Be a man!

“you can start by being a man!”

It’s a famous movie scene. Johnny Fontaine is sobbing to the Godfather on the day of his daughter’s wedding. He tearfully exclaims “What am I gonna do?” To which the Godfather loudly and angrily yells, “You can start by being a man!”

Be a man! Every boy and a few grown men have heard it. One problem as I see it is that, historically, few have known what that expression means and it would have benefitted them to ask for clarification. The second problem as I see it is that it no longer matters. All masculinity, toxic or otherwise has become marginalized and now sits firmly in the taboo section.

I fear for the boys coming up today. They are fighting so many forces. A historic lack of nuclear families is leaving many boys without a male influence (yes, boys need a father). A thick grey line in gender roles, and gender itself, is confusing our boys. Most importantly, society is condemning traditional male behavior as toxic, aggressive and dangerous.

In fairness, some traditional “male” behaviors should be condemned. For example, when flirtation, a natural instinct, crosses over into the realm of misogyny then it needs to be controlled. Flirting is perfectly natural and it is part of the mating process of all mammals. Catcalling is not flirting, it is insulting and degrading to women and in today’s day and age should be a thing of the past. However, there was a time when a woman could handle a flirt gone bad with a snazzy retort or to simply ignore it. Women are not helpless and any strong woman can easily shoot down a man who gets (verbally) out of line.

“Boys will be boys” is not just a saying or a luxury. All boys need to be boys before they can become men. Boys need to chase windmills to feed their imagination. Boys need to slay dragons to grow confidence. Boys need to fight to learn how a victory and a beating feel. Boys need to do the flirtation dance with girls to teach them how to treat a woman. Boys need to play games with winners and without participation trophies because winning is a thing and it is just as important that they know what losing feels like. Boys need to be boys, but they aren’t allowed to anymore. Masculinity is not toxic. It’s in the DNA.

This is a complex subject that needs to be treated carefully and with dignity. It is something that, if not addressed, we will be cursed with a future filled with men whose pheromones could easily be mistaken for perfume. We need to acknowledge that it is not a bad thing to “be a man”, that to be a man is impossible if the boy is stifled, and that women will someday crave a “real man” only to find that the species as we know it has gone extinct.

It is imperative that, in order to handle this topic in a fair and balanced manner the reader must understand that this is, at the end of the day, my opinion. I will attempt to differentiate good masculinity from “toxic” masculinity and give examples of what a “good” and “real man” is.

Lord knows someone needs to get to the bottom of this issue while there is still time.

Stay tuned. I hope you enjoy.

A year has passed…cont’d

September 28, 2018.
I awoke in a trauma center room full of beeping machines, staring and inquisitive medical staff, lots of plastic curtains and my ex-wife, oldest daughter and my mother.

You can catch up here.

“Where are the 2 fat firefighters?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s fine” she said. She then began to laugh, if you could call it that. A nervous laugh of relief if anything. My wife had buried her face in her hands.

Very confused and in a bit of a haze, I asked why they reacted as they did. As it turns out, the Dr. had just cautioned them that when I awoke there was a distinct possibility that I could suffer some type of cognitive loss. My first words after being medically sedated for 2 days being a joke, they were convinced that I was ok.

But of course I wasn’t.

It took me a while to piece together the events of the previous 3 days. I had no recollection of them so I had to rely on accounts from my mother and my medical team. Both were being light on details and, even in my foggy state I knew that it wasn’t good. Initially, all I was able to learn was that I was rushed to a local hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me and sent me away after dousing me in ice to lower my fever. Which, by the way, was measured at 104.9, a fever that a man my age rarely survives. I was then taken 65 miles away to a hospital with a Trauma center and immediately heavily sedated as they worked to control the septic infection ravaging my body. I was sedated for 2 full days. At one point my mother was asked if I had a Medical Proxy and a Advanced Directive, AKA a DNR (Do not resuscitate.

My Dr. confirmed and explained Sepsis to me and the reasons for Sedating me for 2 days. Apparently I was extremely fitful as I was being treated and I kept tearing the breathing tube out (that was the first time I realized I had had a breathing tube). He was very focused on my treatment regimen going forward. My mother was light on details, she was very upset by the ordeal. It wasn’t until I spoke to the Night Nurse, a real good guy that worked every night that I was in ICU. I explained to him my need for info and my confusion about what had happened to me. He took off his glasses and sat down next to me.
“A guy doesn’t get any closer to the other side than you did. We’re all amazed at your recovery. We thought we lost you.”
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, if I wasn’t a religious man before I would be now.” He paused. “It was that close.”
I could do nothing but stare at the white ceiling.
“And you’re not out of the woods yet.”

