Boys Alone

I didn’t want to do it.  I enjoyed scouts only ever because I had friends in my troop.  I did not enjoy swimming.  I learned early in life, however, never to question authority.  Therefore, when the presiding authorities over my early life sent me to a Boy Scout swim meet, I went.  Reluctantly.  Very.

Due to humanity’s inability to do much of anything without categorizing ourselves, those responsible for this particular meet put us into groups according to how well we could swim.  At the top, where the jock boys live and thrive, were The Sharks.  (West Side Story, anyone?)  I was a Minnow.  How many 12-to-13-year-old young men like to be called “Minnows”?  Do you know the exact number?  I do.  Zero.

I didn’t want to grab the paddle, kick my legs to the other side of the fucking pool, and lose.  I wanted to go home.  I was totally unprepared for this. I stank.  Then I sank.

Some dude with a mustache and lots of naturally developed, manly muscle, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans (I will never forget this.), jumped in and pulled me out.  I wept.  My friends in the troop (none of whom were Minnows) did their boyish best to tell me that it was okay.  I had great friends.  I had idiotic authority figures.

I didn’t cry because I was scared.  Well, that wasn’t the main reason I was crying.  I was crying because I felt stupid for being the poor fool who forced a grown man to get himself all wet.  That nice man who saved my life never said a word to me.  I felt totally inadequate in his presence.  A boy unworthy of being one.  That was the biggest reason to cry.  I never told my friends that part.  I never told anyone, in fact, until now.

I tell you now because this was not an isolated incident for me, nor am I the only one who has experienced such a disappointment.  It has only gotten worse.  Not for me; for the generations that have followed.  Fewer men are teaching boys how to be boys, and it seems that even fewer men are interested in teaching young men how to enter in.  I believe that much of this has to do with the boredom that empire naturally produces, but not all of it.  The American Empire was built high over ignorance of manhood and the idea that men are disposable.  Let me try a little sports analogy: To me, corporate sports are a hell-of-a-lot less interesting than truly manmade sports.

Let’s look at one unique and perhaps embarrassing way in which men are stifled in their relationships with boys. An article at from 2007 about what ought to have been a simple exchange between trusting strangers reveals a poisonous societal belief that, while humorously discussed, degenerates these crucial relationships in a very serious way.

Roy Peter Clark, the author, had the opportunity to help a small boy with his zipper when they were both in the men’s room.  The tale has a happy ending, and Clark makes a funny situation that much funnier with the manner in which he writes about it:

“The stall door swings open, and out comes a boy – maybe 8 years old – all dressed up in his Sunday suit: white shirt and tie, dark blue slacks and jacket, a right proper little lad.  But he has a problem.  For this young man has clearly outgrown this outfit, so that his pants barely contain his lower frame.  ‘Mister, I can’t pull up my zipper.  Can you help me?’

“I’m in a Catholic church, in the middle of the greatest sexual scandal in the history of Catholicism, in the men’s room, with a boy who wants me to help him with his zipper.

“What would you do?”

At some point, Clark has to go so far as to enlist the “aid” of an unwitting old man who enters the bathroom during the dilemma, by shouting loud enough that at least one witness can hear:

“‘Okay, here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to grab your belt and your zipper.  Then I’m going to count to three, and you’re going to pull in your stomach.  Okay?  One, two, three…’”

I can just see the kid in my mind.  When an adult does this, a boy’s mind is far more likely to first misunderstand why the strange man has decided to talk so loudly, but the rest of his mind probably says, “He must know what he’s doing.  Just follow through.  Boy, this is awful.”  What a heartfelt story.  Just wonderful.  Amusing, entertaining, poignant, and ultimately disturbing.  (Read what some of the other men said they would do.)

I will not dispute Clark’s words, his attitude, or the manner in which he dealt with this unfortunately tricky situation.  There is, in my mind, nothing to dispute.  My reaction would have been much the same.  This article mentions one important aspect of the sex war in which we find ourselves enmeshed.  Men, the owners of penises, are forbidden, in their own minds, based on what they perceive in the culture that surrounds them, from helping boys, the owners of lesser penises, with something as simple as the zipper that zips up in front of it.  This is in spite of the fact that men, by and large, do not molest children.  Clark admits, “What if someone comes in and I’m holding this kid’s zipper?  What if it’s a priest?  What if it’s the kid’s brother – or his beefy father?  Am I willing to take a beating to help junior with his pants?”  Can we all agree that such a question should never even enter a man’s mind?  How is it possible not to see the enormity of what is being said?

