A friend asked me about the blog the other day. ”How are ‘The Adventures of Man-Child’ coming?” he said.
All credit to my friend, it was a perfect comment – funny, insulting, and dead-on accurate all at the same time since, really, I am a man-child. Men used to have mid-life crises because they were over-burdened by their manly responsibilities and felt deprived of choice. In the new bizarro world in which I (and many of my peers) live, the crisis is precisely the opposite – I have carefully avoided any adult responsibilities, I’ve kept my options open, and I’m every bit as miserable.
Mandan Indian male just hanging out.
This whole blog has been about tracing the source of the problem, and more and more I’m coming back to a single conclusion – I had no rite of passage. I’m not talking about some ridiculous party where I get to wear a yamulka and people carry me around in a chair. I’m talking about that definitive moment in a male’s life where by virtue of his actions he leaves behind boyhood and embraces manhood. Just about every patriarchal culture has some way to mark a man’s coming of age; in ancient Sparta, boys were sent out of the city and told not to return until they’d killed several helots (a kind of warrior slave). The Satere-Mawe tribe of Brazil makes their boys wear gloves filled with hundreds of bullet ants, so named presumably because their sting is said to feel as painful as a gunshot. The venom enters their system, leaving their hands useless and their bodies shaking for days…and they don’t just do it once, but 20 times. Mandan Indian males had to be suspended in the air from hooks put into their skin, and after they passed out from loss of blood they would be taken down and one of their little fingers was cut off. I won’t even tell you what the Mardudjara Aborigines of Australia did, except to say this: they didn’t just take your “turtle neck” and give you a “crew neck”, they put in a zipper as well.
If it sounds like most rites-of-passage suck, it’s likely because they were ingeniously designed that way. If you think about the life of a tribal male, it kinda blew – the survival of the tribe depended on your ability to go out and kill wild animals, who were not exactly predisposed to dying simply for your benefit. They were hard to find, hard to kill, and there was a good chance they may injure or kill you in the process. The potential for failure was incredibly high, and the cost of failure was that everyone in the tribe suffered, not just you.
Considering this is my year to get better, it would have been apropos that I at least try to be a better son to my dead father and acknowledge Father’s Day. The fact is, it slipped my mind. I haven’t given much thought to Father’s Day since dad died – which is no excuse really, since I’m not sure I gave that much thought to it while he was still alive.
I suppose we both share the blame for that. As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was cursed with a crippling inability to express his feelings, an affliction made no easier by the fact that he was in 40s with five kids and a monumentally bitchy wife when I came along. By that time, his principal desire in life was for peace, and he often found it at the expense of teaching his sons to be men. I mistook this as a sign of ambivalence, and simply responded in kind.
However, that’s not to say that my dad wasn’t a good man. Gerald Nelson may not have been perfect but he possessed many manly virtues, among them being…
A friend of mine, upon seeing this picture from a previous post, said “It’s perfect. You look fat and a little hungover.” This made me sad, since prior to taking that photo I actually got up, lifted some weights, showered, and shaved. I even sucked my belly in before snapping it. Her comment made me more than sad, actually, because it confirmed what I knew was happening…I’m starting to look old. It sounds somewhat obvious to say, but it’s hard to gauge the ravages of time when you can only see yourself age in tiny increments every day (as we all do).
Thanks to the rigid borders of my parent’s co-mingled DNA, aging has me in a sleeper hold – in addition to being shaped like Spongebob Squarepants, I suffer the family curse of loving rich, fatty food and being unable to metabolize it quickly – I only have to look at a picture of perogies and I put on weight. Nonetheless, being single and working on television means I cannot afford to admit defeat, so I wage a war of attrition on my body’s genetics, one whose outcome is already predetermined (death) and for which the best I can hope is a few battles won.
I took my 15-year-old nephew Jake to see the band The National the other night, thus confirming my place in the great pantheon of Jake’s Extended Relatives as “The Cool Uncle”. Mind you (and with all due respect to my brothers and brothers-in-law), the standard for cool uncles in my family is pitifully low. Despite this, I still manage to clip my knees on the low bar that has been set for me. I’m partially redeemed by my penchant for skinny jeans and vintage t-shirts with ironic sayings on them, but knowing all the words to I’m on a Boat! cannot atone for an egregious lack of character, and Jake is too smart to be fooled.
The fact is I’m not that cool, something that should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. As they reach adulthood and start to make informed judgments, my nephews and nieces will no doubt come to realize what you already know. Is the window on their adulation closing for me? Perhaps not, if I can stop being a poser and instead become a real cool uncle….like my mom’s younger brother, Don.
They say families teach you to appreciate people you would otherwise have nothing to do with, and so it is with my uncle Don and me - our differences are so pronounced we could inspire the plot of a buddy cop movie. On politics, we agree on nothing: I liken Canada to a really amazing country club, and our taxes are simply the dues we pay for the privilege of being a member. When I say this, Don will eye me with a combination of pity and suspicion, like I have tuberculosis and is afraid I might infect both him and his family. If the Tea Party opened a Canadian chapter, Don would want to be their president. When he talks in mildly conspiratorial tones about “that Obama” I’m reminded of Mike Myers playing his own dad in So I Married An Axe Murderer, talking about how Colonel Sanders secretly controls everything in the world.
This morning I woke up, had what felt like a seven-minute pee, made myself some coffee, coughed up a little phlegm, sat down at my desk, looked at my computer and realized - I’m ready to be a husband and father.
To just about every guy who knows me this radical epiphany will be as shocking as it is absurd. Moreover, most of my married and/or father friends have expressed envy over my freedom to, say, sleep in until noon, walk around the house in my ratty underpants, or screw any woman I want without guilt (a logical fallacy completely at odds with the reality of my ratty underpants, but never underestimate the lurid imagination of a married male). By contrast, my male, single, childless friends protect their metaphysical turf more fiercely than a Mexican drug cartel. Both groups would probably regard my newfound desire as…well, unmanly. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m thinking there could be no decision more daring or masculine than to restrict yourself to one vagina for the rest of your life whilst setting an example for the progeny that your penis and that one vagina produce.
So what accounts for this seismic shift in thinking? It’s not as though I’ve been dwelling on it, and came to a conclusion after months of serious deliberation. I wasn’t struck by lightning, I didn’t visit a hypnotist, and Goddess recently made it clear that if forced to choose between dating a hobo or me she’d have to think about it. There is no immediate, rational reason for why I should feel this way…except, perhaps, for one. That reason’s name is John. Fucking. Cusack (the “other JC” as I like to call him).
A couple weeks back I bragged about how I could recite the Rudyard Kipling poem If from memory, that it stands out as a constant reminder to me of how life isn’t easy and that’s okay if you handle it with grace. I also added that you should memorize it for yourself and don’t try to impress people by reciting it at party, because it sounds kind of silly when spoken out loud.
Well, with the occasion of Dennis Hopper’s passing, I starting surfing You Tube for some of the wild man’s finer moments. Up until now, I’ve always been partial to “HEINEKEN!!! FUCK THAT SHIT!!! PABST BLUE RIBBON!!!” but I came across the following clip. It now jumps to my number one favorite Hopper moment, even if it forces me to recant what I said about never reciting Kipling out loud. Enjoy.