What followed was a full week of restricted bed rest. I was severely limited in how much I could move because I had a temporary dialysis port put in my hip that was in danger of rupturing causing me to bleed out. For 4 long days they ran every antibiotic known to mankind through me until my fever stopped spiking. By Sunday I was able to be moved to a regular room.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The infection wasn’t done yet. I had several relapses plagued by sweating spells and rampant chills in no particular order. I wasn’t able to eat much. I was still forced to stay prone in bed, it would be 2 days before I could even sit up. I was in a private room but there was nothing private about it, nurses and teams of doctors were in there constantly monitoring my every function. My only reprieves, as it were, were my dialysis sessions upstairs.

Eventually I did stabilize, much of it was a blur. I did have plenty of time to get to know the nurses as I recovered. In addition to their youth and attractiveness they were very friendly and good at their jobs. I struck a rapport with a few, one in particular couldn’t get enough of my jokes and my story. She came in every time she had a minute and asked me more questions about my Chronic illness journey. Her name was Olivia.

On day 9 Olivia came in with the physical therapy team. They were tasked with getting me to walk. I had been bed-ridden for 8 days and it was amazing how atrophied my muscles were. 3 nurses got me to the hallway with the goal of walking to the end and back. I was only able to support myself for 3 steps and I collapsed. I would try 2 more times that day and I fared only slightly better then. I was returned to bed. Olivia told me that they wouldn’t consider letting me leave, fever vanquished or not, until I could walk.

By the end of that night I was able to walk the hallway end to end twice before collapsing into bed again.

to be continued

the lucky hat

“Did you get that at Fenway?”
Startled from my apparent trance I turned to the kind-faced gentleman behind me in line at the market and recognized that he was referring to my hat. My favorite hat, the Red Sox Scali Cap. “Yes I did, actually” I replied.

“Bet that set you back a few bucks” he said

“Yea, but it was worth it. It’s my good will hat. Besides, it hides my chrome dome” and for effect I took it off and gestured self-deprecatingly at my bald head. He laughed and I then realized it was time to pay the clearly annoyed cashier who obviously had much better places to be today. I paid and walked out.

As I walked to my car I reflected on how NH life was growing on me but I’m still taken off of my game when someone just initiates friendly conversation. While I am a big fan of it I come from an area where people will generally read a candy bar wrapper to avoid eye contact. Enjoying that brief exchange with a friendly stranger, I opened my car to put my groceries in.

“What did you mean by Good Will hat? I thought you said you bought it at Fenway?” My friend from line was parked next to me. He thought I bought it at a GoodWill store.

I told him the Chili’s story.

Many years ago I was at Chili’s restaurant knocking back a few with my buddy Chuck. I liked the bar a lot and I really liked the bartender. Jane was a slightly heavy, forty-ish woman who was a refreshing change from the usual younger, vapid bartenders that flashed cleavage for tips but had little personality. Don’t get me wrong, I love tits but I’m old fashioned and like to have a bartender I can talk to also. I was wearing my hat. Jane was obsessed with my hat. She also had asked me if I had bought it at Fenway. She kept telling me how good I looked in it and I kept telling her to stop hustling for tips. She laughed. Then she told me how much her brother would love a hat like mine.

Over the course of several more beers Jane told Chuck and I of her brother in VT. He was dying of stage 4 prostate cancer. She wanted to get him something to cheer him up. She got a little emotional as she talked of him. The subject was changed.

When I paid my bill, I put the money inside my hat and left it on the bar. When she came over I slid the hat across the bar and told her to give it to her brother. She teared up and I tore out of there. No drama for me that night. Chuck slapped me on the back and told me what a nice gesture that was. Not to be immodest, but I do stuff like that pretty often. If I see a chance to make someone smile, unless I’m really attached to something I will usually give it away,

The next day I saw my buddy Steve on the street. He asked me where my hat was. Unbelievable. I told him the story and he also thought it was great.