To give it some perspective, imagine being a black man, and being lectured by the culture at large that you have greater potential for being a violent criminal.  This lecture goes on ad infinitum, ad nauseam. “We all know that black men have a greater propensity for theft and murder.  Now this black guy might be nice, and yes, we shouldn’t judge, but on the other hand…”

Making matters worse, most boys are curious about men, and you know what I mean.  I am not now advocating nor will I ever advocate anything that could be deemed sexually prurient as a teaching tool with boys and pubescent men.  I also do not think that other boys were nearly as curious as I was.  In fact, at the time, I sensed a difference when I noticed other boys discussing how and when that sort of curiosity was healthily satisfied.  Therefore, this is not an effort at arousing or provoking anybody who disagrees.  The way I see it, however, is that it is virtually a father’s job to show his son, as Rose Nylund put it in an episode of “The Golden Girls,” what makes a bull a bull:

Rose: “That’s how my mother taught me!”

Blanche: “Honey, didn’t that give you a false impression about… what a man would look like?”

Rose: “It sure did!  Can you imagine my surprise on my wedding night with Charlie?  …Boy, that bull would’ve been jealous!”

Kidding aside, it is difficult to write about, because of what I know about manhood.  The reader must understand that I feel almost as if I am discussing something that most men simply wish to think about and silently communicate when the time comes, if ever.  You’re hiking, you have to piss: teaching moment.  You go for a swim, and no one has swim trunks: teaching moment.  You go to the community gym and change in the locker room: teaching moment.  Need I go on?  I didn’t think so.  Talking is unnecessary in such a situation, and can easily get awkward.  For most men, it is sufficient to silently do something together, and wait for the relating to follow.

I propose that men are far more likely to do rather than talk.  Try going on a fishing trip sometime.  There will be quite a lot of doing and very little talking.  Men usually open up to one another after doing.  I’ll give you an example:

When I took a job at college during the summer months in a dishroom at a dorm, there were both men and women who had also started work there at the same time.  On the first day, no one spoke.  We were all strangers.  By the end of the day, the women no longer were.

Women communicate largely through verbal means.  Men only do this after the process of doing, for the most part.  If they can’t do, they talk about the doing.  We were all certainly doing many things when we sent the dishes through the big, beautiful machine that some man built after figuring it out (probably while leaning forward on his knees, sitting back down after a piss break).  But the men stayed quiet, week after week.  The women, by the second day, were talking about all of their friends.  They were friends instantly.  We men didn’t make friends.  We did the dishes silently, alongside a gaggle of gabbing gals.

One weekend, the women went to a special conference “For Women Only.”  (There was no comparable conference for the men.)  There were only guys in the dishroom, so it was dead quiet.  We didn’t even look at each other.  (Well, not at the same time.)  Suddenly there was a lull in lunch traffic, and we were all left standing and staring at the conveyor belt some man had devised.

One of the particularly bored men took a fork, laid it down face up, put a knife criss-cross over the bend in the fork’s neck, put a spoon on the end closest to him, slammed down the other end of the knife with his manly hand, and sent the spoon flying into the dirty silverware tray.  Huh-huh.  That was cool.

Every man started grinning, including me.  Ah, I thought, this is what men do; this is how we communicate.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  He flipped another, then another piece of silverware into the tray.  So did another guy.  Then another.  Huh-huh.  Dude…

Not being good at sports in general, I just watched.  Then I grabbed a bowl, took another bowl, and placed it upside down on top.  A third bowl sat on top of that, and the fourth bowl, like the second, was upside down on top of that.  I can’t remember how many I did, but pretty soon, the fat guy, the skinny guy, the little dude, the regular Joe, the cute college prep, were all looking at my tower.  Huh-huh.  Then another guy started building.  Then another.  We were all grinning.

