Through her relationship with her brother, Rachel Peck looks to examine and even change the definition of “good men” in the world.
When Daniel was three, he would bite.
He would bite legs and arms and fingers and the collars of his own shirts until they would stretch and sag with the weight of his frustration.
And so when his well-intentioned pre-school teacher informed my parents that he was “a problem,” I felt a sense of smug superiority that’s characteristic in eight-year-old girls who feign interest in fields like quantum mechanics or pediatric oncology because we want to sound as important as we’re sure we’ll become.
See, Mom. I told you he’s annoying. I told you most kids don’t bite like that. Or stutter like that. Or play like that. Let it also be known that I was never a problem. Please pass the Capri Sun.
But after sitting in the new reality—the realization that my brother Daniel, the person I loved more than anyone (when I wasn’t busy dropping him or tricking him or hating him), was deemed fundamentally wrong—my self-satisfaction dissipated. And I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to prove to the world, and myself, that Daniel is a good man.
It got easier once we had a name for the “problem”: Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s on the autism spectrum, in case you haven’t heard from one of the many PBS documentaries or 60 Minute specials or heart-wrenching mini-series about people who are “different.”
I shouldn’t be so callous. We’ve probably come a long way since the days when men like Don Draper would send their sons to institutions or hospitals or just relegate them to lonely apartments in the suburbs. But it’s undeniably clear that we’re still operating within a definition of good men that leaves out my brother.
The greatest gift Daniel has given me—besides the spontaneous purchase of a Mexican fan he bought on a cruise the week he had to miss my college graduation—was the ability to think differently about that definition.
A good man can play video games all morning and refuse to eat anything but pasta and cheese.
He can cry when he’s tired—even if he’s sixteen—and he can unabashedly hold his dad’s hand in a mall.
He can make bad jokes about Greek mythology and study Latin instead of Spanish because he’s not sure he’s up to the socialization that comes with actually speaking the language he’s committing to memory.
He can forget to shower, or refuse to shower, or vow to never shower again. (Although this might make him a slightly worse man…)
Maybe some good men are more interested in good dogs and good cats and good horses than good people.
A good man may earnestly ask about the feasibility of undergoing plastic surgery to get wings.
Just because a man doesn’t know how to look you in the eye or shake your hand or ask you about your day; just because a man doesn’t know how to compromise or lift weights; just because a man doesn’t know how to sit through a dinner without silently lowering his head to his knees and reading the latest fantasy series under the folds of the tablecloth, it doesn’t mean he’s not good. He’s not, at least not most days, a “problem.”
Some good men bite.