I had a gal write in recently who is an old friend, but also the queen of the back-handed compliment. She said, “Well, you’ll never grow old, Henry, because you never really grew up.” That’s one of those statements where you answer,”Thank you…I think, ” and you walk away, scratching your head.
The truth is, since the age of two when little boys are taught to pee standing up, they are strongly encouraged to be a man and for the most part, this is a good thing. Sons look at their dads, or firemen, or soldiers, carpenters, and think, “Man, I can’t wait to be a grown-up…a man! As soon as I learn how to drive… As soon as I learn how to shoot a gun. As soon as I can catch a football, make out with a girl and a hundred other things, then I’ll be a man. ” The funny thing is, men reading this know that this is only a small part, possibly the least important part of being a man.
Now, this essay is gonna go exactly the way you think it is, but then it’s going to take a left-turn and go where you don’t expect it. Be forewarned.
Some little boys never do grow up. There’s a term for this: The Peter Pan Syndrome. They may be cute. They may be successful, good-looking, but in the back of your mind, you know there’s something critical that’s missing. They even marry, but their wives often have to do double-duty as mommies, and that’s not a good thing.
The corollary to this is there are young boys who have to grow up…before they’re supposed to. Sometimes, it’s because their dad died, or took off, or was a drunk, and at age twelve or fourteen they have assumed the role of the man of the house. Big shoes to fill, and it changes that little boy in both good and sad ways. Often, they miss out on a real childhood, having fun, being silly, goofy…just playing and dreaming. On the other side of the scale, they become more capable in the things grown men need to know. Sounds like a good trade-off. Well…yes and no.
So, the $64 dollar question is, what the hell is it that makes one eighteen-year-old a man and the other eighteen-year-old…a little boy? There’s one phrase which I think everyone is familiar with: WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN. Another phrase that works is: When everything has gone to shit… The concept is taking responsibility when things aren’t fun anymore. It’s putting those you love ahead of you in your priority for life and survival. You don’t have to be a good ball player, or be able to race a car, shoot a gun. But…you gotta be there. And you gotta be there tomorrow and the next day…sometimes forever. Your wife comes first. Your kids come first. Your family comes first. It’s that simple.
Women have a similar arc, but in this one instance, they have a bit of an advantage. Little girls aren’t expected to be able to hit the bulls-eye with a Glock at fifty paces, sink a basket or get the seven ball in the corner pocket. In point of fact, the smart ones learn early that they aren’t supposed to. They’re supposed to learn how to clap when their boyfriend does sink the basket. And that’s part of their growing up. We all have our roles in life. Younger generations eschew some of this now, and that has its pluses and minuses.
And now, we take that hard turn that I warned you of. And I’m speaking mostly to the men now. From age two till forever, we have it jammed into our heads that to be a man is the be-all, end-all. And it is. But sometimes, you gotta be able to turn it off. Huh???????
Yup. For an overflowing handful of my male friends, buddies, let me whisper in your ear. Our goal as men becomes a Zero-Mistakes goal. A job is done right…or it’s wrong. Things are black…or they’re white and mistakes are something to be pointed-out…no matter what. No…No…No…and NO! When your wife makes a mistake on some little thing, that’s actually inconsequential…no need to point out her error. Your son with his own family now…doesn’t really need correcting very much…maybe a little if it’s serious, but that’s it.
And Zero-Mistakes as a goal for the rest of your life is probably the biggest pitfall that snookers us as men. When you’re growing up, you know that you learn from your mistakes. And if you never indulge in a mistake…guess what. You stop learning and there are kajillions of cool, fun, exciting, enlightening things we mature men can learn. But you have to be willing to gamble the likelihood of screwing up-BIG TIME.
A huge little tip I’ll whisper in your ear. Not one single member of your family or of your true friends will nail you for making a mistake when you’re trying.
Another huge little tip: Your wife will NEVER chastise you for indulging in a little silliness…like when you were dating. When is the last time you surprised your wife in bed by blowin’ a big raspberry on her tummy? You just may find that your wife instantaneously transformed into the funny beautiful girl you were dating.
Is it good to be a man? Hell yes. But don’t worry for a microsecond that to indulge in being a kid will destroy all that. You may be 40 or 50, or 60 or 80 and if you look within yourself there’s still that little kind inside you, wishing he could come out and play, and make you and your family laugh.
Yes…I’m talking to myself right this second. Pam and I have had two years fighting first cancer, then lymphedema. It’s been trench warfare. Most recently, there’s been a period of 8 months where if Pam got so much as a scratch, a bug bite, a bruise…she was in serious trouble and I’ve had to wear that responsibility hat every single minute. But…there’s a time to take that hat off.
Sometimes in life, particularly when you get older, a bit of humor, a little bit of silliness, is the only thing that gets you through. We are all complex machines, but the grease and oil that keeps us from blowing up….is the humor, the silliness…the little kid that’s still inside you.
A little gauge you might observe: Do you have a pet? Do you find that you get along better with your dog than your family? Do you get goofy with your pup, pull its tail, blow in its ears, tickle its tummy? That’s because your dog won’t judge you. Your family won’t either if you let your guard down.
One last tip: Having had dogs every year I’ve been alive, I can tell you that my (old) pups now are still worth their weight in platinum. Seriously. Pam and I laugh ten times as much every day, because of Moose, Scootie, and Gigi our Boston terriers.
The excuses I hear: too much trouble, not convenient if we go away, they smell. These amount to profound nothingness compared to the minute-by-minute joy they bring. Bostons, by the way are GREAT! Their entire reason for existence is to make you laugh…make you happy.
Let that little kid out once in a while, and everyone around you will love you all the more. I guarantee it.
P.S. Quote from Stephen King: “I have the heart of a small boy…and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”