2 weeks later I heard a knock on my door and when I opened it there stood Steve with a new hat. “For you” he said. “I was at the game last night, saw this and had to get it for you. You paid it forward and now I am too. Besides, you need to cover that bald head.”

When I finished telling my supermarket friend the story he was full of smiles. ” All of that from one hat, huh?”

“Yup, and every time I wear it I am reminded to spread some good will. Small gestures my friend”.

As we parted ways I jokingly remarked ” do you want it?” He laughed and got in his car.

Small gestures can mean the world to someone.

Touching the moon

“Closer”, the father said to the boy.
The boy dutifully moved to his father’s instruction. “Better?”
“Yes, now stand on your toes and reach as high as you can.”
Again, the boy obeyed his father. “Am I touching it?”
“Yes, son. You are.”
There was a audible click as the camera snapped the photo of his index finger touching the full moon that he and his family had been admiring at the end of a wonderful family day on the beach.

For a short, magical time the boy actually believed that he had touched the moon. After all, there was a picture in the family album of it. But eventually he realized that it was only an illusion.

Many years have passed. Now an adult, he sat on the wall of the beach at low tide and looked longingly at the sky. It was his favorite spot, it made him think of his father who was long since deceased. He dwelt on the notion of happiness, in particular the distinct lack of it in his life. This spot represented the best time of his life. He stopped short at actually saying happiest, he had always believed that he had never achieved “happy” in its truest form.

Especially lately. The young, spirited and curious young boy that had grown into a bright, artistic if not aimless young man had married a woman that he thought he loved, but their life together was tumultuous and ended badly. He emerged from the marriage broken and disillusioned man. What his marriage hadn’t robbed him of was consumed by his illness. But he had one trick up his sleeve, his only one, his ability to put on a “happy”(there’s that word again) face and along with his already perfected “optimistic” face and his proven “I’m fine” face, his gallery of feigned emotions served him well for a very long time.

Until now. Although he could never recall being happy, he knew what it was and knew he didn’t have it. He had come close to it several times as he enjoyed the wonderment of his young children. Other than that, he felt that he was a stranger witnessing his life through a looking glass. Close enough to be there but just out of reach. It would have been bad enough to feel like a stranger in his own world, but it had metastasized. He was now a truly joyless creature.

He reflected on his new existence, courtesy of the recent events of his life bestowed upon him by his now life-consuming chronic illness. He wondered when the social extrovert he was notorious as became more comfortable being alone. When did his body become so weak that it immediately dismissed his (still) sharp mind’s desire to do things? When did he become the guy who stopped making plans because he knew he would probably cancel at the last minute? He wondered why he goes to bed early to rest up for nothing, to then get up early to get ready to go nowhere? When did he stop hoping that the next day would bring better things, a miracle of sorts to end the nearly endless cycle of clinic sessions and Medical appointments? Short of stopping to pat the head of a stranger’s dog, he rarely even smiled anymore.

He was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Tired of being strong for everyone and draining his precious remaining energy in the process. Most of all, he was exhausted from making a fake smile and telling those that loved him that he was ok and that things would get better. Only one person was being strong for him. And she was so far away. As far away as the moon.

He hadn’t noticed that the sun had set. He had brooded throughout the very sunset that he went to witness. In the sun’s place stood a magnificent full moon. A moon so bright that it boldly stole the sky for its own glory.

He recognized a metaphor in his musings and the beautiful coincidence of a full moon just like the one his beloved father had photographed of him at this very spot when he was a boy. The moon was just like happiness. He could see it, feel it, admire its beauty. He could even reach with outstretched hands and appear to touch it. But in reality, the cruel harsh mistress that she was, both were in fact light years away and the appearance of touching either was just an illusion.

Nothing is an accident

Nothing happens by accident. Everything happens for a reason.

Wait…who said that? Was that me? It sure as hell doesn’t sound like something the old me would ever say. The borderline agnostic, the “I stop at being spiritual” guy who reluctantly opened his heart and mind to the possibility that there is a driving force in the universe just said the unthinkable.

I recently met someone I now know in my heart of hearts that I was supposed to meet. I was in need of awakening, of hope, of inspiration and of expansion of what I know now was my very small world.

This person challenges me in multiple ways. To think bigger, to look deeper, to question the unquestionable and embrace the once unthinkable. As I was called “Mr. Practical” and “Stubborn Yankee” and other gems I was challenged to delve into schools of thought like Mysticism, Numerology, Astrology and Eastern Religions and Philosophy. I pushed back on all of them and then when the person wasn’t looking I studied it and found myself believing.

