Friday, May 30, 2014

Breaking the Boy: The twisting and turning of trying to raise a boy to be a "real man."

Be a man. Be tough. Don't be a pussy. Stop acting like a faggot.

     Those statements sum up my childhood experiences with my father. Before the first grade he dragged me out of his house by my throat for not knowing the difference between 5 and 6.

"You should know that by now, I am tired of you acting like you are stupid. If I see you crying you know what happens next"

     His tutoring sessions where always a "do or die" kind of experience. Although, I never had the testicular fortitude to test what 'next' was. I just learned to "suck that shit up".

     During the summers me and my brother would visit our father in whatever living establishment he had at the time. He had been raised on farm in rural Ohio, a farm boy. He had 4 brothers all of whom had done some service in the military, including him. He prided himself on his work, and was always working. He was, to say the least, a very proud man.

     He was ever so clever and witty in social situations, one of those people who always knew what to say. His wry smile always hanging on his face, reading the social scene in similar way a lion reads the Sahara for its prey. His laugh filled the room, his jokes were always heard, and for the most part men and women alike enjoyed his company. He didn't waste his time lying to people, or protecting their feelings from his harsh tongue. He once called my aunt (his brother's wife at the time) a "man", because she "looked like a man". The guy had no filter to put it less elegantly.

     Then there was the women, he loved his women. They would come like the Macy's parade through the house. Monday through Sunday. All shapes, all sizes. From different walks of life, in different times in their lives. He had this amazing talent of making every girl feel like she was 'the one'. Taking his time, ever so meticulously, to squeeze what he wanted out of them. Be it money, sex, attention, or affection. He was a brilliant "people pimp" in general, but doubly so with women.

     My Dad was without a doubt, a mythical "Alpha male". He was masculine, rough and tumble as they come. I don't think anyone who knew him would dispute that. The thing that every man wants to be.

     Then there was me. I was the 'heir' to put it bluntly. I bore my father's likeness to a T but I kept to myself for the most part. People would find things I do and say "HE'S JUST LIKE YOU DAVE", even though I didn't see it. I don't think he did either. He watched football. I hated football, I liked drawing and reading. I would write when I got a chance, and I really didn't like physical activity that did not include my mind. My grandparents had me reading a dictionary whenever I came over, so I thought writing the big words I learned was "cool". I was a weird kid.

     As far as I knew my Dad was not into any of that. Not to say me being into 'non-manly' things bothered him, but a lot of things did. As a kid, I was not a fighter, I did not like big crowds or loud people, I would sit in a corner and mind my own business. I was a bit of a introvert at school as well. No one picked me to play games with them at recess, I didn't really have any friends, and definitely not a girlfriend. I generally kept to myself. It didn't bother me, I was winning at life as far as I was concerned.

     My father though, took a slight to my less than manly behavior. Claiming that it was "Faggot bullshit my mother and grandmother were teaching me." (For the record, most of the stuff being taught to me was by my Grandmother. Love you always Granny.) Thus the education on how "to be a man" began.

     It would be small things like public shaming, or humiliation when company came over. He wanted to completely eliminate any sense of shame I had. Like intentionally making a mess so I would have to clean it up in front of people. Except, he would repeatably make the same mess over and over again, until he was able to garner a reaction out of me then *SMACK* right across the face. Obviously, *HIS* son crying in front of people was shameful and completely unacceptable. Usually when he knew had done something to make me cry, he would kneel down real low and in a stern, fierce voice say "Don't let me see any tears. Be tough.". He lived for those moments. Where he could show everyone how tough he was making me.

     Then there were large things like the beatings. Some call them "corporal punishment" but my father never used a belt, he always would smack or punch. Punch in the chest, or smack to the face or back of the head. You kinda got the idea about when it was coming. I got caught lying to him once, and he beat the hell out of me for the rest of the day. It was so bad I don't even remember what I lied about, just the fact that every time I came within striking distance he would strike.

     The rampages through my room whenever he actually did catch me crying. He once took the dirt from the vacuum cleaner bag and threw it all over everything in my room because I was crying. He didn't say anything, or yell like he usually would. He just saw me crying, and did the most effective thing he could do to make my day worse I guess.

