Oh my man, I love him so

You’d like some quiet.

Who hasn’t wanted them all to yourself? The house, the bed, the cramped office, the booth in the coffee shop, the row of movie theater seats, the shady spot under the tree, the big sitting-boulder where the cold stream shoots by the trail?  Sink into chair as long as you like, put feet on what you damn well want to, sing badly, read out loud, stare dumbly at the page, at the ceiling pattern, wasteyourtime, be loud, be quiet, listen hard to the electricity ringing your head, think about how much time is left in today before your piece of monk’s peace will be interrupted.

Everyone knows what it is to wish that your mother, your father, sister, brother, husband, wife, lover were not there, not now. Few of us want to acknowledge  that wish, because we are not really able to be that indifferent. “This wish causes us anguish.”

I don’t think this means you’re poorly attached; but you might suffer some bad guilt. Somewhere inside the lining of this wish is a projection of a bad internal object. Don’t cramp me, person.

Today we seem to know that the narratives of  separation and autonomy serve a positive purpose. Popular culture has put this on broadband. Now we all  nod approvingly and back into our caves.  To each man, to each person, his self-creative space.

All this is fine as long as we are also able to see what limits  its range of usefulness. In the common narrative of  individualism, harmful  distortions run amok. We suffer the consequences of the televisual sales-slogan-ready “I-didn’t-come-here-to-make-friends” trope of self-striving,  self-interest, and the poverty of  living with raised, sharp elbows.  Conflation of self-care  with brutal egoism has distorted things to the point that this version of the narrative of separation –  now the ideology of separateness – ensnares us, repeated so often in our cultural and economic climate that it derails us from living with and maintaining  an attitude of love for our families, partners, neighbors. Pushing back to gain our righteous autonomy, we misunderstand and  adopt the ideology of separateness in spite of ourselves.

Women resent men, it says. Men resent and compete with men, especially their fathers.  And men and women dutifully accept and play their roles, fulfilling what’s  expected of them. But underneath the resentment and the walking out,  we  are just  so terribly hungry. Unless something in the relationship is seriously unscrewed, we  enact and endure separation at great cost to ourselves. You ask for – some respect and individuality within your family structure. Not for -a loveless life. It’s costly to all of us.

Feminist bell hooks, wise mentor to her audience, writes “Every female wants to be loved by a male. Every woman wants to be loved by the males in her life.”

Every male, every man and every boy, does too.

Do we not want to be loved by our fathers and to love them? Do we fathers not want to love our sons, and be loved by them in return?

But especially for men, all kinds of men, an objectified man-thing, a cultural-imaginary Man man gets in the way of experiencing and showing love and need.  Men and women still drink the kool-aid and buy this role, twenty-first century or not. It seeps into lives. Our parents played one parent against the other, maybe unwittingly spooking their own kids at the risk of alienating kids and spouses. Who could not have heard the terror in “Wait ‘til your father gets home?” How does a man feel to be spoken of as Daddy-the-Menace coming home? Would I want to be painted vengeful judge, Sword of Damocles over my son? For 5 years, I nearly ran home every night, eager to get face time with my son. The last thing I would ever have wanted would have been to see him cower.

All this generic boiler plate about masculinity, femininity and being in it for ourselves alone makes everyone sad and afraid to express themselves. It gets harder for adults to face each other. And children, little sponges, absorb it all.

This is the irony of “manhood.” We are afraid of the sorrow and longing in men, our men, our Dads, our husbands, sometimes ourselves.  Men close up.  bell hooks reminds us, women who know better get freaked out hearing her men express vulnerability and weakness. Along the way, men learn to distrust and fear just what may erupt within themselves. The two former lovers sulk, become lonely, and may hate each other for not being present for each other, in obvious contradiction of their real hunger.

Maybe he just won’t come home. And how desolate would we be about that? Don’t we love him?

I haven’t left my son; I refused to. He was forcibly taken with much elaborate planning by a woman who carries these sex role narratives and several others  in her head. My son and I are separated by something in the world that denies a man the right to the full range of his humanity, and denies a woman the same freedom to be fully humane. Full of emotion in an argument about separation, I once exhorted my alienated wife, saying  “my son needs his father,” which was cruelly met with a raised eyebrow and a cynical, “Oh, really?” I knew by then that she had uncritically inhaled the poison. My sister Karen, an accomplished academic and clinical psychologist, has said to me that  even Developmental Psychology did not really discover fathers until the  1980’s and 90’s when it began to study just how deeply boys (and girls) depend on their daddies for healthy attachment and emotionally secure growth.  The most obvious realities so often remain unthought of and await the light.  It’s a weary and archaic, old-time religion that says a man is a man, a drone, earns bread, a Salaryman who dons a sweater and pats his child on the head on Sunday. A figure of moral discipline, but an outsider to his children. Manly.

I thought we had overcome these dichotomies of masculinity and femininity. But feudal hierarchy still entraps obedient minds.

As his mother stiffened and clamped down on the emotional freedom in our family home, my fear increased of one day being distanced from my  little boy by his mother’s bared emotional weaponry, and by separation or divorce.

I got him alone for play, reading and daddy-son time whenever I could. Stolen minutes after working late. Friday and  Saturday out on our own.

Towards the end before he was abducted, my little boy frequently heard me talk about how strongly I wanted us to be together, to stay together, to not let anyone split us up. I repeated it as my fear grew, so I’d be sure that he’d know where I stood.  It was a song to him about not giving in, loving him no matter what,  finding relief together from the danger that seemed to be presenting itself.

Numbering wife scorn in years and fearing the worst, I sang Rui this song I learned from Billie Holiday records on so many Saturday nights carrying him home late from the train after long days in Tompkins Square or on Brooklyn playgrounds; after dark fell on New York, singing it quietly at half speed with every bit of sweetness I could muster, gliding him over last paces of dirty sidewalk before home, his eyes batting, to soothe his weariness-heavy head, to stave off disappearing into final deep sleep, get him home, changed, find soothing softness in his cozy blanket. Home. Yellow lamplight. Bed.

So many times that I can snap these words off by heart here now without a second’s hesitation, to my boy, to Rui.

It cost me a lot
But there’s one thing that I’ve got
It’s my man
It’s my man
Cold or wet
Tired, you bet
All of this I’ll soon forget
With my man
He’s not much on looks
He’s no hero out of books
But I love him
Yes, I love him
Two or three girls
Has he
That he likes as well as me
But I love him
I don’t know why I should
He isn’t true
He beats me, too
What can I do?

Oh my man, I love him so
He’ll never know
All my life is just despair
But I don’t care
When he takes me in his arms
The world is bright, all right.
What’s the difference if I say
I’ll go away
When I know I’ll come back
On my knees some day?
For whatever my man is,
I am his

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