I’m now a better person for what I’ve opened myself up to. I am open to things I once scoffed at. It’s difficult for me, pragmatism, logic and reason have been my Navigation tool my entire life. I can’t help but look at things and ask “How is this going to work?”. “What’s the end game?”, and “Shouldn’t we do this first?”. I don’t just plunge into the pool, I stick my toe in first to see if the water is cold.

I wish this was good enough for my muse, but I’m afraid it’s not.

It’s amazing how difficult baby steps are for this stuck-in-his-ways-grownass-adult. Maybe the reason you entered my life is for me to learn to take bigger steps with a carefree jaunt.

Be open to the experience

I woke Sunday morning feeling compelled to go to Church. That was unusual for me because while admittedly spiritual, I’m not particularly religious. I call my faith Kayaking…

Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a Kayak thinking about God.”
Author Unkown

In short, I’m an Omnitheist. I believe in multiple faiths and their version of God. I believe that a higher power is everywhere and I spend a fair amount of time looking for him. The place I spend the least time looking for him is in church. Irony?

But Sunday was different. I had someone on my mind and I stooped to the level of the opportunistic Christians that I normally detest and I went to pray for something close to me. Not entirely a selfish act, I was praying for the health and recovery of a very special lady and I was feeling helpless. I was exhausting all options.

I got there a bit late and I was fortunate enough to find a seat in the very back pew. My late Grandfather taught me this, in case my presence causes the plaster to crack and the ceiling to fall, I’m close to the door. That aside, there are several good reasons that I sit in back. First of all, if a person wanting to cause trouble comes in, I have my trusty 9mm and a great vantage point to stop an incident before it starts. Also, I’m not a real big “responsive reading” and hymn lover. I don’t do ritual of any kind so echoing unoriginal prayers is out for me as is singing those dreadful Hymns. I know the writers meant well but to me they are just insufferable. Finally, in the back pew, nobody is behind me to look at me in disdain because I’m not fitting in by playing along nicely. I like to sit in back and pray my own way, in a room full of positive energy and well-meaning people.

I suffered through the first 3 hymns and responsive readings and when it came time to pray, I broke from the ranks and said my own. I really don’t know how to pray. But I sometimes talk to the Universe and in this case it went something like this…

Dear big guy, you know who you are. I’ve been living a straight forward life that I think you approve of, can I ask you to watch out for my girl? She needs a little help right now and so do I. If it’s not too much trouble, while you’re at it can you tell me what you want from me? Oh yea, would you please grant the man in front of me the wisdom to trim his ear hair? And could you have the big guy in the choir tone down the “holier than though” look on his face? Take care of the meek. Punish the dicks. Save the children. Thanks big guy, has anyone asked you how you are today? Peace brotha…

When the prayer was over it was time for my favorite part of the service. The sermon. Our pastor always delivers a good one, relevant and timely. He didn’t disappoint on this day. He spoke of a young man, Jesus, walking into a village only to be shunned and ignored by the people of the village. They had been taught to be skeptical of strangers and the moral of the story was closing yourself off to that which is unfamiliar can limit your experiences in the world.

This particular sermon resonated heavily with me, for the very person that I came to pray for has caused me to open myself up to a myriad of experiences and phenomena that I previously dismissed as, in the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Hoakum.” She has made me a believer in destiny. In past lives and loves. A believer in providence and the existence of empathic connections. In the short time that I have known this magnificent lady my “horizons”, as it were have broadened exponentially. And none of it would of happened if, when asked by her “do you believe?”, I said no. I started with “I’m open to it.” Which evolved to “that can’t be a coincidence”, to “Holy Crap I can’t believe what just happened.”

I didn’t necessarily need to be reminded that an open mind is the portal to growth. I did need to be shown that it has fundamentally changed my life. Good things happen when you simply allow yourself to be open. When I joined Freemasonry I learned that I needed to believe in a higher power, any higher power no specification required, to join the sacred fraternity. At that point I was a agnostic (never an atheist, I am not arrogant enough to tell you that I know for sure that there is no higher power) I decided to open myself up to a non-denominational, outside the church approach to faith, which is essentially Spirituality. Since that time, I have found “God” in everything. The laughter of a child, the gait of a beautiful woman, the chirp of the bird and the magnificence of a sunset.

