As a child I was encouraged to feel emotions – share my emotions – have opinions – and share my opinions in a respectful and thoughtful manner. As a child, my family gathered at supper time. We prayed in thanksgiving – “Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts …” and at the conclusion of the meal, the dishes were cleared and the conversations began with earnest emotions. We discussed our days. We discussed our troubles. We discussed our joys. We discussed the news. No topic was verboten. Quick aside: a coworker told my Mother one day, “I never discuss sex or God with my children.” And my Mother replied, “If you don’t discuss sex or God with your children, you don’t talk to them.” Now this revelation isn’t meant to suggest our conversations were salacious. Absolutely not. But there wasn’t a topic we couldn’t discuss. And we did. We debated. A child’s opinion was as valued as an adult’s. No yelling. No sarcasm. Respectful.
Outside our house, emotions and opinions were not valued. Young men are not encouraged to be demonstrative of emotions. So – I quickly discovered I didn’t fit. I wasn’t traditionally “masculine.” I was taught to express myself. Very quickly I found myself on the outside of every masculine subset. So, I learned to be deceptive. To reject the declarative. I adopted a completely artificial persona until I was 23 years old. I became very closed. I’ve written about this at length so I’ll avoid the repetition. It’s sufficient to say that had I not been a Roman Catholic and felt cocooned by my family, I would have committed suicide by the age of 17. I thought of it daily. But see – I didn’t share all those emotions with my family. I felt I wasn’t “normal.” I felt I was flawed. So I felt ashamed.
When I was 23 years old, I dated a woman named Julie. A very clear recollection: we were watching the film “Love Story.” Ali Mcgraw is my idea of perfection. I was smoking a cigarette. A completely pretentious and expensive brand. And I looked up from the sofa and said, “I’m so tired of people emotionally using me.” Pure bullshit. And Julie said, “You never give anything to anyone. You’re so closed.” And she was right. And I knew she was right. I lied every single time I opened my mouth. I went home and I decided I needed to change.
And I did.
It took a long time to change. I had to correct each lie. I had to plant my feet and be completely opened regardless of the ridicule. And I was (and continue to be) ridiculed. Men are uncomfortable being around raw and honest. It makes them feel uncomfortable. It makes them feel challenged. It makes them feel guilty.
But I do it anyway.
Along the way I started closing the circles and embracing solitude. I became very religious and completely driven. About this same time, I assumed the care of my nephews. Three little boys.
I watched the boys grow. I saw their emotional choices. I saw that they started to conceal their emotions to assimilate. And I knew I could stop their heartaches. So, I decided I had to be emotionally available all the time. I would encourage them to embrace their emotions and exhibit them. And each time I did, I validated their emotions with a revelation about my emotions at their ages. I didn’t want them to be hurt as I had been hurt. And I knew I could usher them into manhood if I took each emotional step first.
In December of 2001, I made a final choice: it was a cold snowy night and I was listening to Christmas music. A song came on the radio. “My Grown-up Christmas List.” Barbra Streisand. The lyric, “Every man should have a friend” made me cry. I had no friends. I had shut myself out of all social interaction. I revealed my broken heart to God. And I vowed to change.
I’m still belittled for being emotionally available. I still feel humiliated by the exposition. But I feel it’s my duty as a Roman Catholic to share. See I’m never embarrassed I’m single. I know I should have become a priest. I had that vocation. I made a bad decision when I left the seminary. I think there are people who are called to be single. To be emotionally unattached so they can serve others. If I were married now – I couldn’t provide the care I provide for my parents. Being unattached now allows me the freedom to be of service to everyone I meet. I fucked up my life. I know that now.
See that’s why it’s so important for me to take care of my parents now. It’s not as altruistic as it seems. I’d like to do one task well in my life. I’d like to be successful at something. Maybe this will be my something.
I’m not a good man. I know that feeling humiliated is a sin because it makes the situation about myself and my reaction. I know that’s immoral. I’m trying to overcome my sin of pride.
See. Humiliated by this exhibition.