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In search of brotherhood (兄弟情谊)

In search of brotherhood

I am not really sure when our boundaries went up. Men tend to build walls quietly, without warning. All I know is that when I looked up, me and my buddy weren’t talking anymore. Somehow we had become like strangers.

This rift–a simple misunderstanding magnified by male ego–didn’t happen overnight. Men aren’t like some women I know; we don’t announce that we are cutting each other off. Instead, we just slowly starve the relationship of anything substantive until it fades away.

Me and my buddy had let our friendship evaporate to a point where we hadn’t spoken in almost two years. Then one morning my mother called me at work and shared something she’d heard about him. “You know, his wife is sick with cancer,” she said.

I had to close my office door. I don’t cry often, but the news broke me down. I thought of his wedding day four years ago and a picture I snapped of him beaming at me as he wrapped his bride in his arms. I remember telling my wife that I’d never seen him so happy, so sure about something.

As it hit me that he now faced the possibility of losing his love, a deep sense of shame came over me. I wondered how he was coping and who was helping him through this crisis. I thought how devastated I’d be if my own wife were suffering. And I wondered whether he and I could ever be tight again.

We had always been like family, sharing an unusual history that dated back to the turn of the century when our great-grandparents were pals growing up in a small town not far from Nashville. Both our families migrated north to Detroit for better-paying jobs, and remained close through the generations.

When I was born 36 years ago, he was among my first playmates. As we grew older, we became what we called true boys–real aces, spending most of our time together running the streets, hanging at bars and clubs, watching games and chasing women. Our friendship came so easily that we took it for granted, and when it began to unravel, neither of us had a clue how to mend it.

What Real Men Are–and Aren’t

Like so many brothers, I have always been clumsy talking openly to other men about matters beyond box scores, babes or general BS on the job. Not that I believe male kinship is for “soft” or “weak” or “gay” types. It’s just that expressing my most personal thoughts to another man, no matter how close we are, feels awkward at times, unnatural.

Growing up, I learned from the males in my life that real men are tough, independent, dispassionate. Women, while they may possess these attributes, are also allowed to be tender, vulnerable and compassionate. But I am learning that men, too, must grant ourselves more freedom in defining how we communicate. If we don’t, we risk losing what’s most important to us–our women, families, friends and even ourselves.

A few years ago my father and I went to the Million Man March. It was a rare opportunity for us to spend an entire day together, amid the throngs of other Black fathers and sons and friends. For hours we stood on the Mall in the crisp October air while the world marveled at our historic moment.

There were many things I could have shared with my father that day–mistakes I’d made in my life, triumphs big and small, times he’d made me proud and times he’d disappointed me. Instead, we both stood there, soaking in the event and retreating into our own thoughts. Around us I noticed a profound silence.

My memory of that day will always be somewhat bittersweet because it revealed that beneath a dramatic fa?ade of togetherness, Black men–myself included–mostly chose to stand apart.

Most of us brothers understand the nature of intimacy. Through the women in our lives, we have witnessed the bounty of wisdom, counsel and encouragement that comes channeling through their tight female networks.

A few years ago, when word spread that my wife, Robyn, was pregnant with our first child, the phone rang constantly for months with female relatives and friends eager to talk about everything from breast-feeding to keeping the marital flame burning with an infant in the house. It became clear that sisters are able to benefit from a deep reservoir of insight offered to them by other wise and generous sisters.

Transcending the Mythology of Our Masculinity

My impending role as new father brought up a host of issues, too. I was trying to navigate Robyn’s mild mood swings and a much-altered sex life brought on by her hormonal and physical changes. And I was grappling with how a new baby would affect our finances.

With a needy newborn, would we ever get out of the house, or should we plan on life becoming a blur of working and changing diapers? But the fathers I knew seemed caught off guard by my questions, offering little more than a pat on the back and a vow to share a congratulatory cigar once the baby was born. I realized that discussing our experiences might have required us to reveal shortcomings or failures and compromise that fragile thing we call our masculinity.

It’s tough to transcend the powerful mythology of masculinity, to imagine our heroes as anything less than solitary dudes who depended only on God and their own wits and brawn to triumph. We just can’t picture Nelson Mandela, during his 27-year imprisonment, turning to a cell mate and confiding: “Man, I’ve got this weird feeling. I hope Winnie ain’t cheatin’ on me.” Or Martin Luther King, Jr., after the March on Washington, mumbling to Ralph Abernathy, “I was so nervous speaking in front of all those people.” Or even Michael Jordan, during his brief venture into pro baseball, lamenting over a beer, “It hurts when fans tell me I suck at this. Am I really that bad?”

Though we may rarely admit it, men are plagued with many of the same doubts, fears and insecurities as women. And to survive our humiliating legacy–the enslavement of our families, the rape and exploitation of our women, the auctioning off of our children and our groping for dignity in the shadowy freedoms that form our reality today–Black men have withdrawn, adopting a vow of silence.

But we can’t expect to become better husbands, fathers, friends and everything else we say we want to become without talking to one another. Our definition of manhood must include having the confidence and trust in our brothers to share our most intimate feelings.