I went in to pray for a person. I left with a deeper appreciation of what she has brought to my life. All it takes is to shake off your initial reaction and say “I’m open to it.” Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

A nice day for a wedding

He sat in the back of the little white church. It doesn’t matter where or the occasion, if he was in a church he sat in the back. He got it from his Grandfather who always joked that if his presence in a church causes the ceiling plaster to crack and fall in, always be near the door for a quick escape. The mere recollection of his Grandfather brought a bemused look to his face. Without realizing it he was studying the ceiling for cracks. The guests shuffling in must have gotten a chuckle out of the middle-aged, balding man laughing to himself alone in a pew.
Hell, I don’t think I know one person in this room so who cares? He mused to himself. Except the groom, for whom he had driven 120 miles to this admittedly beautiful but out of the way location.

The church was almost half full of guests. Without even hearing them speak, he could tell that the guests on the “Brides side” had come a long way. For starters, they were tanned. It was late October in NH and they were not wearing warm clothes. He was impressed that they had come so far for the bride. From what he had heard from his buddy the Groom, this girl was worth traveling across the country for.

He shifted his people-watchers back to his own section and reflected on the tale that he had been told, the story of the bride and groom as told over a few beers in July. He was in disbelief over the details as his friend the future groom told it. Amazingly, the groom was almost equally in disbelief. The nuts and bolts was that he was head over heels over a woman he had never actually met. Their “relationship” had started as a online friendship that evolved to emails, then to texts and calls. Soon they spoke in some manner for most of the day. Every day.
He could recall the look on his face as he said,
“I love her, man. This is fucking crazy. I fought it and fought it but I can’t anymore. She’s the one.” He was equal parts incredulous and smitten.
It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him, but he really enjoyed seeing his friend happy. Happy is a word that had not been associated with his friend in a long time.

His thoughts were interrupted by the organist. He hadn’t noticed that the little church had filled a little more and that the minister, known only as “Pastor Larry” had set up at the podium and the small wedding party, including his buddy the groom, was at the front of the church waiting for the entrance of the beautiful bride. He was excited about that as well because he had not met her yet, only seen pictures of her.

As if in synch with his thoughts, Yours by Ella Henderson began to fill the church. It was a beautiful, powerful song and it filled him with emotions as he watched the bride enter the foyer. Man, she was everything his friend had said. Tall, with bright and beautiful eyes, shoulder-length brown hair and bright red lipstick she practically flowed into the room in her floor-length strapless gown. She was stunning. He glanced to the front and saw the tears forming in his buddy’s eyes. He was so happy at the very sight of her.

As if sensing that the moment was getting too intense. the bride briefly tripped over her dress and uttered a pretty audible “Fuck!” and then sheepishly smiled, laughed it off and made her way to the altar. He had heard about that side of her as well. His bud the groom had joked that her vows would probably include the words “Fucking right!”. He could picture it. He had heard all about this beautiful lady and she had quite a story. One that had seemed destined to have tragedy written all over it until their chance encounter. Now, she was fond of the words “happily ever after.”

It was a beautiful ceremony. Simple and elegant. When they exchanged vows, the couple were barely able to choke back tears as they proclaimed their love for each other. As he listened to their exchange he wondered if everyone in the room was as familiar with their remarkable story as he was, of the myriad of events and the tumultuous events that occurred that would have derailed so many relationships in person, never mind from a distance. Yet they had believed and fought for it and they made it happen.

Soon, they had their kiss and the crowd cheered and they made their way down the aisle. As they passed the groom reached out to him and grasped his hand.
“Glad you’re here, bro. Thank you”, he said.
“Wouldn’t miss it, man,” he replied.

He watched as they filed out the door into the late afternoon sunlight. Among all of the commotion of pictures and family members swarming around them he studied the groom. The way he was looking at her, like she was the center of his universe. The guy that had once told him that he was not destined to ever be happy was beaming with his beautiful new bride at his side. He had proven himself wrong and in the process had proved her right.

There is always the opportunity for a Happily Ever After.

He squeezed his way past the crowd and stepped off to the side to light a cigarette. He looked at the clear blue sky, the radiant fall foliage and its reflection on the still lake behind them. He could see what his friend loved about the area. It really was beautiful. A fine day for a wedding indeed.