In the days of my youth, the boys of summer and winter never cried.
Both the the fair-haired and the dark-haired Chris in my neighborhood got the belt from their fathers, but never shed a tear. One day the younger Chris came to school late and was so badly beaten that he bracketed sharply into my old rickety school desk to keep from falling. But still, when the three o’clock bell rang dustily, he called out to his bronzed-boyhood friends, “See you at the ballpark guys, and don’t be late,” as he stumbled over to his bicycle with a sideways grin.
There was Mike the Machinist. We used to call him that as teenagers because he could make a go-cart that rivaled any cranky ol’ Dodge Dart on the streets where we lived.
Mike was forced to drop out of school and sell pot to support his family after his father was raggedy, ravaged-torn and drug-addicted after serving in Vietnam . . . but he never talked about it.
We just knew about it.
Boys and men suffer a great deal; a topic widely unspoken and unpopular in Western thought and in the naked psyche of our culture.
Men are abused, battered, beaten, raped, tortured, murdered, sold into sexual slavery, soldiered-up and often treated as less importantthan even the animals they traditionally hunt down and kill for their families.
The closest I ever came to seeing a male cry was when a wistful, bare-shouldered boy-man said, “I love you,” after which I had no answer.
Just about 14, Sean was popular, tan and Godded sandy-haired from long days of surfing and reckoning along the sun-drenched beaches of California. His eyes welled up like an overflowing well, but no tears came forth.Instead, he just held my hand and put an orange flower in my hair as we jaunted up the old jagged-edged hill from his favorite drifted ocean hideaway.
Together, we never went there again.
Sean once told me, “My dad hurts me bad you know, and he says I deserve it ’cause I ruined his every chance to be a young man.”
“Don’t know much about being a man yet,” Sean said softly, as he carved a cross in the sand with an old lighter, “but I know I’ll never hurt my kids, least not in that way.”
When he told his mother about being molested, she did not believe him. I told him that I believed him, and I suppose that is he why he loved me, so many salted, summery moons ago.
Then there was Stevie. He was the kind of kid we were all scared of, but liked just the same. Over six feet tall with arms a lookin’ like guns, he used to joke around a lot about his grandfather who drank too much and liked to hit him over the head with broken whiskey bottles.
“Look at this one,” Stevie would say as he pointed to a new gash over his eye, all blood-dried and rippled on his taut white skin. “Told Gramps that one day I’m gonna kill him, yes Sir.”
The elder men who abuse these boys suffer too, as they come from and live in very dark places within and without. They relive and continuously self-therapize their own abuse each time they inflict pain on youngins’… just the kind they endured as younger men, so many distant, black and whited years before.
There was an older man called Pal Al who used to drink night and day near a bus stop at the edge of town. He was crippled with a face that was eternally sunburnt, cracked, and spent much like all the years he lost and desperately wanted to get back.
One day I overheard him mumbling about how he accidentally killed a woman and her kid during World War II.
“Screw it,” said Pal Al, after which he asked for a buck.
“Screw them all, at least I’m still here,” he yelled, as he hit himself on the arm with an old nasty pipe.
Everyone knows about boys and men who somehow withstand pain and death-defying experiences. But for so many uncounted, seasoned-hidden reasons, they never dare to speak up, look for consolation, or ask for help.
One only needs to look at the horrific stories of ‘a multitude of boys’ who have been molested and spiritually sodomized by clergymen, laymen, teachers and coaches in recent years. What these stories have in common, besides the element of brazen brutality, is that they took decades to come to the light and the plight that is evidently now part of a man’s world.
Because boys are told from an early age to buckle up, man-up and that “nothing is too difficult” for a real man to face.
Every family has their untold and unspoken stories about the unspeakable horrors inflicted upon the boys and the men they know, but the subject about what males endure is not a popular one, and one that makes us feel uncomfortable, weak, vulnerable and unsafe. After all, boys as young as five in many countries are heavily doped up and strapped with machine guns and forced to kill other boys, men, women and children for reasons they cannot possibly understand and never will. And in this country, boys of the same age are ridiculed, called gay, labeled as “special needs,” loaded up withprescription drugsandeven bullied to death if they appear emotional, empathetic or have feelings that are considered to be female-like.
But boys don’t cry, we all know that.
And if they do, we muffle their tears and wipe them swiftly with discontentment, riddle them with psychotropic drugs and shame them with unbridled fury, shifty-eyed disappointment and all-out abandonment.
The book Iron John by Robert Bly ventured to explore the topic of men and their needs.
What a concept.
