By the time I was 30, I had a room stuffed with skeletons that would make Blue Beard jealous.
I had made a mistake that I was so ashamed of, I tried to cover it—with more mistakes. With each subsequent mistake, I buried myself deeper. For years I lived with the terror of being found out. My behaviors were not fitting with the idea I had of the man I was supposed to be.
So I pretended.
I was 28 years old—single—and at the top of my physical prime when my soon-to-be-ex told me, “You’d better hurry up, you know. You’re not getting any younger.”
Brimming with all the arrogance of a 28 year old stud with not a clue about, um, anything, I laughed and said, “Look at all the older guys with beautiful women. Men get better with age. Don’t worry about me.”
I think I kinda snorted when I said that.
Then I turned and continued the clumsy swagger—a little boy trying to walk in daddy’s shoes. There are few things more dangerous in this world than a boy in a grown man’s body.
I had all the reason in the world to believe that within a short time, I’d be settled down with a lovely wife and a crop of kids. That’s just what men do.
But year after year, I remained single, childless and still hiding.
When I was 35 I thought I found a loophole.
I met a Queen. A beautiful, dignified woman, far beyond anything I believed I was worthy of. If only she knew who I really was, I thought.
But that would never happen.
I was not up for the level of vulnerability required for that kind of intimacy. On the day we married, 1,000 people filled the church to witness the vows. Most of them were there for her, I told myself. A shit like me could never fill a room.
I suspect that she—like many women who choose incomplete men—married me for my potential. She could see the man I would someday become, but in my heart I knew I didn’t deserve her for all my shameful secrets. Of course, she wanted children. I said, “Let’s wait two years.”
But really, I was just buying time.
Maybe in two more years I’d be able to forgive myself.
Maybe learn to love myself.
This never happened, and nothing will kill a marriage like a game of hide ’n go seek.
I left that marriage after three years. I thought I still had plenty of time.
I went on to do what most men without children do—I threw myself into work, trying to make something of myself. I became a leader in a men’s organization, mentored a lot of young people, looked for outlets for the “father” within.
But without facing my demons, I was like a car stuck in the mud, spinning my wheels and burying things deeper. It was like stepping on a thorn, but instead of extracting it, I drove it further in and after a while it just gets numb. Day after day, year after year, I walked around with a thorn digging into my foot.
For the next 15 years I experienced one false alarm after the other.
I told myself a story about how I didn’t have kids yet because I wanted to be careful.
I told everyone that I just couldn’t find the “right” woman (I found plenty of “right” women but I just wasn’t the “right” man).
I was 42 the first time anyone mentioned the term “Puer Aeternus” to me.
Puer Aeternus—fancy term for “perpetual boy.” I thought it was an interesting concept, but more than sure it wasn’t referring to me.
No way could anyone call me a “perpetual boy.” I mean, I lead men’s retreats. I’m a “man’s man.” Everybody knew that.
I looked at other men my age, men with families, and noted they looked 10 years older.
In the mean time, I could afford to spend all day in the yoga studio. I had weekends to myself. I wrote a lot and made a lot of art. I took in a lot of cats, all of whom loved me like children (don’t argue with me about that. I took a year off to go live in an ashram, and then went to work a few years in the Caribbean.
Even though I watched my brother and sisters raise precious children that I secretly wished were mine, I was out there doing my thing and choosing to be the yoga loving, art-making sadhu.
I was 48 when one day it occurred to me—Holy Shit! I think I’ve chosen a life without children—I actually forgot to have kids.
This Puer Aeternus—this perpetual boy— had me hostage. All the men’s work, surrogate children and bluster and swag couldn’t budge this Peter Pan archetype flitting around my life.
I then realized that there was no way I was ever going to become a “man” until I faced that little f***er in the eye.
So one day I did just that.
The perpetual boy responded, “If you want me to go away, you have to quit hiding. Tell the truth. You have to take that thorn out of your foot, remove the numbness and feel that and own up to your mistakes. Then you have to forgive yourself, because the only way to become a man in this world is to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself the truth about who you are. You must face your shadow, feel your pain, and rise above the story by practicing compassion for all your parts.” Then he laughed and said, “Otherwise, let’s keep this courtship going. I like this game, its a lot of fun.”
I can attest that there is no greater initiatory agent than looking at yourself in the mirror at any age and seeing an eternal child. Nothing will drive a person into a state of non growth better than a set of buried secrets.
The energy it takes to keep secrets buried is powerful. The prana used to create this false self is enough to prevent new life from coming into the world. Harboring secrets is akin to plugging up the pipes. There is no Draino that can compare to pure, unadulterated truth-telling. Courage is an elixir that produces this flower and allows it to grow.
Acknowledging and speaking with my eternal child was therapeutic and helped me to produce 16 pages of repressed memories—memories that I was able to share with a loving guide.
Only then was I free, and in this freedom I realized some things.
When a man comes to a certain age without fathering children, he realizes that if he looks deep with there is a womb sitting right in the center of his chest. The heart—his heart— becomes the locus of gestation for life. That life he created must find expression through his voice, through his hands, through his very being.
True virility derives from integrity.
The courage to be authentic in this world.
We are all destined to give birth to something.
Some give birth to beautiful children. Some plant gardens, write books or make art. Some teach, dance or sing. The point is that a life, in itself, is not the end result. Life is a husk that carries within it the seed of something greater.
We are all here to fulfill our dharma. We each become pregnant with longing, with passion and with love. The purpose of life is to birth that into the world. That’s the whole point for this visit.
I was always afraid to declare the simple truth that my greatest desire was to be a father—to leave an imprint of my love in the world.
I seek now to do this in everything I do. I secretly adopt my young students in my heart and this gives me sons and daughters. I cherish my nephews and nieces.
Every word I write, and every stroke of my paint brush, is a child born out of the love within me seeking a voice.
At times, I wish I had awakened to these truths at a much younger age, but they say the fruit falls from the tree when it’s ripe, and you can’t rush it. As authenticity ripens, a willingness to release secrets becomes the sunlight to the apple.
When I came to finally acknowledge to myself the exact nature of my errors —when I began to face my life with rigorous honesty and to heal it with sincere compassion for myself—that is when I became a free man.
Goodbye Puer Aeternus—the eternal child.
Hello Jiva Mukti—the saved and liberated man.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandy Mansfield / Editor: Catherine Monkman