As I have stated in other posts, I regularly find myself in the midst of similar conversations; typically culminating in some form of the question: “So, what do I do?” Most of these conversations are with men who are searching, grasping, scrambling for help or advise in finding an answer so they can know more about what it means to be themselves in the world.
I know that I have carried this question as my own for much of my life, particularly in the absence a strong and engaged father to whom I could safely ask the question. I know in my own story and now in the stories of the dozens of men I have shared this conversation with, that we often feel as though we are in uncharted territory, or as a favorite poet calls us, “exiles,” in a land with no map.
In the absence of these pivotal and necessary conversations with our fathers or father-figures, we often are left to feel alone in the conversation attempting to answer this deep question with no lexicon; turning - often alone - to things or activities that may not be helpful or healthy, and are left with no viable response. I know that I have often found this search offering nothing substantive that speaks to what we really need to know about who we truly are, and what we are made for.
My sense is that this is where shame enters the narrative, telling us that we should know how to do something we don’t know how to do. In the recovery community, we talk about shame as an abbreviation for: “Should Have Already Mastered Everything.” This certainly rings true with the way I have slogged through the mire of this question – alone, scared, and helpless.
There is, in the last few lines of this poem, the knowing glance of the fathers on the sidelines as they look at each other. I can feel, in their out-of-the-corner-of-their-eyes looks, the weight of the cost of carrying this question alone.
I like what it feels like to know and be known by men who I can high five and celebrate a moment, then turn to jog back to position – the position of myself in my own life - alongside those who are doing the same. Which leads me to a new question: “Who am I and what do I bring to the world?” There is a different kind of weightiness that this question carries that I am both learning to, and becoming fond of carrying.
May we not stand in our own chosen silence next to each other on the sidelines, but take the incremental steps further into these deep questions and turn towards one another.
My friend’s kid runs the sideline, gets a pass,
turns, and scores with a kick to the near post.
It’s how the play should go, but at this age
rarely does. My son sprints to him, arms up.
They high five and celebrate a moment,
then turn to jog back to their positions.
Last year, they would have hopped around madly,
twirled, fallen backwards, and rolled in the grass.
This season, they are serious. No more
skipping. No more acting sweetly goofy.
Now, they turn towards one another rather
than towards us. No more checking that we’ve seen.
But we have. We know the score, and what’s lost
as they try to turn themselves into men.
"Turning" by Joseph Mills from This Miraculous Turning. © Press, 53, 2014.