I have reached a time in my life that I feel lucky to have reached: acceptance. We all have turning points in our lives and most of us are fortunate enough to look back on them later and learn those lessons that maybe were not clear at the time. I spend most of my days looking for these moments in my life to see if there is something funny in them. Sometimes I just realize that these moments did nothing more than show me and the rest of the world the type of adult I would someday grow up to be.
I can remember the specific day, although I cannot tell you how old or what exact calender day it was, but I can remember the day itself as if it were yesterday. I am sure I was roughly the age I was in the picture above. It was the day that I realized I would never be a man’s man. Or at least what I had come to believe at a very young age what a man’s man was. To me, a man’s man was a cowboy, a soldier, or Dalton from Roadhouse. That is not me exaggerating for affect about Swayze’s character, either. A man was someone who could kick ass and then make sweet love the most beautiful woman around. I wanted to be a man. A man’s man.
It is no coincidence now that I think of it that shortly after this fateful day is when the priesthood initially called to me. There is one common theme in all of my fantasies and dreams growing up and currently: I was going to be great. This need for greatness still consumes my mind to this day even though as an adult I know it to be a silly thing. There is greatness in being good. When I write good, I do not mean just being average or passable, I mean being a good person. There is greatness all around us, everyday, all the time. I believe that. But, that does not change the fact the I still strive to be better than good. So, for the record, I know it to be foolish. The worst kind of fool is one that does not know he is a fool because that fool does not have a sense of humor about his or her foolishness. Yes, I wrote “her.”
Sidenote: When I think of the term fool or when people speak of fools, it seems they are always talking about a man. Maybe that is my implied meaning or just the way I hear it when it is said? But, maybe the reason I think that is because only a fool wants to be a “man’s man.” Maybe we just had a break through? Maybe I could use the word maybe more? Get a thesaurus, asshole.
Back to the vague point.
I knew I was not going to be a real man when my family took my to the rodeo one summer day. Talk about excitement! I was familiar and had been around horses and other livestock quite a bit by this time in my life. So, I was no stranger to the large beasts that “civilized” society has commanded and tamed. The rodeo is a whole different animal, though. There were real cowboys at the rodeo. My heroes, the pinnacles of man were in the same general area. Maybe their greatness would rub off on me? I would learn from watching the best of men how to be a man. This was not just another Saturday afternoon fun trip, this was advanced level education immersion. The immersion part would soon come.
I can remember being in awe of the displays of manliness all day long. The way they literally man-handled the animals, hog tying, lasso-ing, and being thrown from the backs of bucking horses.
The testosterone was so thick in the air it was the day I sprouted my first mustache hair. There is something about the poor speaker sound quality of an outdoor corral that adds to the grit and toughness of the whole event. But, make no mistake, when the PA announcer makes the call that changed my life, there was no doubt exactly what he had said.
“All children between the ages of 5 and 14 that would like to participate in the rodeo, please report to field level for a chance to win prizes.”
I was gone. I was tucking in my tiny, plaid shirt and making sure my cowboy boots were on nice and tight. A throng of children were descending down to the check in spot and I was one of them. I was ready to stake my claim amongst the men. I was ready to show the world that not only was I a man, I was the man they could all sleep easy at night knowing was out there protecting them. I was the best damned man ever born. If you cut me open, other, smaller men would just pour out of me doing manly things. I did not cry tears, I cried whiskey. I was such a man that when I took a shit I screamed because I shit the world out of my ass. Woman would get pregnant if I made eye contact with them. Everyone was about to meet me, the man.
A cowboy briefed us on the event. A bunch of sheep would be released and a few of them would have ribbons tied onto them. If you could get the ribbon, you would trade it in for a prize. That seemed simple enough, especially for me, the ultimate man. I was surrounded by at least one hundred other kids, I was on the younger and smaller size of them all and there were girls there, too. I was a little offended that the “women folk” were allowed to participate, but I tried to open my mind a bit and told myself I would keep an extra eye on them to make sure they did not get hurt. After all, it was well within the power of a man such as myself to win the prize and save the women. In fact, it was going to happen as far as I was concerned.
Now, all of us stood there waiting. Waiting for the release of the sheep so we could go get our prize.
The stands were full of spectators and they all watched, somehow knowing they were going to see me take my rightful place amongst men like Clint Eastwood, Jesse James and Dalton. The countdown began:
“Ready…Set…(air horn blast!)
The gates opened up wide and a huge herd of sheep came storming out. What appeared to me to be hundreds of sheep came charging towards us. They were panicked and charged with a violence and hatred in their eyes. For all these sheep knew, it was their day of reckoning. They were going to run and fight for their lives and a small, frail, six year old ready to stake his claim to the man throne was not going to stand in their way.
It must have been no more than 2 or 3 seconds from the time the gates opened, releasing the angry horde that I ran screaming and crying the opposite direction.
As over a hundred other children laughed and screamed with joy and glee, running after the assuredly harmless sheep. But, me, the ultimate man, I ran as if the devil himself was coming for me in a foot race and he would catch me if I was not as loud as I could possibly be. I not only ran away from the sheep and the other children, I screamed and cried like I never had before and to this day have still never matched.
Luckily, the serve the beer in plastic cups at the rodeo because if there were glasses, my screeching would have shattered them all instantly.
I was sitting back in the stands before the event was even halfway over. Sitting is not the right word. I was convulsing and hyper-ventilating back in the stands, making my case for the injustice that was being perpetrated down on the field in between breathless sobs.
“The sheep…(gasp, gasp)…twice the size…(gasp, gasp)…would trample…(gasp, gasp)…kill…kill…(gasp, gasp)…danger…(crying).”
What kind of responsible adult would subject children to such torture and danger? I could not believe what I had experienced. It was the first time in my short life that I had truly feared for my life. I ran. I would run again. As I ran away from the “fun” the other kids were running towards, I imagine my parents in the stands watching me along with the thousands of other folks there and thinking:
“Look at that one there. He’s going to be in involved in the arts someday. Probably theater.”
And yes, thankfully yes. I will never be a man’s man, but someday I will probably play one on tv.