Tag Archives: understanding

The Opportunity Lost: Boys and Sexuality

To be frank, there is no place for my voice in the reckoning society is going through. I can fancy myself as inclusive as I care too. It won’t change the fact that I am afforded a single key hole through which to see and interpret the world. I can be educated, empathic, open to new ways of thinking and sensitive to the different world others see and it doesn’t matter. I am 44, male, white and middle class. I am as full of blind spots as anyone else and as imbued with the confidence inherrent in a man who has perhaps done good things but who has also been the great beneficiary of a world that has tilted toward him. What I can speak to is the perspective I have. As silly as it may sound now, I think I should. Because I was raised in a world that has produced and provided the elaborate permission structures that have allowed all manner of vulgar and vile atrocities to be laughed off, smirked at, dismissed and tacitly supported when not explicitly permitted. So I say my piece aware it is a tiny and possibly unhelpful observation, sure it will reveal unknown blind spots. I’m hopeful there is a grain of fresh perspective in it and accepting of the likelihood there isn’t. 

Male sexuality is to be feared. That is fair. History is replete with wreckage left in its wake. It is a blunt tool wielded too often, far too often, by brutal craftsmen and it is capable in its cruelest, bluntest form of destruction. It has been used to destroy  women, children and men. Wielded as power to subjugate and deprive. Yet it is given to each and every one of us. As such it’s important to be aware of its potential for harm and we should be incredibly cautious. 

This sucks. This is true and it sucks. Why does it suck? For a fairly obvious reason, actually. A reason that is far too often ignored. 

Sex is the porthole to intimacy for so many men. Connecting with other human beings in human ways, in face to face open ways, is not what so many of us are good at. Even those of us that appear well mannered and socially fluent often struggle maintaining relationships in those rare instances when we can initiate them. For many of us the actual physical act is the truest cure for the deep seeded, existential loneliness we live with daily. It truly is access to the divine beauty of the human experience. Not every time, but sometimes. And when it’s not it is always an expression of love in some form. Sometimes its the functional day to day love we give just by being there. Other times its the silly joyousness of sneaking around your kids to care for each other, to give to one another. Sometimes its to comfort and sooth or stoke and enliven. Unfortunately we rarely talk about it this way. I think we should. I think it would go a long way, over time, in reducing the great numbers (far greater than I ever knew) of men who wield their sexuality so overtly and aggressively. A nice side benefit might even be increased personal fulfillment. 

Our world is in the midst of a reckoning around the brutal sexuality we have tolerated, hidden, obfuscated and even celebrated since long before my first, nascent stirrings while sneaking under the coffee table to look at the parts of the JCPenney Catalog I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been scanning. I felt no shame lying my body heavy on the carpet. It felt good. I was five. I quickly learned I shouldn’t be doing that. I learned I should not want to feel that. I learned to sneak it. Innocently exploring sexuality unaware of the word ‘sexuality’, guided solely by native, natural instinct. I don’t actually recall how I learned it, I just did. I sadly would and probably have thoughtlessly facilitated the same type of realization for my own boys. 

The persistence of male sexuality in all it’s unpolished, garrulous, often aggressive insistence is something we can’t turn our heads from. That’s a sentence that has proven false yet still it feels important to state. Like ‘All men are created equal’ or ‘you will be insulated from repurcussion and you are encouraged to inform HR when you feel you have been harassed by a superior.’ These statements are presented as observations but perform as aspirations. We in fact have turned our heads from the day to day, inch by inch indecencies and do so by rote. We have proven to be pretty good at turning our heads from far more than that. From those offenses that cross several lines at once, up to and surpassing criminality. Ignoring transgression has been the norm. In fact very often, prior to this specific moment, and still in many cases in this moment, we seek to poke holes in the victims story immediately so as not to have to deal with it. 

Its going to be hard for any of us who are of a certain age to deny some level of complicity. Probably far more complicity than we think. Even us good ones. All because of a vile and crude understanding of the powerful, near universal sexual immaturity that our culture, western culture, has institutionalized in men. 

Testosterone comes with many things and aggression and competition are certainly prominent among those things. They are not the only thing, mind, but they are prominent and naturally occurring. We exercise all manner of power in seeking to satisfy the dumb, basic urge to have sex. What we have become in so many other areas as a species since the cave dwelling days is startling in comparison to how little it would appear we have evolved in this area. We have adapted, appropriating new methodologies to achieve the clubbed-head outcome, but we have not evolved far from it. That’s sad.

