I don’t feel like a man. Not all the time. Or rather, I don’t know how to be one or even what one is. I don’t know if it’s because I see my father or brother and they seem so “manly.” Like, they seem to have it all together; they’re tough, gritty and nothing cracks their exterior. That’s a lie of course because I know better, but it still feels that way. Maybe it’s because in some way, I’ve had it drilled into my mind for as long as I can remember that I’m not as manly. Because I prefer to read rather than hit a baseball or because I cry when I watch an emotional film. I don’t think that’s a stretch is it? For most of my life, I’ve had the idea of vulnerability reflected back at me as a “weakness.” Inadequacy has become my nagging injury, but of the mind.
Let me get specific. I find the manliness they project nauseating because, as I said, I know better. I know in many ways that it’s a front. They won’t say that, not to me at least or most people. And they certainly won’t show it. Hell, maybe I’m being patronizing in thinking I’ve mastered their psyche from afar, but I watch; I observe and I’ve had bits of information trickled down to me. I know that they too feel inadequate, maybe not about their manliness in particular – they’re too manly for that, right – but about life events. And that’s what frustrates the fuck out of me. Those inadequacies are precisely where brothers or a father and son can build the foundation of their relationship upon. You know, it could be something deep, meaningful and important. Instead, we’re men, right? We don’t talk about that shit.
I resent them. There, I said it. Whew, that wasn’t the elephant sitting in the room; that was the goddamn masked man sharpening his hacksaw. I feel better. Now we’re getting somewhere. Well, I guess I should back up. Why am I even talking about this? I’m moving. For the first time in almost sixteen years, I’m moving. And not just that, but I’m moving to go live with my sister. Well, for all intents and purposes, though, I’m living on my own for the first time. And as I make this transition, the feeling of inadequacy and unpreparedness looms deep within my mind. For weeks, I knew this day was coming, but I let it fester on the outer reaches of my consciousness. I never really contemplated it until now.
I’m sheltered and have been for my whole life. If some think that self-awareness is lost upon me, then they don’t really know me. Maybe that’s where some of that inadequacy derives from. As my brother will remind me ad nauseum, he started driving when he was nine, had his first job at twelve and was fucking by thirteen. I’m exaggerating clearly, but that’s what he does. For some reason, he escaped being sheltered, whereas that’s all I’ve known. At almost twenty-three, I’m still living with my parents. Notice, I put in the operative word “still.” As if, that’s a bad thing. Going by the national average, I’m probably okay for another few years, but going by my brother’s average, I should have been self-sufficient when my first pimple appeared on my face.
Sometimes, I wish. Look, regret’s an unwelcome asshole, but it’s there. Sometimes, I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had saved my monies differently, so I could have moved out sooner. I wish I had gone to college out of state or at least, further away, get a dorm and gain the “college experience.” In some respects, however, I’m not sure what else I could have done? No, mom, don’t do this for me or do that. No, dad, I can do that. Should I have said those things? I don’t know. Let’s look at it: my first job was because of my mom and brother. My second real job was because of my brother. My current job is because of my father. I have a hot meal waiting for me downstairs most nights because of my mother, along with clean laundry, a clean room with a made bed and so on and so forth. I’ve lived in this house for sixteen years and it’s all I’ve ever known. Have I been coddled, babied? I don’t know. Maybe.
I will fail. Or at least, I feel that way sometimes. I see it in others constantly. My boss that tells me he expects to see me back working for him when I need rent money. Or my mother that seems concerned with how my sister and I will eat. Or my brother that constantly reminds me he has a mortgage payment, a car payment, two kid’s payments, and he’s a man, and well, what am I? Or the overwhelmingly, unbearable tension I feel every time I’m in the same room as my father. Is his disappointment of me just in my head? I don’t know, but I see it in his eyes and I damn sure feel it.
Fuck them, my brother and father. God, that’s fucking harsh, but when is enough, enough? I sometimes feel if I were to scale Mt. Everest with my bare hands, discover a new type of rock on the way, fuck the most beautiful model in the world right there in the snow, and then pen a tell-all best-selling novel about it, they would still look at me with that smirk, that wink, that dead, disappointed looks in their eyes and say, “Yeah, but?” I still wouldn’t be a “man” or “living up to my potential.” Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not a narcissist; I don’t want them to coddle my balls and tell me how great I am or anything like that. I don’t need repetitious affirmation, but a “Hey, I’m proud of you, kid,” or a supportive real talk, instead of a lecture or subtle insinuations, would be nice.
I remember when I was a kid, not at this house, but at the old one, I was maybe six or seven. I was playing outside on the porch on a warm summer day. I was running around, poking at one of those damn birdhouses I think, and out of nowhere, a bee stung me. It felt like a hot coal was placed between my toes; it hurt. Oh, I cried. The tears were hot and furious. Within seconds, my dad was there. He scooped me up, like the big bear I thought he was, and held me in his arms. I cried into his massive shoulder and all was better. I was okay now because he was there.
