Monday, July 26, 2010

Chapter 4 – Becoming a Man

I have two brothers.  One two years older than I and one six years younger.  On my dad’s side of the family I have four cousins, three male and one female.  One my mother’s side I have 7 cousins with only two being female and the rest male.  My dad has one sister and my mom has one sister.  So as you can see the Y-chromosome is strong in my family.  So to say that there’s a bit of testosterone floating around family get-togethers is an understatement.  At family reunions there have been things such as arm wrestling tournaments, regular wrestling matches, foot races, and of course many, many hands of cards played.  I even remember a top spinning contest at one family reunion.  Tops…you know, the gentile version of the dradel. 
                I grew up playing all sorts of sports.  Baseball, basketball, football, golf, racquetball, whatever.  Basically if there was a ball involved and played by men, I played it.  I never got into soccer.  My town was a farming town after all, and we didn’t want our football to be mistaken by that poser of a game called futbol.  I was never really good at any of these sports.  Sure I played, and started on the varsity football team in high school.  But I never really felt like I was an athlete.  I had way more fun in the school plays and pep band.  Oh, pep band was amazing!  I am a drummer.  As drummers in pep band, our goal was to blast the competition out with our awesome drum beats.  As if we could beat the opponent into submission through the rhythmic beatings of the “Hey Song” or “Centerfold”.  You got that visiting team?  Fear our drums of war.  If we allow you to leave our gladiators’ ring, you’ll be bleeding from the ears.  Cower below us…na-na na-na na-na na-na…HEY!

                I was also a young cub scout.  I started out as a Tiger Cub and made it all the way to Wolf Scout before everybody else had too much going on to lead our pack.  I had a lot of fun being a Cub Scout.  We’d get to play with cool things like our Swiss Army knives, learn to tie cool knots, and of course build cool fires in either the cabin or tee-pee form.  When I first became a Tiger Cub, my grandpa Galle challenged me.  He said, “Kyle, if you stay in scouts and make it all the way to being an Eagle Scout, I’ll give you $100.”  One hundred dollars?  Are you kidding me?  I was 7 years old and the prospect of a hundred dollar bill was enough to keep me in the pack.  If I could earn those hundred dollars I’d be set for life.  Who gets one hundred dollars?  A rich person, that’s who, and that’s what motivated me to be a scout.  Until I got to the backwards roll.  Part of progressing through scouts is being physically fit.  Well I was a big kid.  I’m still big.  But then, my Achilles heel was the backwards roll.  I remember spending full evenings trying to roll backwards.  I could go forward, do a cartwheel, even a head stand.  But the backward roll was too much.  I’d stand in our living room; start rolling backwards and then BAM!  I’d hit the back of my head on the floor.  I guess I was anticipating the roll to come naturally, that if I could get enough momentum moving backwards, I’d just roll over.  What I failed to realize, and others failed to tell me, is that I had to keep my knees tucked and bring my legs over myself.  Many, many failed rolls, headaches, and probably a concussion or two, I finally rolled backwards.  I did it, twice and earned the achievement.  Later that year the pack folded due to lack of leadership. 