It is not as sad, not nearly as sad as it is for the countless women and girls and boys (and some men for that matter)  who’ve had to navigate a world of near constant predation. I can only imagine, am only just now starting to realize how the world  is for so many, a world where there is very little benefit in trusting anyone. I am not sad for these men finally being held to account. But I am sad for the ones who are navigating childhood and are seeing ever more evidence that this natural occurring thing, this pleasure that forms out of thin air and in their bones, is not to be discussed, explored, thought about or talked about. As if holding it at bay is the best way to process emerging sexuality. Make no mistake, it is dangerous and hurtful and capable of causing calculable and incalculable damage and it should be repressed. Which of course to some degree it must be. But unless you’ve been the 7th grader arroused by nearly every damn interaction with anyone of any type, meaning even just having seen someone from across the schoolyard or accidentally seen the poster of the girl in the spandex gym clothes who is only there to sell your mom yogurt, and known you couldn’t stop your thoughts and your bodies reactions, you’can’t know what it’s like and how terrible you can feel about your bodies insistence.

No one wants to hear the nascent yearnings of the adolescent boy. That’s the problem. We run from the subject, we tell them to ignore this one thing they can barely control. Worse, we tell them to funnel their energy into sports. Great. Go channel this into war games with winners and losers largely determined by physical dominance. In fact be loyal to your teamates at all turns and work together to ensure you deceive, dominate and defeat your opponent. Good. WTF. I love sports, but it is a bit too broadly applied, this universal supplication to boys being involved at all times in it. 

The reality, one I’m frankly more aware of intellectually than I am emotionally, having been raised in a manner greatly fearing and rejecting my teen, male sexuality is the photo negative of the sexless sexiness that is constantly being put on teen girls. Except in the case of girls they seem to be far more engaged in at least the healthy exploration of feelings and relationships. Well, at least they are until all of it is taken from them by one of us viewing the world as a territory for acquisition, dominance and accrual. 

We need to start talking to boys about the beauty, the human nature of their own sexuality. We need to try to get them when they are being overrun by hormones and lack of judgement and act to civilize them. Don’t underestimate the male libido’s wily conceit. It arrives when full physical power does and before consistently sound judgement does. It is an evolutionary positive despite the chaos it can cause society. Who’s more likely to contribute to the growing of the species more efficiently than a horny teen after all. We need to not hide from this Mack truck of hormonal insistence that is sprung on these guys and we need to help them through it. 

Boys need to know that sex is communication on a deep, even transcendent level. They need to hear that it isn’t a game to be won. There is no value in the numbers and tallies. The value is inside the conversations and flirtations, it is in the moments  when you learn why she laughs and what moves her to tears. It is in the physical comforts of intimacy when we are feeling pain or comforting those we care for. It is in the note you write to cheer that special  person up and yes, it is in the kisses and caresses and fumbling eagerness of overpowering desire. And it is in the maddening misunderstandings and uncomfortable conversations. It is in the showing up and staying through the discomfort. It is in the thrill of the urge as much if not more than in the satisfying of it. 

Young men would laugh out of discomfort in being told these things. They’d say something typically stupid in many instances and dismiss the teller as irrelevant. So what. They do that with everything. They are teen boys. But we can’t keep going on forever ignoring, fearing, rejecting and judging the unavoidable sexuality of adolescent boys. Its a necesarry ingredient in making monsters of men. I don’t have answers and don’t know how we can make a world that embraces and fosters a fuller understanding. But I dream of one and hope it arrives in time for my own kids. 

Valuable Time

I don’t know how much time I have. It’s been true for a long time now. A long time getting ever longer. The more time goes by, the more the reality sinks in. I don’t know that the trajectory, the one tying my ever accumulating time to my ponderance and curiosity about it’s end, will stay. What I know is I have the second just passed. What I can assume is I have the moment before me. I can presume the days ahead and I can blindly trust the years laying out before me, stretching ever more beautifully outward into a peaceful and wonderful, assured existence seeped in love and garatitude and understanding. It’s the future I strain to make out in the hazy distance with dusk approaching and I tend to make a lot of decisions to serve that ideal state. That one that is least accountable to ever finding me. The one I wonder these days whether I’m imagining,  a mirage, acting on its promises.