A few years later, when I was eleven, I was playing baseball with the neighborhood kids in one of my friends’ expansive backyard apt for such fun. He and I were manning the outfield. One of the best players on the opposing team hit a ball over the fence. I scaled the fence easily, as it was only four or five feet tall and retrieved the ball. Not long after, another kid hit a homerun over the fence. Ha! It was my friend’s turn to get the ball. Nope, he made me get it. Dammit. I scaled the fence, retrieved the ball and then as I came back over the fence again, my shorts caught in the fence post and I tumbled hands first to the ground. My left arm snapped in two and looked like a grotesque pretzel. After my friend’s surprised reaction and resulting screaming, my dad was there. I could hear the fear in his voice, but he tried to hide it. He joked about how it was going to be hard to play Madden now on the PlayStation. Later, I learned he had run from our house upon hearing I was hurt and literally jumped over two fences to get to me. I didn’t cry then, but all was better. I was okay because he was there.
Where is he now? Where is that father?
Most weeks, we easily go days without saying much to each other beyond grunts and inconsequential shit. Most nights, I admit, I purposely stay in my room to avoid him. Because, it goes back to the inadequacy, I feel like I’m a walking disappointment all the time. And that damn tension. What the hell happened? What did I do? What did I not do? Let’s go deeper. It’s not just my perceived disappointment I imbue in him, but his anger. Not at me, necessarily, although sometimes, but in general. I sometimes feel like I’m walking on the proverbial eggshells, if the eggshells were also lit on fire, when around him. He seems to have such a short fuse and I think that’s part of the reason why I stopped trying. I say part of the reason because I don’t want to put everything on his broad shoulders, but nonetheless.
The other day, I was at my best friend’s house. His dad had pulled his back lifting the front door off its hinges. His wife wanted him to fix the spacing between the bottom of the door and the floor. He’s a bit of a MacGyver type, so he had come up with a solution, which well, I wouldn’t know how to explain. Anyhow, he asks my friend to help him hold the door. They didn’t even say much to each other, but just watching them, I wouldn’t say I was envious, but I considered, what would it be like to have a calmer, more easygoing father? Obviously, I don’t know how they are behind that front door, but, I don’t know, would I have blossomed differently? Subjects I feel a son should be comfortable taking to his father: finances, women and sex, life in general; he seems unapproachable. Why can’t we grab two cold beers, sit on the deck on a breezy summer night and shoot the shit? That notion seems foreign to me, inconceivable.
When I was moving my books and such out of my room recently, he was in the chair watching television, gobbling some popcorn or something. On one hand, I did take a pride in the novelty of moving my own stuff. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t help but yearn for his help. Not because the boxes were heavy or anything, but because, shouldn’t the moment have meant more between father and son? Maybe I fucking romanticize concepts in my head too much. Like, he, the father, having imparted all his knowledge, wisdom and experience to me was supposed to see me off and set me free upon the world. Nah, I just saw the back of his head, said I’d be back later and drove off. Jeez, I know he has his own issues he’s struggling through, a stressful job and financial woes. I know he cares, goddammit. I just don’t see it or feel it. I resent him for allowing whatever this rift is, at least the one I perceive, to grow and build over time. It feels unmanageable. I guess that’s where I resent myself for thinking that, for not trying harder or doing more to ameliorate it.
I’m moving. If it’s bad now, to me, how bad will it be going forward? If we didn’t talk much when we were within a walk down the stairs from each other, how much are we going to talk when we’re two and a half hours away? I think often that if I just show my adequacy, that I can be self-sufficient, it’ll be enough. I think if I can just finish school and graduate with a degree, it’ll be enough. If I can just secure a well-paying job, it’ll be enough. This is dark shit, but I sometimes think, fuck all that, what if I hung myself in the basement and wrote a sign-off lettering saying “Is this enough?” I shake just writing that, but I’ve thought it before. More than once. I don’t think I would ever do it, but the corrosive thought is there in my darkest of hours.
It’s funny, though. By the same token as my father, my brother, when I broke my arm, he cried. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later learned that he did. I didn’t get diagnosed with cancer or get in a head-on car collision: I just broke my arm, an easy fix, but he cried. And hard. I remember one Halloween – my favorite holiday – he and I were walking together trick-or-treating. We had our pillow cases ready to be filled with copious teeth-rotting candy. Yet, halfway through, being the oblivious younger brother that I was, I ditched him and went off with some other friends to finish collecting my candy. I came home and learned that he had been crying. He was hurt.
Where is that brother? Where is the brother that’s willing to rescind his manly bravado and cry again? Have the three of us really grown to be that much different as adults, only twelve years later? Did my brother grow up to be a man, while I languished as a boy in a developing man’s body? Has he, thus, returned the favor and left me behind now? And did my dad become so burdened by his own stress that he stopped being a father? Have the fences become too high to leap now? Or as usual, do I just fucking overthink? I know that’s likely, but don’t insult my intelligence either, respectfully. I am musing here, but I’m not throwing fire at the wall to burn bridges or absolve myself of any blame; I am genuinely concerned. I think about these things; I don’t know if they do too or not, but that’s the point, right?
Inadequacy is the nagging injury of my mind, but writing is my rehab. I guess, I just wish my brother and father were here with me. I’m legitimately terrified for them to ever read this. Not because of what I say, but because they won’t take it seriously. Because nothing will change. We’ll just go back to my dad grunting at me, my brother measuring his success dick against mine and I’ll return to my old friend; the blank screen and the keyboard.
Brett Milam is a college student majoring in philosophy. He has been writing poetry, fiction and nonfiction since he was a child and first submitted a poem to a library poetry contest. With his writing, he enjoys pushing boundaries and doing the unexpected. Mostly, though, he just has fun with it.