathy peck said...

From experience, I would say that a "polished veneer" is not necessarily the real deal.
Happily for me, like many women here, my husband has both.

Rubi said...

Effortless is a big part of being a gentleman, I think. I have the great good fortune to have a number of gentlemen in my circle -- and of my own age (though my dad, step-dad, and grand-dads are all on the list!). I had lunch with one today, in fact! And next week I'll be the guest of another for a visit to London.

As for famous ones, it appears that Hugh Grant is much more of a gentleman than the roué he tends to play. His recent testimony at the NoW phone hacking inquiry is evidence of the same.

Ann Marie said...

I am grateful for my boyfriend who is also a true gentleman. He is such a humble and kind man who treats me like a queen every moment we are together. He surprises me with flowers, opens the car door and is a wonderful listener. My list of his special qualities seems to be endless.

I am reminded everyday just how bleesed I am to be a part of his life.

Anonymous said...

I witnessed the true making of gentlemen this past week. Sadly, one of a group of ten college age men, who were sharing a house, died unexpectedly. The remaining residents, my son included, cared for each other and the other friends and responded with true compassion for the family. While at the funeral, I had expressed to another parent that "the boys" had made me proud during the crisis, and the father corrected me with, "They are young men now". I knew during the services and wakes that these young men would comport themselves like gentlemen with no prompting--they truly behaved with character and class.


Suburban Princess said...

I have wondered about this before too. James was kind enough to provide some male perspective on my post about where all the gentlemen are... http://thelifeofasuburbanprincess.blogspot.com/2011/07/where-are-all-gentlemen.html

BigLittleWolf said...

What a fabulous post! Lovely to have you sharing your viewpoint with us, James (merci, Tish).

I am still of the opinion that a few truly fine gentlemen exist. But it also takes a good (and perspicacious) woman to recognize one!

And it doesn't require a certain physical stature or wallet of excessive dimension. It has everything to do with values and character, humor and perspective.

A contemporary? (I'm searching, I'm searching... ) May I say that the true gentleman sitting next to me on the couch - un français "d'un certain age - fits the bill in every respect?

Que j'ai de la chance...

Carol said...

Thank you James for your very accurate description of the qualities a true gentleman displays.

It is innate l'm sure, an inner sense of honesty, integrity and charm !

It is so lovely to see so many here nominating their husbands as true gentlemen.

That's Not My Age said...

Thank you James, excellent post. Love your Cousin Killer comment!

Mr That's Not My Age is a proper gent.

Lost in Provence said...

I had a witty little response all thought up in my head but reading these comments has silenced it. I found them very touching and made my heart pitter-pat.

Thank you James for your insight and to Tish for being such an excellent host.

Lou said...

I always imagine Pierce Brosnan is a gent. I've never heard any untoward stories of him and he is rather dashing. His first wife died and he remarried - happily I hope.

I've popped over from James' - nice to meet you.


Anonymous said...

AS an Aussie, I vote for Hugh Jackman.

Julienne said...

I need to say, as others have, that my beautiful Top was a born gentleman of the old breed. Perhaps because he grew up in that age when women were treated with respect and manners were paramount. A hard man on the surface, he was marshmallow on the inside and there was never another human being alive who was better or worse than him, only those who had more advantages.
I am also guessing James that you too are a real gentleman!
Lovely guest post Tish xx

Taradharma said...

great post!

My father is a true gentleman. He dresses well, always, but not over the top. He takes pride in his appearance, but is not conceited. He doesn't use curse words, in general, and he has manners that would impress the Queen.

He has also been my mother's sole caregiver over the last decade as they have lived with her Parkinson's disease. He is head chef, an executive shopper, keeper of all things domestic. And he does this happily, mostly, because it keeps his beloved wife with him for just a little more time.

On the Hollywood front, I've always thought of George Clooney as a gent. Dapper and friendly, sincere and discreet. Handsome as all get out.

JMW said...

Well said, James. You have hit every point correctly, with sincerity being the most important one. I am thankful that I married a true gent myself. :)

helen tilston said...

Thank you Tish and James for an excellent topic.

From my perspective, a gentleman learns firstly at home, then at school. Basic manners, such as removing a hat or cap when dining, eating properly. Holding doors, being considerate of others. Personal hygiene. Dressing appropriately and as a genetleman once told me, "dress out of respect for all you are going to meet today" not for yourself.
I feel as women we must also command respect (not demand). It is a two way street.
Recently at a graduation at Yale, I was flattered by the manners of the students at New Haven, I had many doors held open for me and young men stepping off the footpath to the street to all me to pass. Manners must be part of the curriculum
Great post
Helen xx

Anonymous said...

I love my husband very much and he's a great person, but I wouldn't call him a gentleman. I do all the social 'work' i.e. remembering birthdays, organising social get-togethers etc. He doesn't care much about dressing well i.e. ragged jean hems, scuffed shoes. He is a very caring person, but doesn't show conspicious good manners.

I don't know what he's like in real life, but I think George Clooney seems very debonair. Matt Damon also seems quite genuine and intelligent.


quintessence said...

It does seem a rare breed these days! And I agree with James sincerity is key!! You've shown all my classic favorites - I think Cary Grant was about as good as it gets from where I sit

Sundresses and Smiles said...

You nailed--sure many people can put on the charm with nice manners and good style, but sincerity in those actions is what distinguishes a man as a true gentleman. Great guest post James!

Donna said...

I think it is linked to classiness too...what makes one classy? Is it the way he dresses, or the way he behaves? I think it all has everything to do with kindness and attitude.
Great post!!!

'Cross the Pond said...

Wonderful post - but then again, it's what you come to expect from James. My great uncle Dennis from Philadelphia was also a true gentleman. After his death we were astonished by the outpouring of generosity he had bestowed on practical strangers, from lowering rents, to free legal advice, pro-bono work and 'loans' that he never demanded payment. We knew he was a wonderful, kind, polite, thoughtful man, we just had no idea of the extent of it. I married a man with a generous heart, a kind soul and a twinkle in his eye. Every woman should be so lucky.

Barbara said...

Great guest post, James. And so true. Sadly, the era of good manners is over for the most part. I am old enough to be appalled.

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Karena said...

PS I adore James and his blog!! He is indeed a gentleman in every way, as is Toad, and Reggie Darling, Stefan from Architect Design, David from Savoir Faire, etc......


Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

Good behavior and gentlemanly conduct should always be celebrated. You have done so marvelously, thank you. Now, where have the Audrey Hepburns of the world gone? Ah well, back to re-reading George S. W. Trow.

Alfred Kralick

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Being a gentleman I would think would be just like breathing. Not giving it a lot of thought, but just doing, saying, acting in the right way; like you stated James, with sincerity, and in a genuine fashion. I do believe that raising sons to be a 'gentleman' is hard work, (just like raising young ladies), something many parents today don't have the time to devote to. Gentleman now are a rare breed, and I very much love the fact you don't blame the lack of on feminism Tish. I was very fortunate to find a gentleman in my second husband. He's honourable, kind, and trustworthy. I learned from my first mistake (marriage) to not chose anyone else again that was not all of those and more. Great..great post as always written by James. He is truly the epitome of a 50's gentleman.

Happy holidays to you both and a joyous New Year.

Deb x

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