I first met my friend Mike during my junior year in high school. I had just switched from a Catholic private school to a public school and a longtime friend introduced me to him. Mike was a quiet and shy guy on the surface and seemed a little mysterious to me. He drove this piece of crap rust-colored car that looked like it was the offspring of a Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin and it had that cheap do-it-yourself purple window tinting. Mike and I quickly became friends and he was one of those “ride or die” guys that would do anything for his close friends. He smoked cigarettes and liked to drink, but he was smart as hell, kind, tough as nails and he always had my back. Mike was the type of guy who if someone looked at us weird or started trouble at a party or in a bar, he would disappear and come back minutes later with a tire iron in his hand ready to split heads. Thankfully, I was adept at de-escalating hostile situations so the actual splitting of heads never happened.
Mike and I were close friends for the last two years of high school and for about five years after that we hung out at least a couple of nights a week. When I was 25, I moved to Long Beach with my girlfriend (now my wife). I hadn’t seen Mike in probably a year and I remember he came down for a visit and stayed overnight. The next morning we were pretty hung over after a night of drinking and took a trip into Belmont Shore to get some breakfast. After grabbing some coffee, Mike went into the drugstore and bought a pack of smokes and then we stopped into this local bakery for some breakfast. Mike wanted to smoke and eat at the same time so he grabbed his bag of pastries and went outside and sat on the curb right on the main street. As I walked out of the bakery and towards Mike I stopped and just stared at him for a few seconds. Here is this tough guy in jeans and a black leather jacket sitting on the curb with a cigarette in one hand and this enormous pink donut with rainbow sprinkles is his other hand! I immediately thought to myself, this is one of the toughest guys I know and he is sitting on the curb in Belmont Shore (which for added context is a beautiful and thriving LGBT community) and he is eating this giant pink donut with sprinkles and doesn’t give a damn about how he looks or what anyone thinks of him. I teased him about it for a minute and he just shrugged and smiled and continued taking hits from his cigarette and bites of his donut. Mike was the best man at my wedding in 1998, but shortly thereafter we fell out of touch after he got married and moved to Australia.
This story about Mike and the pink donut may seem insignificant, but that’s the point. The fact that back then I actually equated eating a pink donut with sprinkles to being a sign of weakness or "not manly" is completely absurd and something I am not proud to admit. As young men in our mid-20s, trying to look cool and be tough was a priority. We worked out and lifted weights just to be strong and muscular so we could walk around with our chests puffed out like roosters looking for respect and trying to impress women. Every word we spoke or move we made was calculated and executed for maximum man-points. I know a little about biology and human development and understand that nature and hormones play a major role in this type of alpha-male behavior at that age, but so does the masculine programming and messaging about “how to be a man” that we received as young boys, teenagers and young men from society and our parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, peers and friends. Regrettably, I am guilty of sending these types of damaging messages to my own sons too. The unfortunate reality is that this masculine programming is so deeply ingrained into our subconscious at an early age that even as mature adult men our actions and words are still constantly calculated and executed according to this masculine blueprint - and we don't even realize it. And yes, even for something as insignificant as what we choose to eat.
I don’t think the word ‘vulnerability’ was part of my vocabulary at age 25, but Mike eating a pink donut with sprinkles was him being vulnerable, but at the same time confident enough not to care. For some reason this impacted me and since that day being vulnerable but confident was something I worked towards in my own life because it just seemed cool when I saw Mike do it. Nowadays, that might just be me confidently taking off my shirt at the community pool to show off my dad-bod, but you get the point, and I digress.
So here is my challenge to all of you men. The next time you find yourself at a donut shop with your buddies after a night of drinking or with your girlfriend, wife or kids on the weekend, or at work grabbing a donut for an early morning business meeting with your team of direct reports, proudly choose the pink donut with rainbow sprinkles. Sit down and eat that sweet and delicious fried symbol of vulnerability and feel the immense wave of confidence flood every manly cell in your body. Then with a few sprinkles still clinging to your face, pause and tell the people around you how much you love and appreciate them. Then sit back and see how that makes you feel. Because let's be honest, being vulnerable and confident is cool, just ask Mike. I mean seriously guys, it’s just a donut.
Thanks for the lesson Mike, wherever you are, I love you and appreciate the time we spent together.