  So, yeah. It’s autumn. The days are getting shorter and the night is stealing daylight hours and I’m suddenly consumed by thoughts. Rather I’m submerged in feelings. I’m a foreigner in their world. I know a few of them. Joy, sorrow, excitement and anger. Curiosity is an engagement of sorts and has an emotional intelligence to it, I suppose. Creative. That may live here as well. I don’t know. It’s beautiful. Rich with textures that can trigger anything. Scary too. I don’t speak the language and things are impossible to understand. I used to break down to depression and mute the varietals that swirl for some assurance. It was treacherous, but navigable and earlier, before I had my bearings it was the only way through. Anger worked and could kick in at any time, but now I’m a bit more comfortable with taking it in and accepting it as something I don’t understand. Sorrow and anger are still there, but less dominant. I guess that’s the mellowing I’m told comes in autumn.

There comes a time when time’s limits are undeniable. Largely, though not entirely. I will live every moment knowing and watching the limits I can predict inching closer. My limits, the limits I can see others breaching. Ones that will arrive at my doorstep, first from others and finally my own findings. Thankfully, when I turn around, as I will if I have time when the night finally falls on me, I’ll see in the eyes of those looking at me an eternity. A limitless shimmer that will go out forever, beyond the limits of imagination or folly or foolhardy selfishness. I’ll see a thousand lifetimes coming toward me stretching as far as the eye, the mind, the soul can see and in that moment I’ll perhaps feel free. 

The time that dropped from the trees to me when it bounded and flutttered in such summertime abundance that I couldn’t see any value in it is dwindling slowly and revealing its nature to me. I could look back on my earlier days and bemoan the myriad wrong ways I blew through my inheritance. I could do that. Many do. But that’s not how it hits me. It doesn’t. Sure. I wish time was so abundant now. I sometimes wish I could live long enough to bury my sons who would pass, wizened and aged and having spent a lifetimes and another’s of minutes and moments and experienced all. I wish I could do it so they wouldn’t have to say good bye to me. But it’s selfish. My moments, what time I have left is of infinite more meaning than the fortunes I’ve lost. I know now that the minutes aren’t mine. I know now that they are merely a gift. A gift I am tending, one that was given without warning and one that can disappear the same way. A gift I now treasure the way that I should. A gift that provides no longer the abundance it once did or the thoughtlessness the abundance allowed. I now know the value of my time. 

I won’t hide now. From anything. I’ll still wish. hope is times companion. But when I find myself in places I don’t understand I won’t be fooled into giving up my time. I can’t be convinced to crawl in my shell. Time has taught me through dwindling supply the humility I needed to know her value. The value of this minute. And the next and the next after that. Each minute a thing to notice. 

Food Allergy PTSD

Parents of kids with food allergies tend to have a form of PTSD. It’s a commonality that ties us together. We get it. We know when we’ve run into another parent who understands us. Most parents empathize, but only we can truly understand.

At least that’s how we feel.

Food allergy PTSD leads to a lifetime of sensing threats around corners, threats both real and imagined. We have intimate knowledge. We have the knowledge you can only get when you are holding your baby and running for help while he is dying in your arms. The one job we are tasked with above all others, to keep this child alive until he can do so on his own, is slipping away and every second counts and you know, KNOW that were this a hundred years ago you’d be burying your baby. Having survived it you are changed. Broken. You are facing a changed landscape and a changed job. It’s unfair but it’s pointless to dwell on it.

I remember thinking terrible things about the parents of young kids at Target or Wegman’s or any of the other places one finds themselves mixing with young families before having kids of one’s own. I remember thinking, ‘Wow. How can they talk to their kid like that? It’s just mean. I’ll never be like those people.’ I remember thinking of friends that had a kid, ‘I’m tired. I’m always tired. Who are these people that think they’ve cornered the market on tired.’ These were reasonable thoughts to have. I had no freakin clue what the hell I was talking about. Having no clue was my perspective. Still is in many areas of life, to be honest. The fact that it was completely uninformed and laughably ignorant doesn’t invalidate that perspective.

The only thing that could revoke the validity of my perspective was having kids. Since then I have caught myself scaring my three year old into compliance during a short trip to Target. I like to think that my terrifying, clenched-jaw frustration was less upsetting to the ecosystem of the store than the screeching of others. Of the parent of three trying to get the grocery shopping done without a full meltdown, but to anyone that saw me around a corner, grasping the scared little boy’s biceps and staring him in the eye with the insane focus of a cartoon villain I’m certain mine would be the one more deserving of a call to CPS. Dad scary can be truly scary. I remember this from my dad, who I knew all along was the most gentle and loving and thoughtful father the world has ever seen. But toddlers require different. My mother once caught me at 5 or so playing with matches inside a camper and when she told me ‘Just wait til your father gets home.’ I knew enough to be terrified. Since it is required to scare kids early on to make the point, we change. We have to. And when we do we feel shame around other parents who might be having a good day while I’m staring at my little boy and doing my best impersonation of DeNiro in Cape Fear.

