The Wasteland of Our Fathers

Disclaimer: This perspective is entirely from a white, cisgender male perspective. Since this is what I was raised as, this is currently where my mind is at. In no way is the focus on my specific understanding of men meant to dismiss other perspectives from non-cis men, men of color, those of gender fluidity, other sexuality, transgendered, marginalized people or anyone who I am still gaining an understanding of in their own feelings and struggles.

I am still learning, I am still evolving, and I wish you to know that even if I unintentionally gloss over a perspective, or miss a point, it is not my intention to harm, dismiss, exclude or otherwise diminish others. I recognize I am coming from a place of privilege in many ways. Hopefully that does not disqualify my experiences or alienate anyone who may have experienced different contexts. ❤

I was very lucky. I got up that day before grade school. I think I was maybe 8 or so. I walked downstairs in a sullen state. It was a field trip that day and I was less than enthused to go to the frozen yogurt place that was promised after the walk to whatever sight we were scheduled to see. My father was sitting in one of the big chairs downstairs right across from the door that led to the living room. He looked up from whatever he was reading and saw that something was amiss. He asked me, “Honey, what’s wrong?” Immediately I burst into tears.

I said amidst a torrent of sobs: “The kids at school. They make fun of me so much. I don’t want to go on the field trip. I don’t care that there’s ice cream. I don’t want to go. Please, do I have to go?” He got up and came over to me and wrapped his arms around me and held me so tight. He kissed me and reassured me. “Michael, you don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to. Those boys are mean and you don’t have to go anywhere with them if you don’t want to. Stay home with me.”

Again, I was very lucky. It must’ve been a Monday or a Tuesday. My father ran a hair salon in downtown Buffalo. He had arranged his business and his schedule so that he would be home on both of those days every week. That was my life for 17 years before my dad left the business to start a career as a psychologist, later earning his Ph.D and becoming a professor. Both of my parents had wrapped and bent their lives around me. Most days of the week I either had my father or mother home with me. Weekends it was both, except for Saturdays which my dad worked at the salon.

I remember the day with such saliency. The hurt and the relief are feelings I can recall in an instant. It was probably one of the earliest (or at least most memorable) granting of free will that my parents would make a hallmark of my upbringing. That day I would wake up with an existential dread in the pit of my being only to be relieved by my father with infinite understanding and love which I was allowed to melt into with complete safety.

To both my parents I was, and remain “their boy”. I am the only child but not for lack of trying. I am relatively confident my parents tried to give me a sibling and in my younger memories I seem to recall talk of adoption. However, through a turn of fate I ended up being the sole proprietor of my parents’ attention. A blessing and a curse I suppose if we want to take pot shots at only children. Regardless, what resulted from their care was an entirely holistic experience that made me the person I am today. The best parts of my self I attribute to their raising of me, and the worst parts of myself I blame on straying from their good advice or model behavior. They were and are the perfect template for me as a person.

As for being a man, a pocket of existence which comes with a host of preconceptions and expectations, I can largely attribute the guidance to my father.

This writing is in no way a dismissal of my mother. Honestly I should have done an entire piece on her for Mother’s Day, but I am anything if not forgetful, and at the mercy of the day’s business. For that I can only say: I’m sorry, mom. I love you with all my heart, and I REALLY owe you a post next year if not sooner. Thank you for sending me the pants I forgot at home!

My father comes to mind not only because of the approach of Father’s Day, but because the last years have been seen the news feeds filled with events such as mass shootings, violence against women, suicide, homicide, hatred and derision towards people of color, those of differing sexuality and other minorities. The emergence of Trumpism and the fallout from domestic and international policy to the general decay of our perceived assumptions around how western liberal democracy should operate on the surface. Surely there are overlaps, connections, mutual impacts and a host of other factors that unites these phenomena. Something however that sometimes goes either unnoticed, or is so insidiously par for the course, is these events, behaviors, circumstances, are mostly the result of the actions and attitudes of men.

