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.




  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。










  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。



  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。


  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?”



  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。







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