We never said much.  I never knew a single man’s name.  They went off and graduated, I’m assuming, having intercourse, having kids, making some money, losing some, fighting with their women, crying, thinking about God, planning, succeeding, doing up their kids’ zippers, failing in life, and some of them failing miserably.  They’re all about 35 or 40 now.

The point is these simple, unspoken rituals of manhood are slowly dying.  Boys who grow into manhood with their curiosity about men unsatisfied, however intense or mild it may be, are deficient in their understanding of the world.  Some of them are given badges, honors, and guns by the state.  The lack from before is filled with something that has the potential to become that much more sinister.  Simultaneously, present-day culture puts all men under suspicion.

Gone are the days of apprenticeships, where boys would learn how to perform tasks in a useful trade.  You could depend on these boys learning how to read, count, and apply their physical bodies in the act of creation alongside a watchful man with a vested interest.  Now they are lectured, usually by women, about how those days are long gone, and wasn’t that an interesting, quaint way to live?  Finally, when one of these boys needs to leave the feminized classroom so that he can unzip and pee, he has to ask permission.  Since children seldom leave the classroom except for lunch or urination, everybody knows, since it isn’t lunchtime, what little Fred has to do with his wiener.  Lovely.

This same little Fred goes to church on Sunday and finds the dilemma with his zipper has grown worse.  A simple, masculine exchange of a non-sexual nature, but which carries with it the unspoken enjoyment of a shared masculine sexual potential, with just a little pride, is laden with problems and emotional upset, all because boys and men can no longer relate, unless it’s pre-approved, corporate-sponsored, thoroughly vetted, and after school.

Men who are brave enough to create little men are inundated with parenting books written by vetted “experts.”  I propose to you that men who know how to be men, who remember being boys with total honesty about the pain as well as the joy, don’t need any stupid books.  The affection remains bottled until they have found the safety required to express it.

I watched a family friend a few years back with his daughter, who couldn’t have been a day over 12.  She was a typical sapling: tall but gawky, too slender to be womanly, blonde, and obviously someone who would turn heads in about two more years.  It was summer, so she was wearing shorts.  I don’t know what the problem was, or whether it was even a problem that sparked the whispering I was somehow privileged to hear, but since I was in the room, I watched and listened with rapt attention.

He stroked her thigh in a loving fashion that bordered on a romantic gesture.  She sat perfectly still with her arm around his neck.  I have no idea what they said, but everything that came out of his mouth was soft and intimate.  He knew another grown man was in the room and watching.  He didn’t care.  Neither did she.  Good for them.  That young lady is probably married now.  I have no doubt that she desperately wants her husband (the lucky bum) to do much the same thing.  I know for a fact that the father was not a boy alone when he grew up.

What would a hysterical soccer mom who didn’t know those two think?  Who gives a damn?  By the look on the girl’s face, he clearly isn’t finished.  Leave them alone.  If you don’t understand the vast chasm between incest and fatherly affection, this article isn’t going to convince you.  It will simply run right over you if it convinces any number of men reading it, so go back to your Women’s Studies thing.

I had a thought while watching Walt Disney’s final masterpiece, “Sleeping Beauty” the other day.  The artwork, especially in the forest scenes, is incomparable.  So is Tchaikovsky’s soundtrack.

The story and dialogue, though, are forgettable and laughable.  In the middle of the movie, we finally discover that the Three Good Fairies are almost entirely useless, as they have been raising the princess in the forest for 16 years, yet they still haven’t figured out how to make a dress or bake a damn cake.  Now, real women, in anticipation of a particularly auspicious birthday, would undoubtedly be able to handle it in spades.

However, I found myself thinking, “What would three blue-collar men – husky, heavy, and hairy (No, those are not their names.)  – do if they encountered a foundling baby girl in the forest?  What could she expect on her sixteenth birthday?”  The answer is clear to me: She would probably have an entirely new set of bedroom furniture, a vanity complete with carved flowers and curly-cues, one hell-of-a massive cake, ribs broiled to perfection, every pastel color you can imagine hanging from the walls, and the knowledge that behind her, for the rest of her life, is a wall of muscular protection should she ever require it.  No doubt they would have helped her countless times to put her tiny panties on when she was littler.  If a misandrist interrupted one such tender and ordinary moment, I would suggest that whatever the accusation, the reply should start with two words:  Shove off.

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