I had grown up with a vague feeling that I was disqualified as a male. If you had asked me about this when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate the feeling for you. I just felt shitty a lot of the time after my dad died, especially around other boys and their dads.
I tried to solve the problem in lots of ways, mostly by attempting to gain everyone’s attention. Occasionally it worked, but the feeling that there was something wrong with me always came back.
Then one day, long story how, I found myself with a group of sixty men in the woods. I feel a little silly talking about it, but I’m going to tell what happened next anyway.
The group leader was an older man, a poet and storyteller who could get cranky.
“What should we do now?” said the man.
“Tell us a story,” said someone.
“I don’t want to tell a story. I’ll tell you a story if you all write a letter to your fathers.”
We were sitting in a wood hall in the north coast of California. Someone had got a fire going in the fireplace. We carried pens and journals with us, and started writing.
“Dear dad,” I wrote, and then stopped.
The room had gotten very quiet. I listened to the fire for a minute, and then a man in the corner began making an odd, choking sound. He was crying, I realized. It embarrassed me. Then another man was crying. I got very sad. In a minute, everyone in the room was crying, including me.
I had never before experienced anything like this. Never anything like it. The men were crying, I realized, because they all felt disqualified. Each man might have explained it differently, but the sadness was the same. It didn’t matter that most of them had dads who were still alive. Everyone in that place—I knew with granite sureness—on some level felt disqualified as a male.
It was the first time among a group of men that I didn’t feel different or apart. Moreover, I would never consider myself as different or apart again. This was so sudden, so unexpected, so astounding a result that it would have been no more remarkable to me had my father walked into that room.
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