                I always enjoyed fishing and hunting.  Hunting not as much as fishing, but I still enjoyed it.  I like the idea of carrying a gun around the wilderness and shooting animals to eat for supper.  I didn’t like all the walking through tall grass that it usually entailed.  But I still really liked it.  I liked the time spent with my dad and brothers.  I like duck hunting the best.  I think this stems from one of the first times I went duck hunting with my dad and older brother.  It was somewhat of a wet year and all the wetlands close to town were full of ducks.  We were able to sneak up on a small flock of ducks in the pot-holes.  For about a half hour there were ducks flying, guns shooting, and hoots and hollering.  We weren’t able to stay out as long as we wanted, but it was a good hunt.  In fact, even though we shot as much as we did, we didn’t connect as much as we should have.  We each only brought home one duck.  JJ’s was the biggest, and my dad’s had had its head severed somehow.  But it was a good hunt either way. 
                I enjoy fishing even more.  My dad used to take us fishing quite a bit.  When we would take family vacations, we’d always bring the boat and all the fishing gear.  I remember one trip to a Minnesota State Park by Mille Lacs.  The week before, Brian and I had gone out to a local small lake to try our hand at fishing.  My dad had given me permission to take his tackle box.  His tackle box may as well have been filled with gold, and his putting it in my trust was a huge step of faith on his part.  Well, when my family got up to the campground, almost the first thing we did was get the boat in the water.  Before we could launch the boat, we always did a check to make sure all the fishing gear was in place.  Fishing poles…check.  Life jackets…check.  Tackle box…  Uh-oh.  I soon found myself being questioned by my dad about where his tackle box was.  In all the years that I’ve known my dad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more disappointed in me than that moment. 
                “Kyle, where’s my tackle box?  Did you put it back in the boat?”
                “I thought I did…I don’t know where it is.”
I very quickly hid under a rock as waves of sadness and disappointment flooded through me.  I had let my dad down.  Luckily his tackle box had been packed in the Suburban instead of in the boat.  So I was off the hook.  Even through this though, we still had a lot of fun fishing.  We’d have fishing tournaments at family reunions; I’d go ice fishing with Brian and his brothers during the school year.  Imagine my joy when my parents decided to move to Northern Minnesota where the lakes are clear and stuffed at the brim with walleyes. 
My dad and I have had many adventures fishing.   There was one time when my dad and I were taking my younger brother and two younger cousins fishing on Lake of the Woods.  We launched the boat and got halfway out to the spot my dad was planning on fishing when the steering cable broke on the boat.  I remember my dad stopping the boat and saying, “Well, we’re halfway to where we’re going.  The steering cable has broken.  Do we keep going or do we turn around and call the day a bust?”  Of course we all voted to continue on.  I held the motor straight while my dad was slow on the throttle.  We made it out to our spot and had a great day fishing.  On the way back we were able to wedge an oar alongside the motor as a tiller and made and easier way back to shore.
There was also the time that my dad and I spent 8 hours on the lake without being able to coax a nibble on the line.  The day was dry and calm.  We tried a half a dozen different areas of the lake.  We’d drift, we anchored and used bobbers, we’d bottom bounce, we’d cast, we did everything to seduce the fish into biting our lines.  I think my dad missed one hit.  Otherwise there was nothing all day.  It was coming up close to supper time and we decided to make one last pass over the reef before calling it a day.  Right as we were going over the rockiest part of the reef my line snagged.  Great, not only have we not caught any fish, but now I’m more than likely going to lose my lure and leader too. 
“Hey Dad, I’m snagged, turn the boat around.”
                “You’re snagged? Ok, let me get my line in…”
All of a sudden my line runs and my reel starts zipping like I’ve never heard.
                “Holy…uh Dad, I’m not snagged…I got a whale on here!”
                “I’m not snagged!  Either that rock grew fins or I’ve got a hog of a fish on the line.”
                As I was reeling my line in, and while my dad was trying to figure out whether he should cast his line again or grab the net, the fish surfaced.  Now if you know anything about fishing, you know that you never want a fish to surface.  Fish will surface and jump to try and get slack in the line and thus throw the hook loose.  Well, this fish didn’t surface like any I’d seen before.  This fish poked his nose up above the water, and then the rest of his head, like a massive whale would do to take a breath.  My jaw dropped, my dad said something like, “Holy shit!”  Well, eventually I was able to get the leviathan up to the boat.  My dad made a comment about how he wasn’t sure his net was big enough, but we were able to wrangle the monster into the boat.  The Northern Pike measured out at 41 inches and just less than 20 lbs.  That whole day of boring suffering on the lake proved to be well worth it in the end.  I think I won a $20 gas card at a local gas station because of that honker.
                One of my best friends is a mixed martial artist.  I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fighter and the closest I’ve ever been to actually being in a fight is when JJ and I would wrestle on the floor while watching the WWF’s Monday Night Raw.  It was all staged of course.  Both on the TV and in our living room.  But when my friend Nick started fighting I was kind of shocked.  It didn’t really surprise me, he’s always been the aggressive type, and he had the mentality.  But he’d never done any sort of wrestling or boxing of any sort.  When I heard he was fighting, I wondered how much his style would resemble that of the ancient and perfected Bar Room Brawl style made popular in small rural municipal bars.
                Nick turned out to be a pretty good fighter.  He went undefeated in his first few fights.  With each win I could sense myself becoming more and more interested in the sport.  Nick even gave me a heavy bag bought some gloves for my basement.  Corrine had informed me that I’d never be allowed in a ring, but I told her it was for the exercise. 
