My former colleague at WOR Radio, Noah Fleishman, penned an elegant piece on Facebook today about realizing that he is now a man.
Here’s just a snip:
I’d been working around more than one colleague who simply saw fit to wear a jacket and tie daily, regardless of who
was around. I decided that such expression had it’s place, and no reason why I couldn’t jump onto this bandwagon.
Hence, a personal image I could be comfortable with. My tie and jacket were simply someone else’s baseball cap and windbreaker.
After decades of industrial – looking down jackets for winter, I acquired my first tweed winter coat. Never mind thirteen.
Now, at age thirtysomething, I was a man. Marching down the block in my plaid cap, knit scarf and overcoat, I experienced this
warm, empowering coming of age. This was no longer a kid lumbering about, some suspended adolescent. In the right costume,
you can have the right character. I finally met the one I’d long awaited.
I remember having a similar experience when I was about 22 or so. I was walking up the street in my parent’s neighborhood and a little boy was toddling along the sidewalk with his mother. He gazed at me in that “Wow you’re a lot bigger than me” way and said to his mom, “Who’s that?!”
Her response gave me a double take. She simply said: “That’s a man.”
It was the first time that I heard someone say it out loud. I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I am. College educated, job in hand, a Fordham man…huh! Well, whattya know.”
It wasn’t until years later that I think I really felt that way. Older folks in radio and in the church still referred to me as “a young kid.” One fifty-something guy said I was “as experienced as a baby” once when we talked about our dating lives. A woman I dated and broke up with once called me “a nice man” as if she had to convince herself to keep dating me when it was clearly going south.
There had been hints of my manhood all along. When I interviewed Darryl Strawberry in the Yankee locker room and later Dwight Gooden, two childhood heroes, I realized that they were men, just like me, only with special skills for baseball and each with their own demons that would bring them to their knees. Surely men come in all shapes and sizes and all have their flaws as well.
There is a scene in City Slickers, the wonderfully male-centric movie by Billy Crystal, where the three best friends on a fantasy camp adventure cattle drive, talk about “their best and worst day.” It’s a gripping scene and in many ways centers on the question of “Am I a man?” and the men who helped them realize that. Take a gander:
For myself, there have been many moments like this. Making decisions regarding my mother’s health, my wedding day, buying a co-op and later my first “real” home. The students here often look to me as a wisdom figure and recently some of the Catholic Volunteers have made me feel much more like a Father to them, than say, a big brother or friend. People often address me as Mr. Hayes, in certain circles, which still gives me a chuckle.
Last year, though, I think was the most significant moment for me. I was standing in the bus station in Buffalo with my colleague, Katie and 13 students. We were headed for our first Alternative Spring Break trip. Fr. Pat and Sr. Jeremy had just departed and now we were on our own.
And it dawned on me… “Oh shit, I’m the responsible adult here!”
I was a man. Responsible for 13 young lives in the biggest city in the world. Katie about 15 years my junior, was also responsible but New York was my town, a place I knew like the back of my hand. I was going to be the go-to guy here.
Talk about a bang-zap seemingly “ontological change” from “goof-up” to “responsible adult.”
Somehow, manhood, much like Noah’s experience just creeps up on you. Before you know it, there you are in a suit and a tie, speaking to an entire Archdiocese of priests, leading students, publishing a book, paying the mortgage, hugging a niece, counseling others…man-stuff clearly and unquestionably.
So when did you become a man? I’m not sure if the experience is different somehow for women, but I’d be interested in seeing what your journeys have been like to “responsible adulthood” as well. Anyone not feel grown up? I think at times I still feel that way too. Let’s talk about it.
And for now, pray for all men. That they might live up to their role as men. For God knows being a man isn’t easy and for those times when we all feel like boys now and again–may God remind us that we have the strength to make it through anything with God’s help. May we always be “Men for Others” as Ignatius would say and allow ourselves to be signs of that to others in the world.