A Brief Reflection on Masculinity Over Morning Coffee

Pots of coffee brewing over a campfire.

My grandfather liked Louis L’Amour novels and John Wayne movies. He had a romantic image of the American frontier, and I remember him having a specific fixation on strong cowboy camp coffee. He was certain that these men boiled their coffee into a black tar that they then drank, and would conjure this image almost every time he was served a cup of coffee he deemed too weak.

I thought about this, stood over my French press, of a mind that this might be as close to that cowboy coffee as I’d be willing to get. The day prior, I’d burnt my coffee in the stovetop “rattle” coffeemaker (moka pot). I knew I’d fucked up the moment I saw my brew simmering after tipping open the lid.

Choking the burnt coffee down out of some vague obligation to nobody transported me to my time as a public school teacher. When I had to grapple with issues of masculinity, self-harm, and what makes a good cup of coffee.

Why did my grandfather think that a cup of coffee was only good if you had to suffer through it? It was a sentiment he held so strongly that it warped his understanding of how campfire coffee is made.

I think that by his reckoning, masculinity and suffering were inextricably linked. To the extent that when I came to him after more than a week of in-patient psychiatric care, his only advice was to “be a man”. I’m never going to know if I was wrong to be so miserable during that period in my life. Truthfully I admire the ability of the men around me at that time to carry on suffering in silence.

But damned if I’ll be so masochistic as to make a bad cup of coffee on purpose.