Wednesday, June 14, 2006

To Own a Dragon

From chapter 5 of To Own a Dragon – reflections on growing up without a father, by Donald Miller, published by Navpress 2006

When I was younger, I didn’t trust older men. And it’s only in the last few years I’ve understood why. I know I was more or less an awkward kid growing up, a few years behind in maturity, always having some kind of show-off show going on, and I don’t think a lot of the men I knew back then had a great deal of tolerance for me. My grandfather died when I was a kid, and my dad, of course, had taken off before I was old enough to walk. Then one of my uncles left my aunt, and my other uncle had kids of his own to raise on the other side of the country, so the immediate family had no men at all. No men and no boys, just me and a lot of women.

Being a guy, of course, I felt out of place, but I didn’t feel any more comfortable standing around with a group of men, either. When hanging out with my friends and their dads, I knew I didn’t belong. There is something about having your own father standing there talking to your friends’ fathers that validates you: you’re his kid, not just some stray that wandered in off the street. So, although I never knew it at the time, I grew up with a constant feeling of insecurity, even a fear there was a consequence for being who I was, a kind of
subconscious knowing that I wasn’t okay, and someday I was going to pay for it. This feeling I didn’t fit in gave me a noticeable distrust of authority, especially of older men.

Because I didn’t have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn’t belong to. I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to belong. At the father-and-son campout, I knew Matt [a family friend] wasn’t my dad, and I knew he probably didn’t want to be there. I knew he was slightly embarrassed that in a group of men who were bonding with their sons, he was walking around with a charity case. I couldn’t have put words to it back then, but I felt it. Every time I met an older man, I assumed he would not like me, and he would not want me around.

I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate, how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was and be able to grab it and stop its flapping around, doing this without jolting their heads back or squinting their eyes.

They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick-shift truck without grinding the gears. And then I secretly believed at the end of the meeting they gathered around and reminded each other that under no circumstances was anybody to tell me about these things.

Absurd, I know. I say this because when you grow up believing an entire community of men have a fraternity you are not allowed into, you don’t like them, or their club, and you tend to defend your manhood by awkwardly trying to knock up cheerleaders. Or you try to become a man by getting into fights in bars. Or you just give up completely, and you silently harbour bitterness toward the idea of manhood all together. And you hate men who look anything like authority. You hate them because they first hated you.
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