On the day I turned eighteen my father crossed the yard between our colonial house and the workshop I’d made into my room, all ceremonious, and formally shook my hand. ‘Congratulations, now you are a man.’
He thought he was doing me proud.
which made the empty pit in my stomach all the more gnawing. I was a man on account of the clock. Not because I had acheived anything or showed my mettle, nor because I had gone on some bold adventure but because it was Tuesday.
Of course he secretly knew it was a sham but continued in his proud role of conferring stuff upon me by sending me to war in the hope that being shot at would do the job where his handshake had clearly failed.
Toxic masculinity takes all kinds of forms, mostly noticeably in its impact on women, minority groups and due process, but there is a further privy of splashback, not so noticeable, that still deserves a mention.
A central pivot of the patriarchy’s inflation is the narcissistic and destructive notion that it is a father’s duty to initiate his sons into manhood.
Of course he must fail. It’s vain to believe we make men of our sons. It is a cover story for the often conflicted and occasionally murderous relationships typified by our role models of filial piety down the centuries, namely, kings who lost their heads to princes..
and vice versa.
or, if you were Edward ll you got to have a red hot poker shoved up your bum instead..
So, I duly went to war and got shot at a lot…
which set me to wondering..
if the purpose of perpetual war, a covert yet shameless foreign policy of ongoing conflict wherever it can be created, doesn’t have some nuances to it above and beyond the obvious profiteering of the Deep State.
More subtle even than the visceral need to have a Dark Brother be the enemy, someone to pit your life against so that you can know you have a life, something to define you in an uncertain world, a bogeyman to help you conjour just the right degree of riteous hate to temporarily cement the fractured soul.
No, boys are sent to war because we collectively subscribe to the madness that it will make men of them. Its a scenario that has overtones of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac on the mountainside, with the added psychopathic sadism that he’s doing the boy a favour.
Not only is everyone expendable, they are expendable for their own good. So that those dispatching their sons in their uncountable droves can have butter instead of marge or marge instead of dripping and that ‘our way of life’, our comforts, can be maintained.
What does such an attitude do to a person, you know, deep down?
The kind of splashback in store, in all its hideous glory, is amply personified by the true story of Mel Bernstein, ‘the most armed man in America.’ Mel has millions of dollars worth of legal military hardware on his Colorado Springs ranch. I caught a video of him saying whistfully to camera, ‘these are real men’s guns.’ They conferred masculinity on him in their lethal tonnage.
Unfortunately, Mel’s wife was accidently killed in one of many explosions on set whilst he was making a movie about himself for Discovery. He never says her name.
Now he lives in a bunker, a tardis from the 60’s, with four life size plastic dolls who do have names. ‘I put panties on them,’ Mel explains, ‘I’m a considerate boyfriend,’…
resolving once and for all the question of whether the compensatory need to play with guns affects your mental health, or more precisely, your capacity for relatedness.. Mel says of Discovery’s decision not to make the movie during which his wife is blown up on camera…’so, they cancelled and threw away the whole show.’
Durn fools. All they had to do was edit out the bit where she got kilt. Don’ make no sense….justa wastin my time..
Thankfully, a considerable chunk of a boy’s becoming a man has less to do with his father than the latter might like to think, so long as he manages to survive his pappy’s loving ministrations.
In indigenous cultures, though the various rituals into manhood may differ a great deal in content, what they all seem to have in common is that the youth be thrown back on his own resources, that he have an experience of death and rebirth as a result of an encounter with the Unconscious.
When an Ndebele boy is sent out into the bush with his peers, the presence of the elders, whilst loosely officiating, are not central to the drama at all. They are more witnesses than agents of anything.
What imbues the novice with a sense of the sacred is achieved by a series of ordeals they have to go through.
“And it is primarily these ordeals that constitute the religious experience of initiation – the encounter with the sacred.” M Eliade.
The ordeals are, more often than not, symbolic of death followed by resurrection or rebirth. The fathers wait patiently on the sidelines.
Because they know very well that no matter how enormous their dicks are, rebirth is the preserve of the feminine.
If the feminine is denied or undervalued, the transformation doesn’t take place. Change requires a uterus..
and so because we Western men are largely unwilling to afford the feminine with the role she has in the making of a man, he remains unmade.
What then are we to do? It doesn’t seem right to appropriate other culture’s methods of growing men and yet we have lost our own to vain and empty repetition. Luckily it’s not the form that counts. What seems to evoke change and growth most is precisely the authentic despair that you are stuck and don’t know what to do, because it is then that you are thrown back on your own resources and hidden depths.
So, at least crisis can be meaningful, its own trial of strength or endurance, its own initiatory experience.. The feeling of inner poverty and betrayal can be given some respect and credibility because these feelings are real, they bear testimony to some form of inner truth and can constitute the very death experience, the alchemical ‘mortificatio’, which begins the transformation process, the end of ideals that no longer hold marrow, from which rebirth will happen in Her own time and under Her own agency.