Brick by brick we must deconstruct the fortress that has kept our pain, insecurities and even our dreams locked away for fear of scorn or ridicule. We must unburden ourselves and our sons from a warped and limited notion of masculinity, from thinking that intimacy is the exclusive terrain of women and that showing any emotion beyond anger makes us sissies. Like women, we have our own rich bank of wisdom and insight, but the vaults have been closed much too long.

Bridging Time, Bridging Distance

The day after my mother called, my wife and I drove over to visit my buddy and his family. It was a sweet reunion, warm and easy. We all embraced and apologized for letting so much time slip between us.

His wife looked frail, but her spirits were up. For the first time they saw our 2-year-old boy and marveled at the blessing. Their little girl, 2 1/2, instantly took to our son, and the two darted off together.

With yet another generation of our families starting a new relationship, me and my friend stepped outside, hoping to rebuild our old one. As he sat beside me on the patio, I could see the anguish in his face. Knowing that a pat on the back simply wasn’t enough to touch all he was going through, I put my hand on his. We both knew there was no longer a place for bravado, false pride or ego in our friendship. Yet for a moment we just sat there, not really knowing how to begin. “So how are you survivin’, my brother?” I asked finally.He looked at me directly. “Damn, man,” he said, his jaw tightening. “This s— is real. It’s been hard.”

He stood up and paced for a moment, then sat back down. And then we began to talk, about our lives, ourselves, in a way we had never done before. He spoke about the sudden trip to the

hospital, the grim diagnosis, the countless tests and surgery, and his own pain at watching his wife suffer while his daughter tried to figure out why.

I told him how glad I was to be back in touch with him, and that I would be there for him, to talk, to laugh, to help bear this load. When I told him that, he seemed suddenly energized. He sat back in his chair, gazed up at the sky and began telling me some of the lessons he’d been learning about faith and courage and pushing forward even when things look bleak. As he shared these things with me, I listened closely and learned something from my boy about what it really takes to be a man.

  兄弟情谊

  很难说清从什么时候开始我们之间开始渐渐疏远的。男人间的隔阂总是产生于无声无息之间,事先没有任何的预兆。直到一天蓦然回首时才发现我们不再促膝倾谈,疏远得有些形同陌路了。

  这种隔阂并不会在一夜之间突然形成,它是男人的自我中心在作祟。男人不会像我认识的一些女人一样宣称断绝彼此的往来,他们会渐渐地淡化彼此的关系,直到这感情慢慢地烟消云散。

  我与朋友的关系就处在这样的淡却中,两年来,我们没说过一句话。直到一天早上,在上班的时候母亲打来一 个电话,告诉我她刚刚知道的关于他的消息:“他的妻子患了癌症。”

  我关上了房门,眼泪流了下来,我很少哭,但这消息让我很心痛。四年前参加他婚礼的情景还历历在目,当时 他把新娘拥在怀中,对着我的镜头灿烂地笑。我还记得后来对我妻子说,我从没见过他那么肯定、那么幸福。

  如今,想到他可能会由此失去爱人,我忽然觉得很惭愧。他该如何面对,又有谁会帮他共渡难关呢?如果自己处在这样的境况,该是多么绝望!我们能不能重拾旧谊呢?我不由问自己。

  我们曾经就像一家人,两家的渊源可追溯到本世纪之初,我们的曾祖父母是同在田纳西州纳什维尔市不远的小镇上一起长大的伙伴。两家后来又都为了寻求更好的工作向北迁移到了底特律,大家仍然保持密切的联系,几代世交。

  从我出生到现在我36岁,他一直是我从小玩到大的亲密伙伴。我们共同成长,一起度过躁动的青春时光,成天在街头闲逛,流连在酒吧舞台,为球赛呐喊助威,一起追凤逐蝶,还自认为是少年风范,男儿本色。我们的友谊仿佛与生俱来,自然得让我们觉得理所当然,以至当裂缝悄然出现,我们竟都不知该如何缝补。男儿本色

  像其他男人一样,我很自然地会和别的男人讲比赛、讲女人,或对工作瞎说一通,谈其他方面的话题却让我很难为情。我认为也并不能因此认为男人之间的情谊是淡薄、轻浅或是基佬类型的,只是不论我们之间的关系多密切,要向另外一个男人吐露自己最隐秘的心事都会让我感到尴尬和牵强。

  随着年岁渐长,生活逐渐让我认识到真男儿应该是刚毅、独立而隐忍的。虽然女人也可能拥有这些品质,她们却可以表露出温柔、脆弱和怜惜的一面。然而,同时我也认识到男人也必须学会更放松地与人交流,否则就可能失去最宝贵的东西――妻子、亲朋、甚至迷失自己。

  几年前,我与父亲一起参加了美国黑人百万大游行,和无数的黑人父子、兄弟、朋友在一起度过了难忘的一天。那是一个寒风凛冽的11月天,我们站在华盛顿草地广场上,整个世界都在见证我们历史性的时刻。

