What I want to be when I grow up...
Analogies are undervalued. I don't know too many people who can articulate what it feels like to know you have to step outside and get in fight, and know unequivocally that you're going to lose that fight...that's fear and courage all mashed up together, and it's easier to explain that feeling using that example than any other way. Similarly, how do you explain what an honest, open and vulnerable conversation is to someone without asking them if they've ever had a 2 am talk with their Mom, maybe sitting at the end of her bed in the dark 'cause that's how it should feel. I spent the day today abusing analogies but finding them working. I was hopelessly inarticulate over the course of a number of situations and when I reached down into my bag of tricks all I came up with were analogies. Fine by me as long as they get the job done but it made me think a little. Those timely analogies and those sad situations made me think about how I'll interact with my daughter. I hope it's with some semblance of skill and sensitivity. I hope we find common ground.
One of my conversations, and inevitably one of my analogies, today orbited around fathers and sons and it struck me like a fastball that got away. Why is it still so difficult for fathers and sons to connect? Sure, I know plenty of fathers and sons who are healthy, or so it seems, and I know some that are growing into whatever they'll become, but so many people struggle with that relationship...in both directions, across dozens of cultures, and without discrimination. If you could figure just a piece of that puzzle out you'd be a rich man.
It strikes me that where the problem rests most comfortably is in that gap of communication between men and other men, particularly the ones that they love. I'm sure that there are lessons unlearned, and perhaps even more lessons that need to be unlearned, but mostly there is silence. Men don't talk, and boys especially don't get the chance to speak openly with the men they see and trust to be exactly what that definition implies. I'd venture to say that being a man right here and now on the very edge of the 21st century is something very poorly defined. Eschew all of the traditional criticisms of the role as we know it now, ignore all of the theories that men's roles have changed, as have women's, and accept that they may all indeed have merit...but open yourself up to the notion that perhaps our definition of what a man really is may have never been correct. If so then all of the theories in the world mean nothing. If all we've ever known a man to be defined as is wrong then how might we ever come to any conclusions about what he should be? It's a tough thing to wrap yourself around.
All this conjecture falls from the analogy of that 2 am talk with Mom...I have no "2 am talk" story whose cast enlists anyone other than my mother. I've never had that kind of talk with my father and it's much too late now. I'm almost completely formed, a father myself. Most men I know have no story that reads any different from my own. Of all the advances we've made across the centuries it seems as though fathers and sons should have been able to build some kind of bridge between them. They haven't. Fathers and daughters seem to be a very different story, but fathers and sons...well, no one's forced that issue and analogies are hard to come by.
No one wants to be bad at something, similarly, no one, not any father I know, wants to be that far removed from the love that wrapped themselves and their children up so tightly when everything was brand new. I don't know one that wanted to mess that deal up, but they do. It's the saddest thing I've ever heard, and I hear it every day. I think a lot of it has to do with what we've learned from our own fathers, and some of it certainly has to do with the unique influences that we've experienced all by ourselves over the years, but most of if bows down at the alter of communication and definition. If we don't talk, and we don't know about what or even how to talk then we're doomed to failure...doomed, and the term is nowhere near too dramatic. This is the most important thing we do as a species, and if you're doing it right there's nothing you'll ever accomplish with more obvious value. It should all add up to amazing.
I've spent a lot of time here on this blog pouring over the beautiful merits of motherhood, laying praise at the feet of the women who inhabit our lives, but I've rarely acknowledged the men. I assure you, from this odd vantage point I sit on each and every day, to the one I scaled and peeked out from behind as I grew older, if you're doing this job right -- not fatherhood necessarily, but the odd and intricate task of being a man -- you're doing something special.
I think about it a lot now, about how right now I can be any kind of man I want to be. I want to be the kind that you can cast in 2 am talks. I couldn't imagine aspiring to anything else but a lot of men never manage to be all that they hoped once, maybe when they were young. I don't know why, and all of this pondering started from a silly little analogy in what was a pretty big talk with another man, a sixteen year old man, but a man nonetheless. I hope it meant something to him. It meant enough to me that I wrote this. It sure got me thinking.
I might not know how to best define what it is to be a man but I hope that I'm doing an okay job approximating what I think the job requires me to be. I only know two other men, John and Kevin, who venture to blog their hearts right out into the open. Maybe there's hope yet? There's always the chance, I suppose, to build better men out of the sturdy raw materials we've found ourselves left with after a few centuries or so. I hope so. I know what I want to be when I grow up and it doesn't look like anything I've seen yet.