The study and psychology of masculinity has always fascinated me. Psychology in general and how it relates to politics especially. Psychology when it comes to masculinity because I am myself a cisgender male, and also because my experience as such has been so markedly different from the world of men I see around me. Whether this be my interaction with boys as a child, formation and maintenance of relationships with male friends, and how my life has played out in what is the modern era of “traditional” masculinity, I have looked on in wonder and often horror at the world which has unfolded for me and my male counterparts. I have stood at the edges of a landscape of merciless subjugation and oppressive social constructs that have at the very least, bent men into shying away from the child they began as, and at the very worst, warped and mangled them into sociopathic renegades who project with ferocity the damage they have been administered back outwards. Acting violently towards groups or individuals that they project and transfer their unaddressed anger onto.

I say I walked the edge because nearly nothing about my upbringing, or the resulting psychology and behavior, fit into that landscape. I felt I always existed in this green pasture. An endless expanse of hushing green grass, with no obstacles to exploration or safety. At times however I would get up and walk to the edge of this space. I would approach the border and look out on the barren desolace, where shadowed figures trudged along broken, cracked, grey terrain. Slumped and tattered. Sometimes dragging items or pushing heavy loads. It was always a tattered assembly of business casual clothing falling off of their emaciated bodies. In this metaphysical space I was a little boy in denim overalls. A striped long-sleeve shirt and bright blond hair. Maybe I was 4 or 6, but I was young in any regard. In this imaginary place there was no need to cross the sudden threshold from long green carpet to ashen ground that separated the landscape of blue sky and forever fields, to the congested sky of thunderclouds with nothing but char under it’s blanket. I was perfectly set up in this expanse of safety, clarity and serenity.

This specific definition of the field only emerged for me recently. The spirit and concept itself is something I remember being there throughout my existence in some way or another. A place where the infinite child resides, where he can rush through the endless field to the sound of rustling greenery, drawing with chalky crayons on the spaces where green turned to packed down moist dirt.

Much like the divergent landscapes my life has always felt as one of “other”. I never fit in with boys well. The few childhood friends I had were never too deeply rooted, and they were often friendships as a result of marginalization. Never part of the main fleet of young males that cruised the seaway of early childhood. I remember as a very young boy growing up in downtown Buffalo I would ride my Little Tikes car on the sidewalk with my father, looking for other kids on the block to be my friends. It was a fruitless endeavor as there weren’t a lot of children in that part of town. Even later on though, with kids more prevalent in the small town of Hamburg, 20 minutes south of Buffalo, I still didn’t notch in.

What was it exactly that I couldn’t connect to make a lasting friendship? Was it that my skin, raw and red with eczema, was too unsightly and made me unappealing to other children? Was it the way that I would talk, frantic, over-excited and meandering? Was it the lack of attention I displayed, never being able to stay on my task, or on subject, or on the interest the rest of the class was focused on? Maybe it was that I only wanted to draw and to play with toys. Building things, recording things, singing, dancing, most things that defied not only the scheduled activities of school, but also didn’t fall into the emerging hierarchy and roles that boys generate so early in their development.

Perhaps it wasn’t so much my behaviors that set me apart. Maybe it wasn’t really the expression of the bouncing muppet that lived inside my head. Could it have something to do with how my father, after driving me to school, would kiss me on the lips when we said goodbye to each other?

I remember sometime in elementary school my father had stopped in front of the doors. I hopped out of the car and he said “I love you, honey!”. I got back into the car momentarily and gave him a kiss. Satisfied I leapt back out of the car. Two boys had been standing just outside the doors of the school and asked with incredulity “You kiss your dad!?”. “Yeah..” I said. They looked horrified.

