ode to ‘The Old Man’

preface: i have not written a single word for a while, apart to quickly capture some sketches on my recent road trip adventures, this one being particularly full of trippy stuff that shaped me and my story (more on the magic to follow). so, this on the fly post is is low-hanging fruit, sorta, expanding on something i said before.

to ron

OK so…The Old Man. my Dad. Ron. Ronnie.

Fathers, Fatherhood. Masculinity, Manhood. What a mess things are out there today in a world of newly minted labels, gender roles, feminism (or what’s left of it), all these individuals, groups and archetypes looking for validation and recognition and equality. Look critically at some of the so-called Leaders and Big Brains out there and tell me they represent something we want our sons to emulate and aspire to or our daughters to want in a future mate. Boorish thugs and playground bullies, narcissistic and empty Lost Boys and Peter Pans screaming for attention; Big Stars, Professional Players and Gamers seeking only fame and the ability to control and manipulate others for their own benefit and personal gain. Then there are all the metros and hipsters, who seem content to believe that they get a medal and their 15 minutes for just showing up, looking good, being ambiguous and oh so very blasé and contributing absolutely nothing at all. To anything. Pure consumers. Ugh.

I probably need to say that my Dad and I aren’t that close anymore, philosophically and geographically we are wayyy too many miles apart. I could go on about that, but that’s water under the bridge, and a long time ago I resolved many issues with myself and him and this relationship, the why’s and how’s and what it is all about.  If there are any remaining skeletons in my closet, I regularly invite them out to dance with me. I know he is happy, content, is loved and enjoys his life. I respect that, him and his choices, and I love him even though we don’t see eye to eye or communicate much. I like to think he feels the same way about me, and has some sense of pride in how he influenced me and my perspectives…is proud of the man I became.

My Dad came from a place where life is pretty simple but could be quite harsh, and you needed to be resourceful, to sometimes work very hard to live, and required you to play hard and to have a sense of humor about life. As was told to me by Aunts and Uncles, he was a bit of a trouble maker, a bit of a hell-raiser. Seems I came by some of my own personality traits genetically. But he has real character, and was raised with strong values and morals. I got that too. My dad did a bunch of things to support his family and he eventually became a Millwright, which is a ‘jack of all trades’. That nicely labels what he could do, and what he taught me. I spent a lot of time with dad as a kid that, at the time, I didn’t really enjoy much or appreciate, but I got forced into doing all kinds of things. Helper, tool-passer and gopher was a big thing, as was all the household chores….sometimes I thought it was childhood slavery. But through all that time that I would probably have rather have spent reading comic books or watching cartoons, I learned so much about fixing cars, major home appliances, renovating houses and building sheds, doing plumbing and wiring, working ground and growing things, keeping up your home and yard and taking pride in your environment. I learned what to do when something was broken, or needed repairs when there simply was no one to call and buying new wasn’t an option. You worked the problem, figured stuff out, and learned how to do it yourself. You tinkered and took things apart and looked for things that weren’t right. Sometimes it was a simple fix, sometimes you uncovered a major problem that maybe needed new parts, sometimes you needed to call in someone else’s expertise or assistance. When that happened it was an opportunity to learn from someone, and there was always an unspoken but implicit debt of gratitude to be repaid. Any opportunity to help others, to fix or build something, to contribute to community and family in the way that your skills allowed was to be approached with humility and grace, and pride was taken only in doing a good job and a good deed. Clean work is it’s own reward. Always do your best, always show up, even when you don’t feel like it, because you have a responsibility. Pay attention, practice your craft, continue to learn, self reliance and self-sufficiency is a good thing. Stand up and speak up when you should for those who can’t. Hold the door open for people, say please and thank you, be grateful…bad manners and disrespect will get you a hard cuff on the ear. Treat others how you want to be treated. Don’t ask anything of anyone you wouldn’t do yourself, or wouldn’t do for them. Tell the truth, even when it’s hard to say or hear, but sometimes silence is golden and biting your tongue is a good thing. Usually the truly strong ones are the silent ones. Oh, and yes if you can make people feel at ease or make them laugh and feel good, things are always better. Always keep a few good stories and jokes in your pockets, don’t always take it so seriously and remember that it’s easier to laugh along with others at your own mistakes.