     Through all the rampages and humiliation it really did not 'change' me. It just made me hate the world. Or maybe I just hated how no one stood up to him, how someone could be so wrong and no one say anything. He wouldn't just ruin my day, but he would routinely do it cynical, childish things to people who he didn't like. Ironically, my Dad prided himself on 'standing up for what you believe in'. He would stand up to people exactly like himself, and be garnered a hero for it. Obviously, it was hypocrisy at its finest, but like I said before, the man knew how to play the social game. He was the only asshole allowed to be an asshole, as he would say. 

     Generally the house rules were what you would expect. No complaining, no lying, no stealing, no crying, no slouching, no 'moping' no talking back, no anything that could be misconstrued as effeminate in any way. On days we didn't have to got to work with him, he would force us into labor around the house, if we had to cut the grass he would lock us out the house till the yard work was done. Me and my brother could be trapped in doing the same task for 8 hours till it is done 'correctly'. I spent six hours doing housework on the fourth of July, because my brother forgot to make his bed.

     One of the most influential lessons I learned with my Dad was one that he never particularly taught me himself. He would have us do mundane task, over, and over again. To only completely destroy the work I had done and have me do it again. He loved it. What I realized as I washed the same dish for the 25th time was that, no matter how hard I worked at something, I was not entitled to anything. I was not entitled to be done with the work I was given, I was not entitled to relax, nothing. It was a very freeing moment for me.

     The last time I saw my father healthy he was on a 57 day streak of only referring to me as a 'faggot' or 'bitch'. Because I was twelve, and you guessed it, he caught me crying. I was just tired. Tired of being treated that way every summer. I just wanted him to be like a normal Dad. I didn't wanna wake up 4 in the morning an go to work. I wanted to go to a baseball game. I didn't wanna have to spend 12 hours cleaning up after his friends. I wanted to just kick it and watch T.V. I just couldn't take it.

     One day, in mild act of defiance, when he called to me "FAGGOT, Get in here!" I didn't respond. He repeated himself and became more and more agitated, so he came over to see what I was doing. I was messing with a remote control car that one of his girlfriends had gotten for me. He knew I loved that thing, he marched over and promptly stomped on it and destroyed it. He stormed up to me and put his nose on my forehead, and asked "Are you deaf, boy?". I said nothing. I knew better to answer his rhetorical questions. Whatever I said, I was going to get beat, but I didn't care.

     My brother, who was not blood related to my father but was just as much of a son ot him as me, chimed in and said "Maybe you should start calling him by his name and he will hear you." Now my brother had earned his ire. My brother was 14 and much bigger than me at the time, so he was much rougher than him. He picked him up by his collar and asked my brother what he had said. My brother kinda smirked, with his feet off the ground said "His name is Bryar, if you called him that I am sure he would have no problem hearing you". He promptly threw my brother through the adjacent wall. A lot of yelling and arguing went on after that incident, but after that point we never had to see him again against our will. Which was not until he became deathly ill, karma is a bitch.

     Obviously, those experience's transform someone. Fortunately, my father was not a sexist. He idolized women to a certain extent, and as far as I know he never hit a women the way he hit me. He simply hated weakness in men, and even more so, in his own blood. For him, the entirety of my childhood was teaching me how to present myself to people in a 'masculine' way. I am sure he would vehemently disagree with you that it was 'masculine' but I feel like thats what it was. "Chin up, chest out" mentality that was drilled into me was nothing but. 

     I became what he wanted through. I am confident, funny, charismatic, self-assured, determined, reliable and consistent, and no one questions my responsibility. Like my father I have a had plenty of positive experiences with women, and in general people love being around me. I workout everyday and for the most part people come to me for all kinds of advice. I have no real sense of 'shame' like he wanted. I have been embarrassed and humiliated to the point where 'shame' does not exist for me anymore. Getting rejected by people, be it sexual advances, or else is nothing to me. Being rejected for me, is like walking through a door.

     In all honestly, the most minding numbing thing for me was the realization that my Father did those things, not because it was in his personality to do so, not because he was naturally a vindictive asshole, but because that is what he legitimately thought he had to do to raise a 'man'. Imagine that, there are more boys out there right now being thrown into the fire like I was. And if they don't receive the direction I was, they will grow up to be what? James Bond? Fuck James Bond.

