"My Daddy-o's a dude!" bragged my ten-year-old daughter Mina to one of her friends.
Wot? I'm a dad and still a dude? Hey, that's pretty cool, but I thought Quincy Jones was the dude. After all, he did release an album in the '80s called The Dude. But where did my daughter pick this "dude" tag up? From my wife? (Doubtful, she might not have married me if she knew I was a dude.) Probably from the Scooby Doo cartoons we watch together. Or from her older brother and his crazed sidewalk skateboard pals in our 'hood. Or maybe she caught Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski at her friend Lea's house.
In the end it didn't matter, 'cuz I suddenly became obsessed with defining what makes a guy a dude. And more importantly, did I possess any of the dude DNA?
"Hey, dude!" I grimaced, turned, and saw two tanned, healthy young men in their late teens in baggy, neon surf gear fist-punch each other and continue their conversation. I shuddered and continued reading my morning paper in some nondescript restaurant in Venice Beach. I was on the West Coast for my friend's wedding and a little business, away from the comfort and sanity of my family and home in New York City. Five days into my excursion had left me weak for good deli and something other than surfer lingo.
This dude thing had reached critical mass. Dudes everywhere were chasing me. Even on the radio as David Bowie's early '70s anthem, "All the Young Dudes" blasted from my rental car's speakers.
Malibu, Huntington, the Valley, and San Diego -- the entire Pacific Coast was crawling with them. From Sunset Strip to the Santa Monica Pier, I couldn't travel anywhere without hearing that word.
I decided to query my waitress about this dude thing; after all, she'd been talking to the two surfers.
Much to my dismay she said she didn't know much about it, but volunteered that her friend Buddy "probably-definitely qualified as an expert dood."
Buddy!?! Now there was a name I could appreciate. Love to meet the folks that decided that was a proper given name for a dude child. Come on. Nonetheless, if I were going to hack free this albatross clinging around my neck I'd have to confront the enemy, regardless of the consequences.
I assumed that by polling people I'd reach a coherent working definition. And, perhaps in some delusional manner, determine if I fit the criteria for dude-dom.
Over the next couple of weeks I randomly put forth the question -- "What is a dude?" -- to countless folks everywhere. From Los Angeles to Ohio to New York, I left them to ponder.
Once I settled back in New York, I would collect the data and hopefully piece things together. (And keep in mind this was without any government subsidized art program backing me.)
Much to my amazement, as I started to assemble this mythical character I discovered all sorts of shared qualities. And more often that not, these qualities were universals. So much so that the West Coast surfer had more in common with the East Coast Harlem tough guy than either would care to acknowledge.
If you asked the average person on the street to bridge such seemingly opposites, it's doubtful they could find any common bonding material. Yet there existed essential elements that were easily interchangeable between characters as diverse as the Silver Surfer and/or Shaft.
For starters, all dudes emanate a particular sensibility, lifestyle, and attitude. They neither wallow in squalor nor swim in ostentatiousness. And most importantly, they always remain righteously true to themselves first. Moreover, when possible, they seek out the truth, whether commandeering a woman to her full feminine sensuality or shooting the perfect game of billiards with their peers.
I examined my past. Did I encounter any such beings while growing up in Ohio?
Maybe they were the characters we referred to in school as "cool."
If that was the case, I remember one of my classmates in elementary school definitely fit the profile. His name was Jeff Thompson. And come to think of it, he did possess a certain something, although I'd bet our teacher felt he was a troublemaker. But I don't ever recall him actually causing trouble. (He never started any wastepaper basket fires, but he did boast of masturbating at a prepubescent age.) He just seemed bigger than life.
It is possible that dudes, in the purest sense, represent the essence of individuality. They don't copy anyone else. They don't dress like anyone else. They don't sound like anyone else. They exist within all dimensions of popular culture without being too trendy or too stylish. Just look at James Bond and all the leading men he's endured. While the Scotsman Sean Connery remains the quintessential dude among the Bond legacy, Daniel Craig has breathed a much-needed dudeness into the contemporary 007 legacy.