It wasn’t later until I learned that affection, speak nothing of kissing a parent on the lips, was something these boys rarely, if ever, encountered on a daily basis. I had experienced this as I made my way to friends homes, where perfectly nice mothers would be tending to the house and kids, while fathers were (strangely to me) absent. Even when they were around, it wasn’t until playtime had extended past adult quitting hours that they appeared. Upon the arrival of a father, each child reacted with varying degrees of straightening up, avoidance of the parent, or straight up fear.

Historically, other children’s mothers loved me. I was unassuming, polite, quiet, silly and generally a friendly kid. Fathers on the other hand ranged from indifferent to dismissive. Sometimes even to plain rude and scolding to a child that wasn’t their own. I didn’t think much of it aside from the strange feeling of uncomfortableness it created. Dads got home and all of a sudden moods became dour and prison rules felt as though they were instituted. I would leave generally unfazed, but the realities between my home life and the boys I knew were worlds apart.

My family was a little different. Many people in my home town were Roman Catholic, and my parents were no exception. They weren’t particularly religious, but they were what I like to refer to as “Culturally Catholic”. This included large family gatherings, unannounced visits, tight nuclear and extended familial relationships and what was most different, outward displays of affection. Even my grandfather’s stoic and strict German pragmatism was able to be melted by his grandchildren. Affection was abundant whether it be from parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close family friends. The boundaries of connection seemed to be less inhibited in my family. Especially between my large italian family on my father’s side. You could say the boundaries were a little too relaxed on that side of the family since italian families (at least in my experience) had the tendency to not respect family members’ spaces from time to time. Regardless, my entire family’s relationship with affection was markedly more open.

While affection wasn’t the only thing my parents and I shared, it was most certainly a signifier of how vastly different I would find relationships between other boys and their fathers. Dismiss the possibility of a kiss completely and there was even still a still coldness between father and son on every level. In the suburban colonies of white town life, I found doting mothers but often terrifying fathers. Cold or angry men, returning to a small patch of wood and brick to slump down in an armchair or walk out to the garage immediately. There was very little emotional check-in from these men even on a surface level. If I stayed for dinner at another boy’s house, perhaps there would be a cursory glancing of the subject of school or other matters, but dads of these children rarely if ever engaged in play. Questions of “What the hell are you doing?” emanated from lower floors if a friend and I were running around too much. “Stop that!” if we were laughing too loud behind a couch playing.

Ruckus and laughter were only permissible outside. Never in the confines of the home. We were brushed out to yards or the foresty expenses behind homes to make our own fun. An outsourcing of engagement and play to nature, and a dereliction of responsibility by fathers for their sons. The kids were always alone, the fathers always away. Left to develop and scrounge for their own sense of self, hierarchies emerged that I couldn’t really wrap my head around. I would have other children over at my home and we were given generally free reign. I had toys, games, art supplies, all sorts of tools that could make play on the inside of a home just as meaningful as the backyard. In fact most kids liked coming over to my house because even at an early age they felt liberated by the fact that my parents weren’t overbearing. My family acted as hosts, and while kids were certainly supposed to mind their manners, often behavioral reinforcement was hardly needed because of the atmosphere of welcoming safety my parents created. My parents, especially my father, engaged in the habit of correcting friends who would misbehave, or setting a situation right if there was an uptick in fighting. The interesting thing that would happen is that other children behaved distinctly different at my home than they did their own, even when lightly disciplined.

Upon entry to the house, my parents would ask a friend to take off their shoes, say hello to each of my parents, then proceed on their way to merry-making. Even this small ruleset seemed to create a system of respect, but most importantly safety, which permeated the goings-on in the home. If my parents asked someone to stop doing something they would. Conversely, the same sort of misstep the child might take at home was met with discipline or humiliation. In which case, even when the spectacle of punishment had subsided, we just went somewhere else and the behavior continued out of the purview of the adult. In my parents’ domain there was no such discipline, there was no such denial of humanity, and there was very little acting out. Not until much later in my life did I understand what was happening. It wasn’t that my parents were any more loose with household rules, but the granting of agency, respect, kindness and a host of other positive reinforcements led to less baseline bad behavior when in the realm of their home. A concoction of support and safety lessened the panic state that these children were so accustomed to tripping into at their own homes, when their parents, specifically their fathers, came down on them.

