I went out of town for a few days with a friend to a small lake for some fishing and some R&R.
It gave my friend and I a chance to talk guy talk – the talk that is mostly of nothing important, but at the same time, has those moments when men leave open the door of vulnerability, and proceed to express/share a thought/feeling with another man. Men are usually risk takers, but this is the kind of risk most men will take to see if another man agrees with him – an emotional risk – stretching his normal emotional boundaries to clarify or define his normalcy or manhood. When this happens, a man will look to another man, or other men, to see if these men feel the same way. If the other man/men agree, he knows he and his manhood are safe. If the reaction is one of, “You’re not serious dude – are you!”, he knows to keep those feelings to himself for the rest of his life.
I can clarify this by sharing a story that seems to be pretty common among men at some point in their life. I have experienced it, and have heard the story repeated by other men. It usually involves close friends, a late night card game, and alcohol.
At some point late in the evening, one man, usually the host walks over to the stereo to change the music. He decides to play a song that he enjoys, one that moves him emotionally, but hesitates because he knows the other men might spend the rest of the night humiliating him for the selection. But he says screw it, and takes the risk.
He puts the CD in, finds the track he wants to play, and the music begins to fill the air.
The card game stops as every man turns towards the stereo with an expression of disbelief. At that moment, the poor soul that took the risk knows his reputation, manhood, and status is balancing on a fine thread.
Then in a shocking moment of male bonding, all the men in the room say,
“F**cking “A” dude. Turn it up.”
The card game comes to a complete standstill while everyman soaks up the emotions and bliss the song evokes.
The man who played the song has not only maintained his manhood and status among his close male friends, but has in fact elevated it, because he had the balls to play the song around a bunch of men and admit that he likes the song. The other men in the room secretly liked the song also, but may have been afraid to admit it. Therefore, the “real man” of the group is the one showed courage for taking the risk and playing the questionable song.
I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I find most men can recount a moment like this, recalling it usually took place sometime in their early twenties.
While there are many different songs, there is usually one particular song that is common. So what is that song? “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.
So while sitting in the boat this past weekend, the sun going down, a beer in my hand, a fishing pole in the other (ditto for my friend who I’ll call Tim) and a small radio playing in the background, Tim says,
“Can I tell you about my Fathers Day?”
“Of course,” I say.
But before Tim speaks, here is some background that is meaningful to the story.
About ten years ago Tim went through a contentious divorce. His ex was awarded custody of their only child, a daughter.
At first, Tim experienced no problems with his daughter, the ex, or his visitations. But after about a year, he noticed his daughter, now entering her teen years, began putting distance between them. She was no longer excited to spend time with him, and Tim noticed she began making statements and comments that implied he was not a good father.
Tim talked to his ex about the situation. She seemed quick to blame Tim, and he sensed she also wanted the relationship between him and his daughter to end. She told Tim their daughter was old enough to make her own decisions about whether she wanted to have a relationship with him, so let it be. Tim suspected his ex was influencing their daughter.
Overtime Tim learned his daughter was being fed a consistent flow of negative comments about him by his ex-wife. Her comments did so much damage, that at one point when Tim ran into his daughter at a neighborhood social event, she ran away from him in fear.
I remember how affected Tim was by this. He told me,
“The only hope I have is that as she gets older she will recognize everything her mother told her about me is false. I hope as she matures and begins dealing with serious relationships herself, she will recognize how emotional they can be, and how people will do things to try and seriously hurt others out of spite. I can only hope she will recognize this, and put two and two together, so I can salvage a relationship with her after missing out on so much of her life.”
Then about two years ago Tim’s daughter called asking for money to put towards college expenses.
“How typical” Tim thought. “She only wants contact with me now because she needs something.”
So Tim said he would give her the money if she agreed to sit down and have a talk with him.
Tim figured he had one chance to set things straight, so he was going to tell like it is and keep his fingers crossed.
To summarize a lengthy conversation, Tim told his daughter that he knows he’s not a perfect man, not a perfect father, and will never achieve either. But the one thing he assured her is that he has always tried very hard to be both, not just for himself, but for her also, because he has always loved her and never stopped loving her. He said,
“I could sit here and rip your mother apart for the lies she has told you about me. I could spend hours talking about how she has destroyed our relationship and how I will never get those years back – they are lost. But I won’t do that. I feel you need to see for yourself how your mother has damaged our relationship. And the only way you can see that is by letting me back into your life so you can determine for yourself if I am this terrible person your mothers says I am. Give me this one chance, and I promise you, you will not be disappointed.”
His daughter agreed, and surprisingly confessed that overtime she had become more aware of mom’s bitters towards him, and began to question if everything mom said about dad was true.
Today, Tim enjoys a great relationship with his daughter. In fact, his daughter spends more time with him than she does her mother, and their relationship has blossomed, as both have discovered how much they have in common, particularly their same sense of humor.
Back on the boat, Tim tells me how his daughter came over this past Fathers Day, and they spent the day doing a variety of things together, going from one place to another until evening came, when they decided to stop for ice cream before heading home.
When they got back to Tim’s, they both began to watch TV and eat their ice cream. At this point Tim was starting to feel guilty. He had just spent the whole day with his daughter and they never talked about anything on an intimate level. All conversations were spoken in generalities. Remembering how much time was lost between him and his daughter, and trying to be an open, compassionate, and an involved father, Tim decided to ask her if their was anything she wanted to talk about.
She responded, “Like what?”
Tim began to tell her how he felt uncomfortable going the whole day without having a serious, or deep conversation concerning her, him, her life, his life, or their relationship, as a few examples. Tim said I feel that in order to be a good father, I should be having these conversations with you. I should be more involved emotionally with you.
“You are dad. Just by being with you, spending this time with you, and just knowing you are always there for me, I get all the emotional comfort I need.”
Back on the boat there was a pause.
Tim then turned to me and said, “You’re a father. Doesn’t that make you want to cry?”
I said, “Yeah, It sure does.”
There was a moment of silence on the entire lake.
I then turned to Tim, and with a lump in my throat said, “Is that Patsy Cline I hear on the radio?”