I have wondered if as men we never feel “man enough” when we compare ourselves to our fathers. I came out of the closet when I was 18 years old, a freshman in college…
“Down. Set. Hut.”
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” – I was brutally awakened from my mega musical theater dream ballet by THE CALL OF THE GRID IRON. “Phhsssshhhh!” My father would chant as the strains of “Here Comes The Sun” reverberated through our Miami, Florida home. The Saturday morning football ritual had begun. I struggled and resisted being dragged out of the pas de deux with Dream Laurie and Dream Curlie, but the combination of Abbey Road and my father’s strength brought me back to reality. Reality was an early morning football game not a musical theater production number.
My identical twin brother bounced out of bed, ready for action. After a quick Cuban meal of cafe con leche and Cuban Bread and butter, we opened the front door and the rest of the clan was ready to go. My father, a Cuban American immigrant, who in his day had played baseball, football and basketball had a visceral reaction to the boys on the block playing football in the middle of the street. He was convinced someone was going to get hit by a car so he went to the Sports Authority, bought some cones, packed all eight of us into the mini van and drove every Saturday morning to the park to play football. He would divide us into teams of 4 and he played quarterback for both teams.
My twin brother, Javier, was a natural. He exhibited grace and ease as he would run posts, flags, and down and out and ups. He would fake out Jorge with a hook in, catch the ball and score the touch down. It was always easier for him. When we were five we played on the same soccer team and he would bounce around playing goalie, forward, mid-fielder and sweeper. I played defense, but was too busy picking up little rocks from the pitch and naming them after the Von Trapp children.
During these pick up weekend games I had my standard play. Three steps and turn around. I was very literal in my understanding of the play. I would take three steps and just turn around. Occasionally I would add some flair and turn the three steps into a jazz run – at least it added a je ne sais quoi to the game.
I had an irrational fear of the ball and the failure I equated with not being able to catch it. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of disappointing my Dad. The fear of not being as good as my twin brother. The fear of failing at manhood as demonstrated by the paradigm of masculinity evidenced by my father and twin brother. And there you have it. The failure I sentenced myself to throughout my young adult life all because I couldn’t catch a ball and play football with the boys. The biggest failure to manhood I believed, was something I was only able to give voice to later. The realization that I was gay.
I have wondered if as men we never feel “man enough” when we compare ourselves to our fathers. I came out of the closet when I was 18 years old, a freshman in college. So much of my coming out process was about appropriating and celebrating that which I had hidden and brought me shame. Stepping into an expression and exploration of “femininity” which was in direct revolt to my latin machismo upbringing. I stopped editing how I walked and talked. I took jazz, tap and ballet. I sang in a Glee Club and travelled all over the world. I became a professional actor dancing original Jerome Robbins choreography in West Side Story and performing in many of the musicals I dreamed about performing as a child. I had the privilege to live the dream and fantasy of the little boy who dreaded being woken up on Saturday mornings to play football.
And then something really interesting happened. The pendulum swung the other way. Not in denial of my “femininity” or “masculinity” but the inclusion of all gender expressions in this corporal frame that I possess as Man.
Through the 2010 World Cup, I became an avid futball and Real Madrid Soccer fan. I wake up every morning, not to read the New Yorker or playbill.com, but Marca, the Spanish Soccer News. I don’t watch the Tony Awards any more, but wake up at 3:00AM to watch Real Madrid play in China. En route to my Crossfit workouts I listen to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. In Song of Myself, What Whitman says “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large I contain multitudes.”
The expression of my manhood is multitudinous.
My twin brother, who now has a 10 year old daughter, has developed a latent infatuation with the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. His manhood has become multitudinous. In my late twenties, I sat at a restaurant with my father and he told me that having a gay son made him a better person. Over the past decade, I have watched my father age and reveal the power of his own vulnerability. His manhood is multitudinous.
So what is possible for men to learn about each other when we tear apart the paradigms that we have been subjected to and from the remnants allow each other space to reveal, discover, and celebrate the contradictions of our manhood? Not in judgement, but with awe, grace, permission, and love. That’s what I’m hoping to share in Bermuda for four days during Labor Day. I hope to see you there. Not as the man you have been told to be, but as the man you just inherently are.
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Photo by Flickr/Yvette T.