Friday, June 15, 2012

Becoming a Man

           Just the other day my roommate, Persephone, said something to which I took a great deal of personal offense.  Typically, I don’t get upset by the things she says about me, as she is quite a kidder.  However, I think she must have experienced a great deal of trauma as a child, because her humor has an overly caustic quality about it, at times.  The reason this little joke of hers caught my ear is that I suddenly realized that I had heard her repeat this same "joke" on numerous occasions. 
There was the appearance of “the joke” at the mall the other day.  Persephone and I had taken her two kids to the mall to play in the Kid Zone.  I was innocently ordering an unruly child to walk the plank, on the big cushiony boat in the kids’ play area, when I heard it.
“I should have only brought two.  Three children are too many for me to handle,” Persephone was saying to a red-faced mom, who sat next to her on the couch area.
As I turned around to point out to Persephone that she had only brought two (she has a little problem with math), I caught her gesturing toward me with her thumb.  As she noticed me eyeing her, she quickly dropped her hand and smiled at me innocently.  I felt like gesturing with something other than my thumb and smiling innocently right back at her.
“Oops, did I lose count again, Ken.”  She said as the other woman barked out a laugh.  It was very unladylike.  It was at this point that I started to realize the problem might be with attitude more than arithmetic, and I decided I would pay a little more attention to Persephone’s comments from that point on.
In that one visit to the mall, the joke cropped up thirteen times.  For criminy’s sake woman, get some new material for your act.  Over the next week, I noticed that her joke had infiltrated every arena of my life.  At the gun range, even the range master seemed to have been infected.
“Hey, hey, Ken.  It’s nice to see you back, Young Fella’.  I guess you did all of your chores around the house, so you got your allowance this week, huh?”
 “Ya, ha, ha.  Give me some shells.” Like I do any chores. 
The infection seems to have spread to my workplace, as well.  Last Wednesday, when I returned to my classroom after recess, one of my students informed me that I had had a call from the office.
“Mr. Goree, the office called and said to pick up your brother and sister; Stephen and Carly from daycare.  What grades are your brother and sister in, anyway?”  I don’t have any young siblings, but I do have two children who answer to those names.
“Never mind.  I think it’s silent reading time?” I said.
After a week of this abuse, I suddenly realized (I’m that smart. I suddenly realize a lot of things) that I should do a bit if deep thinking and contemplation on the topic of my maturity.  Am I a boy, or am I a man?  I thought the answer was obvious, but apparently it isn’t for many of the people in my life.
Being a man of science, I decided to sort through the evidence.  As a beginning point I decided I needed a clear definition of “manhood” to go by.  I tried the online definition, and didn’t like the “humorous” definition of the noun.  I certainly am not something that gets caught in a zipper.
 Webster’s Dictionary was a little too easy, but it had the definition I was going to use: A fully-grown male.
“Ha!” I said pointing to the dictionary that I held toward Persephone.
“To the letter of the law, yes.  In spirit, I don’t think so.  When did you become a man anyway?”
“You don’t really want me to go into that, do you?”
“No really, when did you get to say, ‘Now, I’m a Man.’ When was the point where you really knew your childhood was gone and you were man?”
“Um, I’ll get back to you on that.”  That was tougher.  I didn’t think the dictionary was going to help me answer that.
I climbed into cyberspace and started to look for information on becoming a man.  I found out immediately that I needed to be careful of what I asked for on the internet or I would get a whole lot of information that I couldn’t use in this story.  After a few hours of university articles, encyclopedia articles, and opinion pages, I started to see a pattern forming.  Becoming a man seems to rest on “rites of passage.” 
I want to say now, for the record, my information is from the internet and has not been checked for factuality.  I, personally, am okay with that as I find that they (facts) often get in the way of a good story anyway.  In the research I performed, it was mentioned that usually a period of isolation, often accompanied by fasting, was the first step in the initiation into manhood.  Isolation!  You mean by myself, with nobody else around?  Hot diggity dog! I can do that.  Please let me do that for a while.  A long while.  And you will notice it said often accompanied by fasting; not always; often.  Some Native American tribes go through what is called a Vision Quest; part of which is this period of isolation and fasting.
Then there was the mention of a period of trial.  This consisted of either physical or mental hardship.  In several regions of the world a circumcision is done at the time of becoming a man.  Yowch!  It seems to me that this would be best done to a baby who won’t remember it, and who can’t punch you in the nose if you try.
In another area of the world, initiates into the ranks of men have horizontal cuts gashed across their foreheads.  These leave permanent scars, extend from ear to ear, and go as deep as the bone.  Of course, I do like to play the “My scar’s bigger than your scar” game, but I prefer to get my scars the old fashion way; accidentally through stupidity and negligence.
Then there is the modern version of the trial period.  That’s right, the armed forces boot camps.  In this setting, the recruit is physically and emotionally broken down.  He is then built up to be a man who can defend a nation.
Some regions of the world support the theory that a boy is not a man until he makes his first kill in a hunt.  This symbolizes his being one with the world, and his ability to provide for his family and community.  Until this test has been passed, he may not be permitted to marry.  This seems to me, a really good argument for why men shouldn’t hunt.
I believe that expeditions and adventures fit into this category.  Luckily, I just so happen to have had my share of adventures and expeditions (A&E).  I covered both A and E on a road trip to my cousin’s place in Colorado one summer.
            Then there is phase three of becoming a man; the taking on of adult responsibilities.  At the age of thirteen, a Jewish boy becomes a man and then becomes part of the religious community and prayer.  He is at that point accountable for his actions, and is made aware of his responsibilities.
Some of the times, stages, and situations that I have been through seemed like they were stepping stones toward manhood.  Each of these steps, now that I look back, wasn’t the passage.  There was my first successful hunt.  My first girlfriend, was another step.  Then there was my first job; the driver’s license; being able to vote; graduating from high school; being able to drink legally; graduating from college; getting married; and having kids.  I don’t think any of these moments was my passage.  There was no line I stepped over and, poof!  “Hey look Ken’s a man!”  It just didn’t happen that way.
            One of the articles that I read fascinated me, and I now realize that it explains me pretty well.  The article states that, often without a threshold event, or ceremony, men may carry their adolescence into adulthood.  This is reflected in their behaviors, which other people interpret as irresponsibility.  Here is the best part; this is called “extended-adolescence.”  Is that cool or what?
            I am going to keep this to myself though.  Otherwise, someone might try to give me a “threshold event,” and I would have to start acting responsibly.  I might even stop playing on the climbing toys at the mall. 
            I am glad to have found a reason to be able to blame my extended adolescence on my parents; they didn’t give me a party when I was thirteen.  Do you think 48 is really too late for a bar mitzvah? Skip the bris.  I am especially happy to know what causes the particular condition of “extended-adolescence,” because I want to make sure my son has these threshold events.  After all, when I get old and gray, (older and grayer), I’m going to need someone responsible around to take care of me; and get me to the mall to play on the big boat climbing toy.
            “Argh! Swab the deck ya land-lubber.”

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