In this prolific work , he explored an allegorical interpretation of a German fairy tale called Iron Hans, wherein a prince wanders into a wild forest led by an unusual telepathic man. This man proceeds to induct and initiate him into manhood through a series of rituals, lessons, and masculine-traited rites of intellectual and ideologic passage.
Bly postulated how many modern boys and men lack much of the male solidified relationships of yesteryear through generational bonds that used to secure males to each other, and that would in turn help to secure the families and communities where they live, breed and prosper.
With so many fatherless boys today, this is a problem that will not be remedied any time soon.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of more than 24 million children in America, one out of three, now grows up in homes where no father is ever present. And while most single mothers attempt to do their best, God bless them, it’s just not cutting it when it comes to raising a lot of boys into healthy and productive men. Real data reveals that boys in father-absent homes are nearly four times more likely to be poor; 39 percent will become incarcerated, and the absence of a father in the home increases a child’s chance of becoming physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
Haven’t hard enough?
Sixty-three percent of youth suicides, 85 percent of behavioral disorders, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions are raised in homes without fathers.
“And those boys whose fathers are absent from the household have double the odds of being incarcerated, even when other factors such as race, income, parent education and urban residence were held constant.”
Because when they don’t, bad things happen all around. And soon enough, we’re not going to have enough wars, prisons or alleyways to house these grown men who were rabidly robbed of their fathers.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young males ages 15 to 24, and the rates are also on the rise for adult men in this country.
According to the CDC, suicide is on the rise for men due to a wide variety of depressing reasons that are growing exponentially worse without barely a whiff of evidentiary action or empathy.
“What the hell is going on, I don’t know, I don’t know,” cried one man in rehab facility, after he nearly fatally overdosed on a cocktail of pills and alcohol.
Ed lost his job two years ago and began drinking heavily afterward. He’s been drinking ever since and doesn’t know where his girlfriend or two kids are.
“I had it all man, I did,” he yelled, as he grabbed a chunk of hair clear out of his scalp. “Don’t know anymore, don’t know anything.”
That’s all he said as he paced around in a circle, followed by laying down on a cold cement chiseled floor.
If you don’t care at all about how the male population is faring even as a general testament, too squeamish or cowardly about facing raw seared-reality, or would rather turn on the television . . . then you appear to be in quite popular company.
Historically, no seeming new ideology, philosophy, psychological rendering or political idea is assumed as valid, if not outright ridiculed and attacked for being perverse and a threat to every social fiber and moral sensitivity.
This is no different.
We don’t want to think about the sufferings of the male culture because we need to think they are strong, always. We need males to be powerful, virile and be ready to single-handedly blow up a building, shoot a terrorist, save Wall Street, support families, balance the budget, fight wars and by all means never, ever be vulnerable or emotional.
After all, if we allow their stories to be told in a truly serious, even matter-of-fact manner without apologies, we might be reminded that they are human beings.
I have three uncles who are World War II veterans; all of whom were wounded, all of them heroes, but not one of them who has ever boasted or complained about what they accomplished in order to deserve and receive numerous medals including Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars.
These man also endured a severe brand of racism, bigotry, economic and political discrimination as they were Japanese-American soldiers who enlisted as volunteer soldiers in the 442nd Infantry after the savaged attack on Pearl Harbor. But today they remain strong, stoic, humble and god-fearing.
“There’s no need to talk about those days,” said one uncle who just turned 90.
“I am a rebel, and now I rebel not to talk about what happened. I didn’t need to prove I was an American, but I fought for my country because my country needed me to.”
After the war, these men like so many who have served, came home to nearly nothing and yet managed to rebuild their lives, their families and their communities while they struggled and waged new wars on the home front, among them economic.
But it is a different world for men today.
Along with hard economic times wherein many veterans feel “less than” as they cannot afford to support their families or themselves, males are feeling so desperately lost and hopeless that they are killing themselves after they return home from war.
According to General Raymond Odierno, the Army’s Chief of Staff, “Today, suicide is the most frequent cause of death among army forces, surpassing combat deaths and motor vehicle accidents.”
July of 2012 was the worst month on record since the Army began tracking suicide rates. According to the Pentagon, 38 soldiers took their own lives.
It is reported that veterans and non-military men who successfully commit suicide are reported as feeling unsuccessful and emasculated by a world they feel no longer values them.
And they are right much of the time.
In recent years, it is reported than men in the U.S. are experiencing a great deal of stress insofar as achieving educational and career goals, and hard statistics show they are now less successful than women in the academic arena.
Men have historically, traditionally and still view and realize their success through the unaltered lens of being able to support themselves and their families.