     What he didn't expect was for me to become an anxious wreck. I have garnered a anxiety disorder that completely flips my confident, self assured persona. Some of the triggers are something as simple as someone telling me they "care" about me, or receiving gifts on holidays. In certain social settings the Jekyll and Hyde in my personality led some people to claim I had a 'bi-polar' disorder. I guess if I gave a shit I would have take the time to explain the contrast in my personality when I'm anxious, but whats the point? Not to leave off the anger. I was angry for so long, I cannot name how many fist fights I got into over god knows what. At some point I just wanted everything to stop.

      I feel you can only keep the 'Alpha male' facade for so long. I wonder what effect it had on my Dad, and how he was able to behave like that for so long. Maybe the alcohol kept him from losing it, but it didn't help me. I fell into an anxious, and depressed wreck after a while. It happens to all of us from what I can tell. One of my good friend in high school has suffered from depression after going through a similar ordeal as child. Once your brain is conditioned to keep people at a distance, it self-destructs because it wants intimacy, but has no clue if it should process it. You assume people are like you, just out to get something. Nothing ever feels like the real thing. 

      Our descension into mental disorders should be troubling considering the suicide rate of me is considered to be 3 times that of women. Yet, there is no one to blame but other men. Women are not teaching us to lock ourselves into emotional insecurity, or lie and say "everything" is fine. Women are not advocating men to be 'tougher' or prove their manhood, its other men. These things are not healthy to a human psyche, and it would be best that we work to stop pushing them on men who want no part in it. 

     I sometimes wish my childhood wasn't smeared with memory after memory of me being engulfed in my fathers insane "are you a real man?" vetting tactics. I feel like people discussing the 'new modern masculinity are playing a dangerous game with young men. The "HE MAN" you see on T.V. is not a real thing. The "James Bond's" of the world are fake. The cold calculating protagonist you see on you evening show, is an actor with a family. We as men need to come to terms with the fact that we are all emotional beings that need to feel other humans. We should raise our kids to learn to build human relationships that you get nothing out of, and find a reason to fall in love with life everyday for no reason. Modern Masculinity is out to kill this in young boys.

     Modern Masculinity wants you to believe you can be "He-Man", that you can be suave "James Bond", and this lie, can turn out to be disastrous. We know this. For every woman who has ever turned down a guy and been called a 'bitch' or a 'slut' as a result. This comes from men who believe they have achieved that "He-Man", "Jack Bauer", "James Bond", Alpha man status. (Notice how all four of those people were fictional characters?). They believe they are 'entitled' to a certain level of treatment, not from just women, but from 'lesser males' as well. I mean, they earned it right? This 'Alpha' mentality that men like my father try to instill in young boys is destructive and counterproductive to society as a whole.

      The image of masculinity our society is giving its young boy's is complete bullshit. Think of the last movie you saw. For the most part the protagonist always 'gets the girl'. Our young men are conditioned to think that, "Hey, this guy saved the earth from an Alien fucking invasion, he's entitled to just a little love and affection right?" Wrong. You are entitled to whatever woman decides to give you. 

     Worse yet, we as men go through hell to achieve the standard these fictional characters have set. I don't want anyone to see me and think that I got to be the way that I am because my life was easy, or enjoyable. Because it wasn't. I have seen, up close and personal how these 'Alpha' males behave, and are made, and it is flat out not healthy. We should focus on having our boys set achievable goals. Not chase the dream of being a fictional movie character. Or some 'pimp' with women hanging off of them. 

     The reality is, being that alpha male, bullshit suave, muscle filled asshole does not even make most men happy. So why set that standard? We should be raising our boys to be good people. Not "real men." 


P.S. Luckily for me I have had some incredibly passionate and compassionate women in my life, like my Granny, and SheWhoWillNotBeNamed, who have taken the time and given me the testicular fortitude to pen something like this. Thanks.

The not so obvious inspiration behind the title. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. I hope it was therapeutic. You turned out to be a good writer, so I guess you being a weird kid was a good thing ;) I am sorry for what your dad did to your family but you are doing a great service by writing this down. I am going to go hug my kids now.