When it comes to other people and our kids food allergies it’s insane to think they can have our intimate knowledge even after they’ve heard our harrowing tale. Only we have that. That’s why we are each other’s best support. We can speak shorthand. We can elaborate on our stories, on our near misses with one another and know that we are understood. Regardless of how compassionate, empathic, caring and sensitive we are, for most of us, we’d be lying if we said that we didn’t change when it happened to us.
For many of us there’s residual shell shock and we find ourselves frantically unloading on kindly people that will listen and simply increasing our volume because why shouldn’t everyone share my perspective and this fight. At least all parents. My god, your hummus and carrots are a literal loaded gun free to be played with in any room where my little boy is. Don’t you get that? Is hummus really that important to you? ARGH!! You’re awful!!

Intimate knowledge can be like that. It can seem so true to you, so elemental that you forget there was a time before you had acquired that knowledge. Acquiring it leaves you changed. When I became a dad I was surprised by a few things. Certainly the amount of time there is in 24 hours. I thought I had that concept down, but I was way off. I was surprised by how aware of my own mortality I became. That’s how the responsibility hit me I suppose, that and the love. Also, I was surprised by the instant sense of connection and empathy I felt for parents everywhere. We can get as modern as we want but the primal nature of holding your newborn baby, however he or she got to your arms, is universal. Nothing was the same ever again. Almost immediately I was sliding away from my former perspective and a new life was stretching out before me. As it unraveled it revealed understandings of my life and its meaning. Now that I was here, on this side with the other folks that had had this beautiful and magic epiphany, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I proceeded on this path and began to find less and less in common with the people who hadn’t had kids. I was fully a parent.

Then I was born into a smaller family of parents. The rare club that was more exclusive and less desirable. I became a food allergy PTSD dad. I became a husband that had to relearn how to relate to his family and the world with this terrible new knowledge. Our son had an anaphylactic reaction to a single bite of a sandwich with a small amount of dressing on it that contained a small amount of sesame and it nearly killed him. It would have had a seed fallen to the floor from our bagels or our Chinese food that we had eaten regularly that first year and he had gotten to it while we were in the other room. Its traumatic information to live with. As hard a time as I had relating to parents before having kids, and as hard as it became to relate to people without kids after having them, it is now equally hard to relate to parents that don’t worry about their kid’s immediate environment every minute of every day. I just don’t get them. I can’t. What’s worse now, I somehow feel like they should all be able to relate to me. The childless, the parents of kids without life threatening food allergies, everyone needs to be in this thing with me. Right?

It’s easy and understandable to lose perspective. Sometimes it’s even advisable. And since it’s our kid’s lives I’m all for erring on the side of crazy if there’s any question of safety. But from time to time we have to poke our heads out of the bubble and remember that it’s a great big scary world out there for a lot of people. For a lot of reasons.

In my son’s classroom, where they will see me and confront me and Charlie every day, I may need to ramp up the nutty. Perhaps it will cause that extra attention when it’s called for, which it may never be, to save my son’s life. But if I want my message to be heard by the people that don’t have reason to understand my plight intimately, it’s my job to learn what invisible realities they are facing and try to share in those struggles. To not be so blinded by the dangers of the world as to forget that others have children suffering even worse, more assured tragedies. That while there are loaded guns ready to end my child, there are others whose children have bullets headed there way. That there are many parents in the exact same situation as me that couldn’t stop the grip of the unknown entity that ruined their lives forever. That it is a great gift I’ve been given to be able to know for sure what I need to do to assure my child safe passage and that I shouldn’t ever take for granted how lucky I am. That if I want empathy and understanding I have to remember that the world is full of parents facing innumerable struggles, challenges and threats and it’s my responsibility to support others and seek out ways to help, just as I ask them to do for me. Compassion is not a finite resource, it is infinite and needs to be fed constantly in order for it to grow.

Sometimes the PTSD and the eminent dangers make me rude. Make me insufferable even. Sometimes I’ll need others to forgive me for that. Sometimes I have to forgive myself for that. Sometimes I have to learn from it.