With their own home environment in mind, it’s no wonder that the majority of the boys who surrounded me in my childhood were merciless and dehumanizing in their treatment of me. The men in their lives had created state of unrelenting anxiety, one which could flip to terror at a single moment. With this social and psychological dominance firmly in place, and reinforced by humiliation and sometimes by violence, the systems emerged in their mind in how the structure of relationships to other men would shake out. I was easily victimized. I had a skin disorder and looked different. I didn’t like the activities they were funneled into like sports and outdoor play. I wasn’t able to muster focus on menial tasks and school work which branded me at least as unorthodox, and at worst, stupid. While I was definitely less “boyish” as a child, the term “gay” or the insinuation that being affeminen was a negative hadn’t yet manifested as much where I was. However if my schoolmates ever learned I had played with dolls and had a Barbie brand Ferrari as one of my favorite toys, I most likely would have been taunted pretty hard.

As childhood progressed, and the American brand of schooling further crunched boys to acclimate to standardized testing, traditional subjects and affinities for physical activities, the expression of hierarchy, dominance, cool and uncool, weird and normal, began to solidify. There as of yet there was no “jock and nerd” mentality as much as there was a “weird” and “cool” variation where I was securely in the “weird” camp. In addition to this social classifying by other boys, grade school teachers saw me as not adapting to school and branded me slow.

Around this time my parents had a meeting with one of my elementary school teachers. The teacher had assessed me as “retarded” and broke the news to my father that I wouldn’t pay attention, that I was slow, and that all I wanted to do was draw. Reading the tea leaves of a 2md grader she asked: “Well what is he going to be, Mr. Maurino, when he grows up? A starving artist?”. To which my father returned a salvo of: “He’s going to be whatever the hell he wants to be.”

Incensed, my father took me to the school psychologist to be tested for various comprehension skills and I was placed in a out-of-school program. The district put me in a gifted and talented class for two days out of the week.

In another move which would be a familiar trend in my time in public school, a similar conference was held between my parents and my 4th grade teacher after a year and a half of the program. “I don’t think he’s performing very well in class, Mr. and Mrs. Maurino. He isn’t doing well on the homework and I think the GT (gifted and talented) class is to blame.”

Dad: “When he was a little boy he would sit for hours and record his own radio shows into a tape recorder. He would write and tell his own stories and draw his own characters. All that stopped when he came to elementary school. So I think that whatever you’re doing here is having a worse effect than anything he could be doing in the GT. I don’t care what the fuck happens in your classroom, all that matters is his GT class.”

Needless to say she was stunned.

This wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last, that my parents, especially my father, would take an active and even antagonizing roll in my education.

Again, I’ll speak mostly of my father here (Mom, please see above apology) since the day is at hand, and such need exists for good fathers in the world. The way he delt with impediments to my education and my growth no doubt stemmed from feelings left over from his family. He felt trapped, stimeyed, oppressed by the behaviors and attitudes of his family, and most certainly turned that frustration over to blazing a path for me to develop unencumbered. But additionally, the emphasis he put on unrestricted love towards his son flew in the face of how his father treated him. With a very toxic version of manhood pervasive in his childhood, he dismantled the idea that a father should remain at a distance to his child, or that somehow coldness, discipline, dismissal or the suppression of feelings would somehow create a healthy boy.