  那天本来有很多事情我可以和父亲分享――我犯过的种种过失、取得的大大小小的成绩、父亲让我骄傲和失望的时刻等等。然而,我们都没有说话,只是专注地站在那里,沉浸在自己的思绪中。我还注意到四周都是一片沉寂。

  想起那天总让我觉得百感交集,因为在黑皮肤男人团结一致的表象下面,多数人――包括我在内,选择了袖手旁观。

  大多数男人都知道亲昵的含义,通过身边的女性,我们得以见证到女性亲昵关系产生出来的倾诉、鼓励和智慧。

  就在几年前,当我太太骆冰怀上第一胎的消息传开后,家里的电话连续几个月都没停过。各路女性的亲朋好友抢着与太太交换心得,从母乳喂养到有了孩子后如何维系夫妻关系等等。很明显女性因为与其他聪明慷慨的姐 妹不吝交流而获益良多。

  阳刚神话

  即将成为人父也给我带来了许多新问题。我必须学会适应骆冰易怒的情绪波动,还有由于她的荷尔蒙分泌和生理变化所引起的夫妻生活变化,而有了孩子以后的家庭开支问题也让我着实头痛。

  面对一个嗷嗷待哺的小家伙,我们是撒手不管呢,还是事事亲为,工作之余就忙着换尿布,围着小孩团团转呢?我所认识的那些父亲们似乎对这个问题没有思想准备,只是拍拍我的肩膀,表示孩子出生后要分享一口雪茄 烟表示庆祝。我这才意识到,要分享彼此的经验,就得把我们的弱点和失败揭露出来,并反思我们对阳刚的理解。

  要超越阳刚神话绝非易事,对那些蒙主恩惠,凭借自己的强健体魄和坚定意志赢取胜利的英雄,我们很难把他们想象成平常又孤独的凡人。

  谁能想象曼德拉在漫长的27年牢狱生涯中,曾向同监的人吐露心事说:“伙计,我有个奇怪的感觉,我希望温妮没有骗我。”而马丁・路德金在华盛顿大游行之后,居然跟拉尔夫・阿布纳奇嘀咕说:“在这么多人面前讲 话我其实好紧张。”甚至是迈克・乔丹,在他短暂的职业棒球生涯期间,曾借酒消愁地跟人抱怨说:“那些球迷说我打得很臭,想着就让我难受,我真的那么差劲吗?”

  虽然我们不愿意承认,但男人有时候也和女人一样没有安全感,会疑惑和胆怯。然而,面对黑人耻辱的历史――家人被奴役、妇女被蹂躏、孩子被贩卖,男人们在艰难的时世中默默抗争,以夺回生存的尊严。时光流逝,旧日的残酷造就了今天的孤独,男人们学会了隐忍,选择了沉默。

  然而,埋藏心事注定了我们不能更好的为人父、为人夫、为人友。男子汉的定义应该包括我们对手足弟兄的信心和信任,彼此间可以敞开胸怀,分享最贴心的感受。

  不再害怕别人的蔑视和嘲弄而隐藏自己的伤痛和梦想,只有这样心头的堡垒才会逐渐拆除。我们要引导自己和我们的子辈们从被曲解的“男性阳刚”的观念中解脱出来――亲昵并非女性的专利,除了愤怒之外男人也可宣 泄百种情感,而这绝非软弱怯懦。和女人们一样,我们本身也是充满智慧和远见的宝库,只是大门已被关闭了太久太久。

  重拾旧谊

  这天接到母亲的电话以后,我和妻子驱车前往探望朋友和他的家人。重聚的情景温馨而热烈。我们互相拥抱,自责疏于联系。

  他的妻子身体虚弱,但兴致高昂。他们第一次见到我家两岁的儿子,惊讶于神主的眷顾,让他如此快速成长。他们两岁半的女儿很快就和我的儿子打成了一片。

  眼见我们两家的新一代开始建立联系,我和朋友走出露台,盼望能重拾旧谊。他坐在我身边,脸上写满了忧愁。拍拍肩膀如何能够平复他正经历的痛苦,我不由握紧了他的双手。我们的友谊中已经没有了往日的浮夸和自负,一时间,我们坐在那里,竟都不知道该如何开口。最后,我问道:“兄弟,你是怎么扛过来的?”他直直地看着我,咬紧了牙关:“他妈的,这次,真的……太难了。”

  他站起身来,走了几步,又回来坐下。我们开始以一种以前从没有过的方式倾谈,谈论我们的生活,还有我们自己。他回忆了那次突然的医院之行,无情的诊断和数不清的化验和手术。看着爱妻在痛苦地煎熬,看着女儿费劲地想着为什么,他感到心如刀绞。

  我告诉他能再续旧谊我由衷高兴,忧患时刻,我愿与他时时交流、分享快乐、分担困苦。讲到这里,他似乎突然增添了勇气。他靠在椅背上,凝视天空,告诉我他的一些体会:愈是艰难困苦,愈要坚定信念,鼓足勇气,绝不放弃。我认真地听着,从他的话中我忽然理解了男人的真正含义。

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