And while it is a politically incorrect subject to talk about, men who do not succeed at the economic and professional level suggested by society are considered failures.
All men feel this, and all men know this.
The women’s movement earned a woman the just and hard-earned rights and yearnings to make autonomous choices about her own body and family life, as well as become more than just a stay-at-home mother without pay.
We were also allowed to venture into the world of men with all of the stresses that come with being professional bread-winners. But somehow along the way, more men started to fall behind and face a reality of anguish felt on a myriad of social, political and economic fronts.
Mental health experts also say that male depression is sometimes brought on and intensified by the fact that adolescence has been prolonged, with adulthood and independence reached at a much later age than previously thought.
Two generations ago, work began at the age of 14 and just one generation ago, work began at 16 years for most. But today, most young men do not achieve financial independence until their mid-20s, if even then.
This real need to be further reliant and supported leads, say psychologists, to a general feeling of low self-worth, malaise, dependence upon other males they are unable to lean on for support, and an youth-endowed emasculation.
On an entirely different note, many men suffer at the hands of women.
It’s true . . . not only women are beaten down emotionally, spiritually and even physically by their partners.
One of the things I hear most from men is that they feel unvalued and unheard by the women in their lives, beginning in infancy from their own mothers, and yet the biggest complaint that I hear from women is that “men do not communicate well.”
The response by many men is that they have either “given up” talking because “what they say does not matter,” or because they never learned how to communicate their feelings in the first place.
One girlfriend of mine, I may soon lose, has a memorized response to her husband. “You’re all the same,” she says, as she shoos him away. “You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman, so your opinion isn’t wanted here.”
I suspect that after 15 straight years of hearing this, he has gotten the point to both shut up and shut down.
There is nothing that men fear more than the feeling of rage and discontent from a woman. From the moment they look up at their mothers, they want to be loved and forever suckle on the mother love, and understandably so. At the same time, they want to protect their mothers, the women in their lives and “be the man of the family.”
They also know that if they share their intimate feelings, they risk being called sissies, fags, homos, girls and worse, looked at with disappointment and disdain—risking respect, admiration and homage.
I knew a boy whose father used to beat him “for his own good” because he didn’t fight back at the bullies who had already beat him up on the playground on a regular basis.
He committed suicide at 21.
Being gay didn’t help matters either as he was raised in a hyper-religious orthodox family who saw homosexuality as a sin that called for vengeance and humiliation.
Zachary told his boyfriend in a suicide letter:
I just want to be loved for who I am.
That is all.
I know how to love my family, and I know how to love you.
But I cannot make everyone or even anyone happy anymore, and the pain that I feel can no longer be calmed by alcohol, money or even you.
The reality of my suffering is too great and the days are too long, and for so many long years now that I cannot possibly string together all of the dark calendars in my mind.
Please forgive my leaving you to fend for yourself on this cruel earth.
I only hope that it will treat you with a kinder heart and hand than I was dealt.
And just know that I understand what you feel, what moves you and what moves me.
Until we meet again, I shall love you like no other man.
Your best friend,
His pain is the pain of many men; be they gay or straight, black or white, religious or agnostic, political or apathetic, young or old, crippled or walking, ill or well, married or single, poor or rich, and living or dead.
As the election waxes and wanes its heavy-laden politic on our every waking and dreamt moment, I shall remember that it is because of my grandfathers that allows me to sit and write this sentimental soliloquy.
From entirely different cultures and shore-bound grounded homes, they forged without failure the life that I am privy to both suffer and enjoy at each waking moment.
While one grandfather grew up homeless in a lean-to without a father or an education, another grandfather was placed in a boy’s home after being severely abused by his father. Yet, they both forged on, plowed on, worked on, got on, fought on, and lived on with a seemingly fearless bounty of strength, humility and sound solace. Because of their breadth of courage, silent faith of man’s mindful meaning, unspoken acts of sweet-shouldered love and battled-for-comforts, I am here today as I at once both mourn and celebrate their richness at every turn.
I shall leave you with this poem by Thomas Wolfe.
For, Brother, What are We?
We are the sons of our father,
Whose face we have never seen,
We are the sons of our father,
Whose voice we have never heard,
We are the sons of our father,
To whom we have cried for strength and comfort
In our agony,
We are the sons of our father,
Whose life like ours
Was lived in solitude and in the wilderness,
We are the sons of our father,
To whom only can we speak out
To strange, dark burden of our heart and spirit,
We are the sons of our father,
And we shall follow the print of his footprint forever.
Ed: Brianna B.