A father and son encapsulate the possibility of such emotional significance at the inception of their relationship. At birth there is window of such tenderness, such love, such bond, that it is a wonder how cruel and alienating forces can manifest to create unhealthy relationships between a man and his child. In our fathers we enter the world seeing our template for existence. We adopt mannerisms, behaviors, affinities, but also deep psychological processes of cognition, learning, threat management, self-confidence, and a slew of other essential tools a boy will develop in the framework of their fathers. While gender, sexuality, and other elements of biology and psychology will continue to demonstrate nuances and beauties as we learn more about them, boys who are set to walk in the path first trodden by their fathers emulate, adopt their ways and grow in their image. But given the state of our society, our culture, our politics and our adopted norms, a boy may only construct a latticework of himself if his father is incomplete, or not cognizant of his own incomplete state.

In these shells of men, ones which have been set upon the rack like misshapen clay pots to dry, the heat of the sun bakes into them the faulty seams which will form cracks, which will form holes, which will threaten to shatter their entire being. In these empty vessels, discarded for their own inability to carry contents with certainty, we find the makings of the desolation. The stale air in the chasm of dry, unfilled existence.

I used to make things in clay. The very first things being little forms, molded with wet hands, clapping together sloppy welds to be fired in a kiln and shellacked with bright stain upon cooling. The clay of a sculpture, or a pot, or a vessel after coming out of the oven is terribly course, toothy in its grit. Unwelcoming, dry, able to skin a limb if rubbed across one. When malleable, it is only kept so by water. By sealing it in a plastic bag with plenty of moisture. If unattended, it will dry just like packed dirt splitting in the sun. Dust and debris flaking off at every touch. The wasteland adjacent to my green expanses feels like this.

Clay is a product of the earth in its rawest form. There isn’t much difference between what a child may throw around in art class and what lies beneath their feet in the outdoors. In that way clay holds the comparison to any opposing states of malleability and rigidity. Well watered well-being to dry and devoid of sustenance. Moist and parched. Health and the lack of. Life and lifelessness. On the side of our dreaming fields our hands can be dug into the ground, fingering through the living soil. On the side of the desolation, even our most heated and violent beating of the ground bears no result other than dust and tears.

I have seen the edge. I have crossed the threshold. I know the isolation of the wasteland in my own battles with my own mind. There is no give, there is no soft ground to lay one’s head down on, there are only rocks to push, other people to lumber into, and lonely dread under an unforgiving sky which thunders but never rains. In this hellworld we find the contemporary state of masculinity, the reality of manhood.

Boys who become men who become toxic do not arrive at such a savage state by nature. The construction of our social norms do not stem as much from our biology or our animalistic tendencies as much as we tend to think. Gender and sexual norms are largely culturally constructed and socially reinforced. Because of this, what our fathers learn from their fathers becomes the oral history of institutionalized psychological violence against their sons. A broken father creates a broken son. A broken son who cannot see the inhumanity of having to shave off parts of himself, or tuck parts of himself in, to fit into those constructs will never realize what oppression has been thrust upon him. He will never be able to rise above the injustice of socially constructed gender and sexuality if all he, and those who have come before him, are cast in a warped mold.

Much like the artificial constraints sexuality and gender box us into, the reinforcements we receive as a result of contemporary masculinity not only serve to create behavior which throws off a dysfunctional outward projection, but it causes in men a deep despair which ultimately leads us to be unfulfilled. If our fathers have had a life of traditional male hierarchy, economic providership, suppression of feelings and slaved to “stability”, they have most likely been bombarded with the promise of “rewards” and reinforcing stimuli/behavior which forces them to develop (reluctantly or with friction) affinities that run counter to what is objectively healthy for their own psychological well-being. A deluge of “manly” power fantasies which include sports, monetary wealth, opulence, sexual domination and promiscuity, military service, hypermasculine fitness, etc, often are at odds with the natural inclinations young boys trend towards before gender compartmentalization begins, eventually to be socially institutionalized by late childhood. Even if the aforementioned goals are objectively positive in some way (physical health for example) the nature of our commodity/capitalist culture mutates these strived-for habits into projected outcomes that wildly diverge from the reality that is achievable by the typical man.

