The phrase I most often heard when I grew up was: the brotherhood of man.
This may be a bit sexist in a modern society transformed by women’s liberation and people like Madonna, but at its heart was a noble vision of a new world that included everyone in the grand schemes for a better existence.
Reports from the North End fire house in Secaucus suggest that another kind of brotherhood exist, an exclusive club of men who are less interested in making a better world than preserving the concept of “real” manhood.
According to one city official, this group puts the American flag on the back of their vehicles and paints slogans of solidarity on their trucks, but inside the fire house many live with the dread that they might not meet the standards for being “a real man.”
A small core of angry men leads this group, setting up rules members should follow.
Some of these rules are straight out of high school, such as using an empty Budweiser beer bottle instead of a star at the top of the firehouse Christmas tree each year.
Like most cults, these men rule through fear and intimidation.
So that when someone jokingly put a Snapple bottle there instead, he was nearly lynched, as was another guy who put up an empty light beer bottle.
Although boasting about how they live up to the American dream, this core group cannot tolerate deviation from the traditions they have set up.
Men must be men, and do manly things. They drink hard, fight hard, and of course, make love hard – even when it means importing young underage girls to satisfy their lusts.
This not so secret society is made up of some of the younger firefighters in Secaucus, part of an elite of risk takers and thrill seekers who pride themselves on cutting edge firefighting training, and a group dynamic that makes them appear superior to everyone else, even other firefighters.
The habits of his group began to surface in 2001 when Secaucus sought to close the taps on those firefighters who would drink alcohol and respond to fires, causing a new American revolution among the members of this fire house – who saw their rights being taken by an over zealous government.
They ignored the rules, and because of the power they had as a collective force, the town did not press the matter.
Then, in 2004, some claim this group went too far in confronting the two gay men living next door to the firehouse.
Some of the members of this group began
to question the values of a group that would exude such hatred for the gay men,
and would go so far to attack them – then carry on a campaign of intimidation
beyond Secaucus into
Although bound to silence by his
attorney, one of the three firefighters claimed the facts were skewed. While
some firefighters did bad things that one night, this fire fighter said the
events began and ended that night. There was no two year campaign against the
gays and no one from the department journeyed into
In some cases, the firehouse actually helped the gays, this fire fighter said.
The suit brought against the firefighters was even skewed since these were names drawn largely out of a hat – the result of confused witnesses as to who took part in the attack and who did not. Two of the three sued firefighters – according to this firefighter – were inside the firehouse at the time of the attack.
But critics of the fire department this week claim the core leadership of the brotherhood has always used the same techniques on its own membership to keep them in line.
If someone did something leadership did not like, that someone might find his new car keyed or the tired flattened. If that member still didn’t get the message, he might even find some stronger token around his house, such as in one case a dead chicken in his mailbox. On occasion, some members were even threatened with physical violence.
All this comes as very disturbing time when a similar mentality had a guy go into a church with a gun, shooting people who harbored gays and liberal ideals.
I have grown confused. Is there really a brotherhood of manliness as one public official claims filled with men seeking to find their own manliness, or is this merely a political portrait being painted against the backdrop of a future election?
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle, fear reshaping reality into something plausible but not quite true.
The idea of brotherhood of manliness scares me for another reason.
It says that deep down “real men” are scared about their own manhood, and may be beating up gays and others because they can’t deal with their own inner conflicts. These men need to prove their manhood because somewhere deep inside they suspect they may be attracted to other men and hate that part of themselves. They constantly need to prove their manhood so that the rest of us never suspect the truth.
I don’t think I’ll ever know what is true or not true.
And this scares me most.