My Dad also gave me a deep appreciation for nature. We spent a lot of time time together fishing for trout and occasionally hunting. I guess I was what was considered at the time to be a ‘sensitive’ boy, and I remember that feeling you get watching the light go out in the eyes of an animal by your hand. Where he came from, it was just a part of life, part of what you did to put food on the table. You sometimes just have to do what you have to do. I accepted it as such, but I also then developed and have kept that sense of honoring the spirit of the life you take. As an adult, fly fishing, and catch-and-release would become a very big part of my life, and as I developed and honed my skills and practiced in this art, as it became like going to church for me…I always remember the starting point was those many quiet evenings watching sunsets or the morning chill and fog burning off the surface of the lake. There wasn’t often a lot of talking, and in retrospect, I am thankful for that too. Our family spent a great deal of time camping and exploring, so I learned how to light a fire with no dry wood in the pouring rain, and how to safely navigate your way through the bush or traffic while towing a trailer. I learned the importance of being prepared for unplanned weather and for emergencies. I learned how to drive safely in all kinds of adverse weather and conditions, and what to do when you got stuck in the snow or mud. I learned a great deal by watching him, by following his example, even when he didn’t or couldn’t explain things to me. I learned that there was some sort of unspoken code underneath it all, and that you needed to dig in to yourself to find it sometimes. Sometimes, really being a father, a man, a gentleman…is hard.

There were other men (and women) in my life who influenced me in a significant way and I’d be remiss in not recalling the lessons and skills I picked up from my ex-wife’s father, and from a few bosses and mentors in my careers in the corporate world. There have been lovers and friends and partners and, very significantly, my own daughters who have helped inform and guide me, who literally have made me a ‘better man’ and sown some grains of the truth of what being a father and being a man is about.

Alright, here’s the moral of the story bit, where I’m supposed to bring it all home. I am part wolf, and I like the line “Everybody wants to be a wolf, until there’s real wolf shit to do'” because it’s very true. There’s this modern version of what an Alpha Male is supposed to be like, and it’s almost all total bullshit, because it rewards a version of masculinity that’s paper thin, one dimensional and shallow. Men aren’t supposed to be sensitive, or emotional. Men are supposed to be strong providers, and success is measured by perceived status in business, or fame, by expensive watches and flash cars, the big house…a trophy wife and high-achiever offspring. We all buy into it, it’s inescapably marketed and sold to us every second of every day, just like the female version. It a product of the modern world, and yes it IS a very patriarchal and one sided view. Well, the reality in nature of an Alpha Male is far more complex and far less glamorous, the Hollywood version isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The role of the Alpha is not just the leader of the pack. He has a role to play, and yes it is a key role, but he is nothing without his Alpha Female and his pack. He leads, sometimes, but frequently he lets the others lead, because he has a role as a teacher. He is the protector, yes, but sometimes it’s actually the pack or the female that protects him. The Alpha DOES NOT sire all the pups, but he does take the responsibility and the role of parent. He maintains order and structure, keeps others in line, fights off challenges and all this is really a lot of work and responsibility that no one else has. It is a hard job, and often a thankless one, and one not everyone wants or can actually do. I have always liked and have gravitated towards the classical archetypes of what they call the Divine Masculine: The God, The King/Father, The Warrior, The Lover, and The Sage. No matter what’s being presented or represented or rewarded out there in mass media in our completely self-centered and consumerist culture, no matter how blurred the lines get, how vague and undefined it seems, there are some absolute truths about what it means to be a man. A man DOES NOT brag about groping women, in public or in private or a locker room. A man DOES NOT use his position, power or authority to belittle those weaker or in a lower station than himself. A man DOES NOT need to constantly be the center of attention or conversation, in fact he prefers to share the spotlight and build those around him up as opposed to constantly tearing them down (I think we both know what I’m talking about here).

My dad provided me with some of the basics and examples of the good things about being a man, and I am grateful for that, and for him. I am still learning and growing as a man and as a father, because it’s becoming increasingly important to me that we re-establish some foundational things, and demonstrate that those versions of the roles of men and women out there are horribly, horribly twisted and are failing us all. As much as we need to have women find their true voice and be strong, it’s also time for men to step into our true nature and lead by example, to be guides and teachers, to do the hard work and live up to the roles and responsibilities that are fundamentally ours to take.

So say we all.

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