                Every month or so we’d get the UFC pay-per view and cheer for our favorite fighters.  When Nick’s favorite fighter won the title, Nick tore of his shirt and went running down his apartment building hallway screaming.  I don’t think the rest of the building was as excited as he was since it was well past midnight.  With every fight we’d watch, we’d both get more and more into the fighting.  I never fought anyone, but I sure taught that heavy bag a thing or two.  I’d get done hitting the bag and be dripping with sweat feeling like a gladiator champion ready to be adorned with gold and jewels and a night with my gladiator wife.  Of course Corrine generally had other ideas.  I don’t think gladiators ever had to do the dishes or vacuum the living room.
                Nick was unstoppable in the octagon.  He’d train tirelessly.  He’d run for an hour on his treadmill, go through a full boxing workout and then hop right back on the treadmill.  He’d only eat healthy food and dropped enough weight to be in a lower weight class.  He’d work on his grappling with his twin brother.  He was invincible…until he met a guy named Storm.
                On one fine fight night, Nick had drawn a guy in his weight class.  As would usually happen, Nick was able to get the guy in a hold in the first round and won without even touching the guy.  Nick was a bit bummed even though he won.  He wanted to lay that perfect punch, get that Rocky knockout that had been so elusive.  He wanted to feel challenged.  Enter Storm Soto. 
                Storm Soto was a big guy.  Storm fought in the heavy weight division.  He was in the area playing football for the local college.  I think he was a fullback or something.  Well, at age 21 Storm Soto was the defending amateur heavyweight boxing champ in his hometown.  The two problems that Nick ran into were: one, Storm’s hometown wasn’t anywhere close; and two, Nick didn’t know any of this.
                 After Nick got out of the hospital with a concussion and a broken toe, he decided to rethink fighting.  He figured out that he’s not invincible, and also that a night in a local hospital can be a little more than one thinks.  Being KO’d in the first round by a guy that bigger and scarier than you can really bring things into question.  Things like: should I be fighting? Should I fight this guy?  Do I have to fight?  How can I best improve my fighting in light of this KO?  Are my motivations and mindset really what they should be going into the fight?  And of course, did someone open a window?  Because there’s been these birdies swooping my head since I woke up.
                All of these things have made me feel like a man.  They’ve made me feel macho and in charge.  Who doesn’t like hearing a good fishing story?  But none of them have affirmed my masculinity.  None of them have left me reassured that yes, I’m a man.  There’s only one time that I’ve known that I’ve arrived at manhood.  It was at our rehearsal dinner for Corrine and my wedding.  As is customary, we ate, and then were handing out gifts to those that are closest to us.  We made our way through our siblings and close friends and then saved the parents for last. 
                Corrine and I are both some of the lucky few that have had great examples of parental love.  Both sets of our parents are still married and desperately in love with each other.  We didn’t have to deal with the hardship of loss and separation that so many young people have to deal with as their parents fight and eventually separate.  Sure we saw our parents have the occasional dispute, but in the end they always made up. 
                Corrine and I wanted to make sure that our parents knew just how much we appreciated and envied our parents’ devotion to each other.  We explained that they have been huge influences and models for how we want to be when our kids get married and move out.  We thanked them for the true example of loving one another.  We thanked them for all the support through school and our upbringing.  We thanked them for being everything that we wanted to be as a married couple.
                The tears were flowing from our parents and Corrine.  I was able to hold it down.  I have only seen my dad cry on a few occasions.  The instances when I’ve seen him cry have been during moments of extreme pride and happiness, like during our graduations and weddings.  He’s not a blubbering fool, don’t get me wrong.  But when his emotions overtake him, he can clear a Kleenex box with the best of them.
                Now the moment that I knew I had made it to manhood wasn’t when my brother JJ and I were living on our own, paying our own bills, and earning a good wage.  It wasn’t even when I was engaged; it wasn’t when I completed college.  The moment I knew that I was a man was that moment at the rehearsal dinner.  After the tear-jerking speeches I went in to hug my mom, she squeezed me really hard.  Then I hugged my dad and he leaned in close and through tears whispered, “You’ve done it.  Thank you.”  It may seem a little inconsequential and petty.  But these few words had affirmed me as a man.  They meant, as simple as they may have been, that I was no longer a child.  It meant in no uncertain terms that I was a man, an adult, and most important that he was proud of me. 
                I feel blessed to have a father that is not only still with my mom, but is as involved and important in my life as my mom.  The distant-father brand of fatherhood never made sense to me.  I see those playing that part and wonder why they play it.  Is it because raising kids is, “Women’s work,” or is it because they don’t know if they’ve made it?  Are they distant because they’re not sure if they’re good enough?  Are they trying to teach their kids that Daddy is distant to keep their kids from finding out that Daddy is just as vulnerable as they are? 
                I’m not saying that manhood has to be given through marriage or even through having children.  But a man needs to find his masculinity.  It’s the core of who he is.  The problem is that he doesn’t know that he is a man unless he’s told by another man in a father-figure role.  I was lucky enough to have an involved father.  Many men aren’t as lucky as I am.  But I think that every man has, within himself, the wherewithal to be a man.  We were created to be a man, to be masculine but also to love endlessly.  To be able to scale large mountains, but also to appreciate the wild flowers along the way.  We were created to fight for the beauty, but also to love that beauty passionately, intimately, and unceasingly. 
                Manhood isn’t about climbing the bigger mountain; it’s about the mountain period.  It’s about overcoming adversity and fighting against injustice.  It’s about chivalry and all the good things we read in the old stories of the High King Peter, Beowulf, and Aragorn.  It’s about fighting for your family, loving them endlessly, and rejoicing in making memories.  It’s about loving your God, loving your woman, and loving your children.  Anything short of this is not manhood; it’s just some silly old guy on a horse’s back.

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