The Joy Menu #60: Yell
But there is also a masculinity of fear. There is also a masculinity of curdled intimacy.
At the café where I’m sitting, I watch two men walk side by side.
One, the older, wobbles, hesitantly, leans half his weight on the shoulder of the other.
This younger—dark beard, broad chest—walks slowly, holds his iced coffee aloft. The older—bald, thin gray fuzz crowing of his reddened head—shuffles, feet lifting flat and swinging forward, like loose balls on stiff joints.
The younger man’s face is blank—with patience, I think. His black sunglasses hide his concern, his discomfort, his love. The older man’s face is dark with concentration, like he has to conceptualize what it means to walk.
Immediately, I think: brain damage. Brain tumor.
I see a father and a son. Did you?
Both men lean on each other. Hold each other up. One at the end of something and the other grasping the mantle, waiting to carry it on—fast, for a while, and then, later, at another time (hopefully far off in the future, but who knows), also slow, until he too will shuffle, will let it go.
For now, though precarious, they balance on each other. Together, they walk.
I’m thinking about boyhood—about masculinity.
MB in this garage teaches us how to answer a phone, how to introduce ourselves, how to shake hands firmly. A Boy Scout leader.
Says: “You have to look a man in the eye. You can’t wait to hear their voice, but give your voice first. Say your name first so they know who you are.”
Says later, in his car on the way to camp, when Queen comes on the radio, “Don’t worry about AIDS as long as your behaviors are normal…”
And then my father, whose handshake is warm and firm, his hands fleshy and broad, but who also holds your hands just to ground you, just to feel you close. He’s shorter than MB, quieter, but somehow bigger as well. I ask him about Queen. “Bullshit,” he says and wrinkles his brow.
GL who has acne scars under his beard, whose kids don’t live with him, who teaches us to dribble while looking forward and runs along the white lines screaming, his face pulsing and red. A soccer coach.
Says: “Demand the ball feel your intention, throw your weight behind each kick as if the ball is your mortal enemy. And it is, until it sinks into the goal…”
Says later, with his hand on his son’s head, who has been crying, who twisted his ankle and sat out the game, “I’m embarrassed. It’s like you don’t even want to win. And if you don’t want to win at soccer, how will you ever win at life?”
And then my father, who knows the game well, wears the referee’s costume (black with white cuffs, black with a white pocket, black with black and white socks) and jogs the length of the field quietly, but not without command. Who blows the whistle to stop the game, raises a yellow card silently while the other fathers jump and shout and wail in unruly disbalance, who never asks if we’ve won.
Did those other men understand my father?
He looks at them blank-faced; does not drink beer; speaks his elegant, accented English (“where are you from?”); other by birth, by breeding, but also by character, by choice. He does not attend their barbecues. We are not invited by them to the lake. He does not socialize with them as friends. We do not attend their church.
I feel his difference—cherished and misunderstood. I, too, want to be different. Am I different? Or am I different from the other kids only because I’m his—am I otherwise the same?
When he shakes your hand, he holds it; when he looks you in the eye, you will hear his voice first, even if he’s silent.
He kicks the ball with intention, ensuring it feels his force as a palm tree feels the force of the wind that sweeps in dry and hot from the Santa Ana mountains.
But there is also a masculinity of two-way fear. There is also a masculinity of curdled intimacy.
When we become this, we become initiated. We become men.
Again, boyhood: after a long day of playing, when the garage door creaks open and the heavy footsteps of a father come down the hall. Then: you know it’s time to go.
From the moody exhausted masculinity of the other, to the moody exhausted masculinity of your own. From their father to yours.
This, also, is a kind of initiation. Is it not?
No wonder then.
Next to DF in bed, not at her, but near her: you boil your confusion, your hurt, your rage at the world not being what the world was supposed to be. When she literally flees to hide behind a locked bathroom door, you wail: “But it’s not like I was yelling at you! It’s not like I was swinging in your direction! I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do—hold this in?”
Complete, unbridled confusion—hurt, even.
You think, later, alone: but is this not manhood?
Is changing the weather in a room not the purview of masculinity?
Is rage not a shade of male strength? A bright, powerful, clashing, shade?
And then, next to ADS on the white couch in the Santa Fe flat, she sees your kindness as confusion, sees softness in your patience, weakness in your understanding. Her voice: “Why do you never yell? Where are your tears, the cracks in your voice, the lines on your brow? Why don’t you demand that I stay—in my place, in line, with you?”
More confusion, more hurt—unmoored from your manhood.
You think, later, alone: but is that not abusive?
Is changing the weather in a room not the purview of toxicity?
Is rage not a shade of male weakness? A bright, powerful, clashing, shade?
When the tumor at last grew big enough to press onto the part of his brain that controls his footsteps, he begins to concentrate as he walks, lists slightly to the side, stumbles over a root on the way into the house, sits down exhausted and eventually does not get up.
That’s how it ends—regardless of how it’s played; there is no goal to score, no winning.
Help him out of bed, to the table for tea, to the loveseat to nap, to the bathroom to piss.
Wash his crotch. Shave his beard. Kiss his forehead. Hold his hand.
Nothing to yell at, no one to yell about.
As Ram Dass wrote: “we are all just walking each other home.” Sometimes the walking part can be quite literal.
Onward toward creative joy,