Tonight, for something completely different.
No great lessons, I’m talking about me.
But not the usual me talk in which I describe what a master rhetorician I am, nor will I dissect or analyze the flaws of my ideological enemies or point out the flaws in reasoning of my friends. Instead, I have a confession to make.
Frankly, I’m a mess.
I’m not a crack addict or unemployed alcoholic or anything. I go to work on time every day, and I do a good job. I get along well with others, and everybody around me thinks I do an even better job than I actually do.
I’m well-respected by my peers. If you called me in the middle of the night and were on the verge of suicide, I would talk you into loving life again. I’ve saved marriages and kept soldiers from wigging out in a combat zone. I’ve mentored several younger men. I see little flaws in how they do things, provide them with fresh perspectives, encourage them or kick their behinds (somehow just knowing which to do when), and they turn their lives around.
Then they surpass me because I don’t know how to take any of my own damn advice. When I was in Afghanistan (where drudgery was a far worse enemy in my case than the Taliban), I was the positivity point that lifted everyone’s spirits as I quietly seethed.
Obviously, it’s not all bad, but there’s something seriously out of whack.
I can (partially) trace this to two related parts of my past. First, I was raised without a proper father. I didn’t get those little coaching sessions on how to perfect my baseball swing, change a tire, or ask out a girl. I instinctively knew I couldn’t come across as weak and that asking for help indicated weakness. One of the many things a father does for a son is to “help” him innumerable times when the kid doesn’t ask for (or even necessarily want) it. This simultaneously humbles the child while preserving his dignity. He doesn’t have to seem weak by asking for help, but he’s still going to get it.
“Here, let me show you an easier way to do that.”
As a result, I’ve learned to be that coach I never had to just about everybody I know but me. I come across as eminently competent, so my allies see no need to assist me with anything. I’m the one that they come to instead.
Still, very little in my life actually changes. I’m great at kicking everybody else’s ass, but my own, not so much. I can do it for a while, but never quite long enough.
Father issues abound, even in healthy societies. Still, I was even more isolated from masculinity than most. I’ve learned how to interact in a masculine context, but that’s only because I put a lot of time and effort into it. My “game” with other guys works, but it’s very unique and was developed after lots of painful trial and error.
Also, even if a father isn’t perfect (and none are), a lot of adult men with living fathers can know that their fathers are at least on their side, even if they don’t know how to be of any practical use.
The last time I spoke to my dad he called me a racist and a fascist. He’s made it abundantly clear he wants me to fail.
Second, I was spoiled rotten. I was raised below the official poverty line, but if I wanted it, I got it. It was my grandmother that gave me everything, but my mother (who had major issues with her own mother) did nothing to stop it.
A sense of entitlement is detrimental to everybody, but I think it’s especially problematic for boys. Despite feminist indoctrination, women still aren’t really expected to make their own way in the world; a man is (I don’t disagree with this). If a twenty-five year-old woman starts crying on the subway, everybody will offer her their kleenex. If a man does likewise, he’ll be shunned (except by the occasional kind soul who might assume he just found out his dog died or something).
Thus a girl with a sense of entitlement is more likely to have her spoiled brat desires met by somebody, to have things handed to her, than a man. People are more likely to give to her because she’s a girl; he’s expected to earn it.
This is the natural order of things, but it makes life especially precarious for the man who spent his boyhood being catered to. “Earning it” feels beneath him, but not only is it not beneath him in the objective sense, it’s not perceived that way by others. No free gifts for other guys.
I’ve worked incessantly to purge this part of myself. I’ve worked seventy hour weeks on multiple occasions. I enlisted in the Army (when I could have been an officer) in large part to prove to myself that nothing is beneath me. Still, there’s this feeling that things should just happen for me.
But they don’t, I suspect because God expects something more out of me.
I went to a high school where the normal thing to do was to go to work at some factory after graduation. The smart kids went to Eastern, Western Michigan or Michigan State, and the really smart ones went to U of M (one or two per year). I managed to get into a university far more prestigious than that and went to school with the rich kids.
At first, I was intimidated, but when I learned that I was just as smart and capable as they were, I got cocky and expected that my degree would pave my way to immediate greatness.
It didn’t. The rich kids may have also felt entitled (albeit not as much as me), but they also had daddy’s friends to get them jobs, even if they only managed a 2.2. I had cockiness with out Game or connections. The scrappy poor kid who fought his way in lost his mojo. I was the first half of Rocky III except before he won the championship.
This isn’t to say I haven’t put lots of effort into turning my life around. One of my seventy hour per week jobs was ostensibly one of those “paying your dues” type scenarios that lead to a great job, only it didn’t (we lost the election). I’ve gotten in great physical shape several different times, but once I get there, I haven’t been able to stay.
So I’ve been finding it difficult to maintain focus. Is it worth it to put in countless hours at the gym and carefully plan my meals for months when I know I’m just going on some eating binge just before the finish line to undo everything? Should I go through another round of volunteering for and impressing people who could forward my career aspirations when I suspect I’ll either flub it all at the end or have them give up? (Those times I actually have followed through it hasn’t worked out, either.) Clean my apartment when it’s going to magically look just like it does now three days later?
Of course it is, and I know that. I’ve just got to be the bug in my own ear that I could so easily be in yours. Yet for some reason, that’s so much harder.
I digest, assess, and convey information to others as well as anyone I’ve ever met. This comes naturally to me, and for this I’m truly grateful.
But it’s almost like I’ve mastered calculus before learning my times tables. If I can’t do the basics, the really special stuff doesn’t matter. I might be a far more persuasive voice for my views than 95% of the idiots on TV instead of me, but they’ve mastered (or at least managed to learn) some very basic skills that still confound me.
And in a sense, this makes them more worthy. After all, aren’t incompetent intellectuals one of humanity’s worst scourges? If I can’t manage to make my voice heard, can my voice really be worth hearing?
So I know what I’ve got to do, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as dissecting all of the political implications of Genesis or comparing modern ideologies to the worldviews of various Shakespeare characters. Yes, I’ve got to blog. I’ve also got to get to bed early enough to be able to get to the gym before work, keep better track of my email, not let the mail take over my dining room table, waste time on stupid YouTube videos, etc.
I’ve got to learn to be more than who I am if I want my life to be more than what it is. Unfortunately, this means spending way more time on stuff that bores the crap out of me.
But that’s part of life, and it’s time I accept that.
In any case, feel free to pray for me if that’s your thing. I’ve got lots of work to do.