One evening last week I went to something unique for me, I went to a ‘guy’ thing. And, I went accompanied by another guy. No, it wasn’t one of those hideous beating on drums to reclaim our masculinity things, it was a presentation by one Calvin Sandborn.
Sandborn, a charming lawyer (there are such things) is also a kind of authority one what it is to be a man in contemporary society. It ain’t easy, folks, let me attest to that. There are few wild animals to thwart and bring back to the cave, and we cannot go out and have our wanton way with any female we choose. Well, we can try, but that just leads to no end of trouble.
Also, this wasn’t a full-fledged guy thing, either, as there were also ‘skirts’ present in the lecture hall venue at the local college. But, the theme revolved around male issues. The women were mainly there to listen and learn – which was the idea, though some, and in some cases a bit tiresomely, felt they also had to add their perspectives, and in the case of one did so at great length, prompting the men in the audience to assume stances of resolute silence. That is something that men are inclined to do – unless they are drunk or are discussing sports teams.
Sandborn told the tale of his life with his father. And his father was, as he put it, “an angry sonofabitch”, and his anger and sonofabitchness warped Sandborn’s life for a long time and he had to do a great deal of inner work to get past it. This is something he believes has happened for him, and he decided to share his wisdom on the matter. Glad that he did because, for me, and many others, it was time well-spent.
The thing is, there are three categories of father. There is the nice-guy, good-old-pop kind of guy like Ward Cleaver or Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best, there is the reserved and aloof father who isn’t going to hand out compliments or praise if his life depended on it, and who sometimes finds it challenging to even remember his kids’ names, and finally there is the aforementioned angry sonofabitch. Me, I had one of those.
I’d already figured out part of my old man’s dynamic before I even heard Sandborn, and that was he treated his sons like shit because his own father treated him like shit. And so, he was left angry and resentful, and rather than recalling how he hated his father’s rejections, he just passed it on to his own sons. It took a toll, though I am not going to go into the respective tolls it took on the three of us, but we have all, my brothers and I, had to wrestle with personal issues that our father’s behavior contributed to, at least obliquely, and in some cases directly.
He wasn’t like that because he was evil. In fact, he was a very morally upstanding man who worked very hard to care for his family. He wasn’t overtly cruel, or sadistic either. He was no Ivan the Terrible who slew his son by smashing him with a fireplace poker. He was, simply, just a very angry man. He didn’t physically hurt us, but he hurt us in many other ways. By the time I was in my teens I hated him. That softened in later life, but I never would have been able to bring myself to countenance the idea that I loved him. I would still find it difficult.
But, back to the session. What I did learn was that, like Sandborn, I have always had few male connections in my adult life. I have a tiny handful of cherished male friends, but most of my bonding has been with females. Not in an intimate way – albeit there have been delightful exceptions – but in a bonded friendship manner. The main reason for this, I learned, though I could have also conjectured, was that due to my father’s rather negative influence, I didn’t trust men, and knew I wouldn’t get the emotional ‘return’ from a male that I can get from a female. Even as stands here, I have significantly more female blogger connections, and a likewise disproportionate number of distaff Facebook connections. Quite simply, I just know a lot more females.
But, the unfortunate end result of all of this is that many males grow up, thanks to a negative paternal influence, with varying degrees of self-loathing. The negative repercussions of self-loathing needn’t be elaborated upon. But, in just one example, I spent a number of years drinking too excessively, and also sexually philandering. Why this happened basically was that I couldn’t stand to be me and longed to escape the ‘me-ness’ of me. Since nobody had given me that sort of self-esteem, I could only psychologically and emotionally conclude I was unworthy. This is despite the fact I had always been successful and respected in whichever endeavor I’d turned my hand to.
Anyway, I could blather on about this psycho-familial stuff until I get really boring, so I won’t. But, my message to parents would be, tell your children, and especially your boy children, that they are special and worthy. Such comments can have a lifetime of value.