A real dude lives on the cutting edge, taking his life in new directions daily while the rest of us just try to keep up with his predestined course. Again, who else but 007 could single-handedly save the world defeating evil in the catacombs of Rome and, in the next moment, sit with the Queen looking unhassled, relaxed, and fabulous.
A true dude is free of ego and all of the destructive elements associated with it. He would never say, "Hey, baby, look at me, am I not the most dynamic fella you've ever encountered?" He doesn't have to announce his own self-worth. Those around him will usually do it for him.
A real dude doesn't aspire to anything except being at ease with himself. Whether he's feeding ducks in a pond or strolling in a summer rainstorm without an umbrella, nothing is too banal about experiencing the simple side of life.
As stated, he is a guy who embodies many desirable qualities. Many folks view him as dangerous, aloof, coy, cute, clever, charming, tough, handsome, endearing, righteous, free, timeless, spiritual, and true.
He is not necessarily the most handsome or the most spiritual, but rather the perfect blend of all these qualities. He may be a hero to some and provoke envy in others. And this depends on the individual's perception.
Who else but a dude would even attempt surfing a thirty-foot wave and pull it off and ride it all the way to the shore?
He doesn't hide behind his clothes. He's got his own style. Check out any cool urban movie, like Shaft or Superfly, to highlight this point. Do you honestly think that rapper Snoop Dogg would have graced Starsky & Hutch without some serious cuts? Or that Curtis Mayfield would've wasted his time writing the theme song for anything less then a perfect dude-heavy flick like Superfly? Ditto for Isaac Hayes and the very righteous Shaft.
Anything a true dude wears merely adds to his totality, whether he's chillin' in his tattered old button-fly denims at a BBQ during the day or playing baccarat in his tailor-made tux in Monaco at midnight.
A real dude is not without emotion, though many people may be fooled by his leather-tough shell. But once you get beyond his veil of 'tude, you'll find a soft side underneath.
He could be cheering for his favorite baseball team on Saturday and crying over the beauty of his sister's newborn baby on Sunday. Moreover, it's not the silly vibe of Ashton Kutcher in Dude, Where's My Car? It's the cool "abide" of Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brothers' epic dude paean The Big Lebowski.
So there I was, left with a much broader understanding of what a dude was, is, and probably will always be.
Did I possess any of that stuff? Since I've never surfed, this prevented me from drawing any relevance from the beach scene. And I've never been known as a tough street guy, even though as a kid I played two-hand touch football in the street.
Yet, I always felt I could be engaging, even when people feigned interest in my opinion. And most of my closest male friends agreed that all guys were "dudish" from time to time. I guess I could be, too.
Maybe all you needed to do was borrow a little -- "Bond, James Bond" -- from time to time. You know, you've been milling about some boring social function when your gaze meets some femme fatale trapped in some mindless chatter with some oafish chap. You imagine yourself offering her an expensive glass of champagne from a bottle you've hidden in the kitchen from the rest of the party. It's got to be better than the designer drink this affable clown offered her. Now if you only had the balls to approach her, maybe you could fulfill your fantasy.
Nonetheless, my observations lead me to one universal conclusion:
He represents the quintessential man -- a total Utopian state of malehood. Moreover, he is the apex of perfection in man; perfection that no man will ever reach. And he always abides by being truly comfortable with himself in each and every situation in his life.
If Adam was the first dude, does that make Jesus the perfect dude?
Kris Kristofferson thought so and even wrote a very dude-like song about him called "Jesus Was a Capricorn." Besides, who would argue with Kris, as he's still one of coolest older dudes on the planet.
And what about Dads? Can they be dudes, too?
Sure. Just ask my daughter.
As for dudettes? Well, that's another story. Best check with my wife.
Mr. Wright is a content creator and culture curator. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.