Saturday, May 26, 2012

Male Bonding

Miguel scooted past me the other night, holding a pair of his blue jeans. It was after nine, close to his bedtime.

“Miguel, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said, the rumpled jeans stuffed close to his body.

A few minutes later I walked in to the kitchen, where he’d hidden himself, and found him cutting a small hole near the belt loops of the jeans.

“What are you doing?!” I shouted. It soon became quite clear that he was snipping circularly around a department store loss prevention tag that the clerk had forgotten to remove.

“I saw this in a movie once,” he said meekly as if scissoring a new pair of pants was an everyday occurrence.

I was livid. I imagine if I’d been a cartoon character steam would have shot out my ears and trailed above my head. Veins would have burst in my neck, and I would have turned from red to blue to purple to deep red again.

“I can’t believe it,” I screamed. “A new pair of pants!?! Why didn’t you just tell me? I could’ve gone to the store, any store, and had the tag removed.”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

I grabbed the pants, threw them on the kitchen floor, and ordered him upstairs to brush his teeth and put in his headgear. Since he’d already ripped the jeans I continued cutting until there was a dime-sized hole and the tag was gone.

Then I marched upstairs and delivered a late night lecture. “Miguel, it’s not just about the pants. It’s that you went sneaking around. If I can’t trust you with little things, like some tag on your pants, how am I going to trust with you with big decisions? Like, what are you going to do at a party in high school when your friends offer you alcohol or pot?”

I am sure that Miguel appreciated my barrage as he tried to nod off to sleep. “I’m going to say no,” he answered, his head already resting on his pillow.

“Yeah, but what if they tell you how good it is and they urge you to just try it, and you like it?”

“I’m not going to do that,” he said.

I closed his lights and hustled downstairs to calm myself down. The next morning, after I’d dropped Maya off at the neighbors who drive her to school, I said to Miguel, en route to his school, “OK, I overreacted about the pants last night. But I don’t want you to sneak around. Just tell me. And I do want you to make good decisions.”

He listened to me, but really wanted to fiddle with the radio. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Miguel?”

“Yes, but the hole is not bad,” he said, and then showed me how his belt practically covered it up anyway.

Then I noticed how low his jeans were below his hips. “Miguel, please pull up your pants.”

He did.

Later that night he and I stood in his bedroom with six large garbage bags and started throwing out, recycling, or bagging to donate piles of clothing and toys and assorted detritus that has accumulated in his bedroom and closet for a few years.

At one point he fingered through clumps of Tech Deck skateboard dudes, a collection of miniature guys and skateboards, replete with beyond-weird identities and trading cards. “I used to really like these,” he said. “I don’t know if I should give them away.”

I felt as if we were having our own Toy Story 3 moment, reminiscent of when Andy was wistfully rummaging through boxes of childhood toy friends before departing for college.

“You don’t have to give them away,” I said.

“No, I want to. It’s OK.” He poured them into one of the plastic bags designated for the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

“I guess now that you’re going to high school, you are no longer a boy,” I said, but added, “But I am not trying to rush you into adulthood.”

I asked him again this morning how he felt about discarding the Tech Decks and he said he was fine. I don’t think Miguel feels thrust too soon into manhood, though he does have some typically quirky adolescent ideas about what being a teenaged man is, such as watching R rated movies that I consider inappropriate. He implores at least two or three times a month to see The Hangover. And I answer simply, “Nope, not going to happen yet.”

And, I told him, what I am really concerned about is not about holes in his jeans, but about taking responsibility for his actions. Before his bar mitzvah ceremony, the traditional Jewish rite of passage that heralds a young man’s entrance into adulthood, I asked several friends to share what it meant to become an adult or young man.

My good friends Ed and Denise’s son, Ben, who is now married and for whom I babysat in 1987, said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, and when you make a mistake, you need to take responsibility for it. Being a man means having to do things you don't want to do, for no other reason than simply you are a man.” His father said, “When having a conversation, try to learn more about the other person than they learn about you, and make sure your handshake is firm and you look the person in the eye!”

My friend Mike, who has three sons, one who is in school with Miguel, offered quite honestly and humbly, “When I was in my twenties and having a tough go of adjusting to adulthood my father told me it was time to be a man. At the time I knew he was right, but was truly confused on what being a man meant, and certainly had no idea how to get there, wherever there was. Too embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know what being a man was really all about I just took the comment and suggested to him “I know”. This hung on me for years and over time I figured it out. Being a man is having the confidence and strength to make choices that are right and just for one’s self and the others around them. There are of course many other attributes of being a man, but many of them cross gender…setting appropriate boundaries, compassion and empathy for others.

“I learned this over time, and my oldest son grew up without my being able to convey this knowledge to him and work with him to develop these skills…something I labor over a lot. I think my younger ones will benefit as I often talk with them about standing up for who they are, (not what their friends want them to be) and help them make choices that support their personal growth.”

The final word about being a man goes to Ed, committed father, husband, and devout family guy to siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and everyone in between:

“Wait ‘til your mother goes to book club and then we’ll wrestle in our underwear and piss off the back porch!”

Sometimes you just have to let go. In more ways than one.

No comments:

Post a Comment