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by Evan Pritchard

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"What's a man now? What's a man mean? ...
We think it's getting better but nobody's really sure"

from "Real Men" by Joe Jackson

Men in North America are looking around trying to find themselves. Specifically, men are trying to find their manhood. This has given rise to the men's movement, as well as the run on Viagra. But manhood is an abstract concept, so it's hard to know what it means or even think about. A better way to go would be to seek out a man who exemplifies manhood. A man who knows what it is to be a man. A man like Frank Sinatra.

Before reading this book, I thought that Frank Sinatra was just about the last man to choose as a role model. As I never met Sinatra, my thoughts about him were based on the protrayal of Sinatra in the media, and that protrayal is decidely mixed. On one hand, there is the singer. A man with a voice like no other. A voice that charmed millions. The voice of liquid gold. On the other hand, however, there was a guy who was, well, a troublemaker. Someone who was not a criminal but who was certainly alleged to have criminal associations. A guy who, if I met him, I am confident I would not like.

Why did I pick up this book then, a book about someone I dislike? First, there is the title: The Way You Wear Your Hat. What a lovely little phrase (and lyric, of course). Moreover, consider part of the subtitle: The Lost Art of Livin'. As one of those North American men, who is looking around for his manhood but has not sunk so low as to sit naked in the woods beating on a drum (or anything else) with a bunch of other men, I could use some advice. Finally, I've liked what Bill Zehme, the author, has written for Esquire, so I took a chance on the book. I'm happy I did.

Zehme's premise is that Sinatra had once stated that his "real ambition" was "to pass on to others what I know." Zehme did not think that Sinatra had done this, so Zehme wrote to Sinatra offering to help him achieve this purpose. Sinatra agreed. Rather than interviewing him, Zehme wrote questions for Sinatra to answer when the spirit moved him. In addition, Zehme was encouraged to speak with Sinatra's friends, colleagues, and family, and, perhaps most interestingly, he scanned hours and hours of tapes from Sinatra's concerts, as Sinatra was often very candid during performances.

The result is a description of a lifestyle, that is, the principles that Sinatra used for living life are described, with ample examples. These are divided into sections, including friends ("Pallies"), women ("Broads"), family ("Love & Marriage"), and life in general ("My Way"). The portrait that emerges is not one of an impervious, unfeeling rock of a person. Rather, it's a portrait of a guy. Someone who has done good things and bad things. Someone who has lived a life, and learned some things along the way. In short, a human being, which after all is what Frank Sinatra was.

A human being just like the rest of us. Only more so. Sinatra lived large. He suggested the key to living large was to "just keep moving." Also, "live each day like it may be the final day." This attitude is likely why others had the impression of Sinatra as an intense person, since intensity results from being focused on what one is doing right now, be it singing, listening to your kids, or wooing someone.

No tooting your own horn. Sinatra loved to sing, loved it more than anything else, even Jack Daniels. But he would not sing his own praises. For example, he did not like "My Way," although it is the song most often associated with Sinatra the singer. Sinatra hated it, in fact, finding it too self-indulgent and pompous. Sinatra was not that. He was not flamboyant. Elegant, yes. Flamboyant, no. The message is: Don't go over the top.

Family is of utmost importance. When away from home, Sinatra was in touch almost every day. It makes me wonder how he found the time to do so. But, hey, if it's important, you do it. Sinatra respected his children and what they wanted to do. The most important message to give them is to "be true to yourself."

In sum, The Way You Wear Your Hat describes a lifestyle that produces a principled, generous, humble person. A person like Frank Sinatra. And if I met such a person, I think that I would like him.

Oh, and one more thing. The other day, I bought a hat.

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