Joseph Pereira reflects on having to grow up too fast in the absence of his father, raising twin daughters, and how he finds security in his own sense of self and manhood.
I clearly recall how throughout my childhood my father would introduce me to his friends as his son. These experiences and the way my father introduced me always made me feel I belonged with them, in my mind as tall and every bit as much a man as he and his friends were. Thus, I weighted and agonized over Father Antonio’s vivid lectures on eternal damnation just before deciding to risk it all in a darkened church abbey to share my first kiss and experience what a female breast actually felt like. We were fifteen, had been practicing all afternoon for a play our church was producing. As I walked my friend home early that evening, there was adventure and joy in my spirit, as well as a lingering erection, all reinforcing the dizzying weight of such an early manhood event.
Roughly one year later, below that same abbey, I stood in an all-night vigil over the body of another friend who drowned whilst we were all body-surfing on the beach a few days earlier. My friend with the nice boobs sat with the women and mourned on one side of the open coffin while I had my silent, rightful place with the men on the opposite side. Every now and then, one of the men would come by to pat me on the shoulder, reminding me to “be strong” and I—a 16 year old “man”—forced myself to say nothing, to not cry as a hurting little boy would.
Soon after everything in my life begun to reinforce such presumed manhood: hunting with my father and his man-friends, working in a gas station after school to save for my first car, informing my sexuality as I continued discovering the diversity and intricacies of women’s bodies, getting high and having wild sex under black-lights to Jimmy Hendrix’ licks, saying “Hell, yeah!” When my country told me I was going to be a fighting man my voice deepened with purpose as did my mind and bravado.
When I was in my twenties I was the first man on the line carrying my father’s casket into another church’s nave and stood erect by its side with my left hand on the lid, listening to our favorite Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” For the first time in a long while I was feeling very alone and unprepared, like a child’s soul in a man’s body carrying the responsibility this first son of the first son now had as the head of our family. Something within me wanting to get the heck out of there and shout “This isn’t right. I’m just a big kid! I’m not ready to bury my father!” Yet I stood frozen, said nothing and kept placing one foot in front of the other to get through that immensely hurtful day and most of my thirties.
I continued to do the best I could and grew professionally, learning to fly with and without an airplane. Everything around me relentlessly reinforced my growing manhood status: better cars, bigger risks, adventures in new exotic places, different women that were always exciting and quirky, and social status. Finally, a couple of years before crossing into my forties, I was standing once again at another church’s altar and saying “I do,” feeling sure enough about the sense of it all to wonder “Why not?”
“Why not?” I thought again as I held my tiny 3.25 pound twin daughters in my arms. Why not girls as the first son of the first son, which was up to now unprecedented in our family? With expanding professional and personal responsibilities, I learned to love, care for and watch them grow from far away places. I swooped in to hug them and introduce them to my friends as “my daughters.” The thought of succession or manhood never once crossing my mind then or as they grew into the amazing beautiful women they are becoming.
Through my fifties, I wrestled for the first time with the concept of my own mortality through internal conflicts spawned from being older than my father ever lived to be. Also for the first time I found myself exploring and contemplating what this man truly is and how he fits within my greater concept of manhood.
The sixties loomed on as my daughters reached sixteen; the circular aspects of my evolving manhood evident, clear and in their rightful places as I realize and embrace all that I and my daughters are today without reservation or regret. And I am sure enough of myself to share with you all here the crux of my self-discoveries thus far as a man.
Manhood isn’t time, age, society or gender defined. Beyond real biological, chemical and cultural differences, “manhood” simply is another word for what we believe, what we choose for ourselves and how we turn the responsibility into action. By this, what we attract and choose to accept as who we are.
I am now, as a man, every bit the relatively happy little boy I was when my father “showed me off” to his friends and every bit as sexually curious as when I first groped my friend’s memorable breasts. I still move forward one step in front of the other, not always comfortable, but filled with expectation and hope nonetheless.
None of us know how long we will be around or what will happen when it is time to move on. But I am at peace and immensely hopeful as I imagine a future impacted by my daughter’s lives. I for one will not tire from learning from them and encouraging these amazing girls into experimenting and being all that they were created to be, not as societally directed “women” or “men” but as limitless human beings, the true essence of what I believe Manhood or Womanhood is about. I’ve no doubts I will not be disappointed, and when the time comes, will die with a smile on my face because they “are,” and all will be well with the world.
Photo credit: Flickr / erix!