A good buddy and I have recently been talking about raising our boys and the path to manhood; a path not necessarily walked with tremendous consciousness, but a path every single boy must find his way upon. With or without guidance, every young boy will one day wake up and find himself a man. With or without consciousness, we will each of us find ourselves trying to 'be a man'; trying to discover what that means. We fumble our way, sometimes never knowing that 'being a man' is nothing more than fully becoming a human being - a human being who is flawed, who knows love as well as fear; who knows both courage and weakness; who is vulnerable and yet strong - a being, fully human in all its shades, nuances and inconsistencies. A man.
Raising a child is one of the most valuable and basic ways to affirm life, to leave this earthly place a little bit better - or not. Almost anyone can reproduce. Big deal. Not everyone takes the job seriously. Not everyone cares about the fine art of growing a human being. After all, human beings are almost a dime a dozen, what with 6, soon to be 7 BILLION of us on the planet. It's easy to forget. It's all too easy to forget that each one is precious. We too often are imprinted with the opposite message - that we are disposable. Disposable humans fill the landscapes of wars and prisons, mental hospitals and the streets, third world shantytowns and middle american families. We treat others as disposable when we ourselves have been treated as disposable and have come to believe it as truth and fact. We've unquestioningly been bought and sold - all too easily tossed aside and discounted. Just turn on the TV. There's hundreds of messages telling us we're not good enough, and if we just purchase the next latest thing, the new and improved thing that we lack, THEN we will be someone, something, a person of worth that can be measured by a material yardstick; someone worth more than the 'disposables'.
It has nothing to do with being a good human being.
Our fathers are supposed to be one of our strongest signposts along the way. Sometimes a sign points the way. Sometimes it warns "Do Not Enter".
I am fortunate. Before my father died in his eighties I was able to have an honest talk with him. I told him how the violence I'd grown up with had damaged me. I wanted him to know before he died, before we no longer had a chance to sit down together face to face, how his actions had hurt me as a child. I also told him that now, as a man, I could forgive him, knowing that he himself had never been shown better, knowing that he also must have had great pain and hurt shown to him. Others in my family were alarmed that I would speak so frankly about things that there was an unspoken family agreement that such things should remain in the shadows of silence. Somehow it was believed that if we didn't speak about these things, then the pain would touch us less. Instead, I spoke. And my father spoke in return.
He was an old man getting ready to die. He had a conscience to clear. He apologized. With total sincerity he told me, had he known any better he would have done better - simple as that. And a lifetime of pain and hurt was washed away. He was free to move on and so was I.
Years later I saw the movie "Smoke Signals", a favorite movie of mine written by Sherman Alexie. It's about fathers and sons, pain and the convoluted yet simple path to forgiveness and redemption. It's a movie about becoming a human being - a man in all his flesh and spirit. The movie ends with this poem by Dick Lourie, as Victor, the main character, tosses his father's ashes into the river. it's a powerful scene, a powerful moment in the journey to becoming a man.