In this way the economic/political/social umbrella of capitalism further takes idealized, gendered, masculinized ideas and cranks the pressure up. No longer are the desires for success, dominance, wealth and other status elements made important by the ambient culture or even perhaps by some latent biology, they are leveraged as integral selling points for the products and services which promise less friction in achieving masculine goals. Capitalism, in its relentless seeking of markets, weaponizes social norms to exploit persistent insecurities about not fitting into the traditional mold of masculinity. Everything from the way a man smells, to the way his body is toned, to the state of his vehicle, is an opportunity for commoditization. That very sliver of our attention span that turns its eye towards accommodating the pressure to be traditionally masculine, is turned into a micro-market for private interests to sell products.

Capitalism itself is even seen as an extension of male-based social and economic hierarchy. The global meritocracy where you are judged not by your individual objective physical and emotional health health, but by the framework capitalism unfolds on us to reinforce goals that are often contradictory to that very health. The meritocracy creates a system of physical and social currency. Currencies which can be leveraged to attain traditional male status symbols but also exert over other human beings, especially other men, to keep the hierarchy in tact. The hierarchy, especially one based on patriarchy, being the ultimate extension of irrational and toxic masculinity. While historically human culture “naturally” shakes out to certain hierarchical structures that delineate power dynamics, whether those structures are in fact healthy for the people inside of them is up for much debate.

Our fathers, and we who are a product of them, continue the long line of fleshy bricks in a road which extends patriarchal hierarchy from its roots thousands of years ago, into the hyper-dominating global version which looms over us every day, in every corner of our lives. In a great unbroken chain of abuse, violence, suppression and dismissal, men bend their once flexible boyish i innocence into a twisted link of orthodoxy, rigidity, unfulfilled hearts and despairing souls. Despite keeping the cycle of Western civilization intact, it is we who end up being bent into subservience by our own self-imposed social and psychological norms. To maintain the only version of stability we are told to hold sacred, we beat ourselves, and each other, into submission. Only ensuring that we will bend any boy who deviates from the established norm, and a time will come where even the most encouraged young men will find themselves willfully stepping up to be nailed to the cross of masculine orthodoxy.

So most of us will cross the threshold of the forever fields of infinite innocence to a world of constant social pressure, irrational feelings of doubt, expectations beyond our ability to attain, socio-economic circumstances which cause us to abandon the spirit of our youths for the sheer need to survive in a world which values material gain over personal fulfilment of our own agency. A crushing state of suppressed emotions, locked between the pain of unrealized hopes and inability to vacate our tortured feelings. We are funneled towards distorted states of success by capitalism, we are met with the reality of the limitations of class, race, gender, and we collapse. Beaten sideways to become what we are not, beaten down when we reach for a slice of invisible pie.

It is the great lie we swallow, and the great act of oppression our fathers commit upon us. A false prescription for a nonexistent reward. An assurance that fitting into an irrational definition of what it is to be a man will inexorably lead to an irrational version of fulfillment. A cure for a sickness that is entirely self-imposed. Our fathers, if they follow in the broken mold of countless men before them, thought-police themselves and their boys to embrace a version of reality that is in fact insanity. A state of complete vigilance which must contain adherence, acceptance, suppression and lies, told to ourselves and told to others.

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, […] to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.”

It is not such a stretch to take Orwell’s concept of doublethink and apply it towards the concept of traditional contemporary masculinity. One which is crafted by fathers and sons, consciously or unconsciously, across the centuries. A maddening path of psychological self-mutilation all in order to abide by a specific, accepted, artificially constructed reality. To know the truth about one’s own inner feelings, pains, beliefs, instincts, but to systematically eradicate them, and apply the same eradication technique to the friction the act causes. Both destroying and self-reinforcing an entirely other self. The man applying dominance over the boy. The father over the child. The violence perpetrated by screaming “man up” to the crying and innocent youth.

So we find ourselves in the desolation. Self-policing, hyper-vigilant, at the mercy of markets, norms, expectations and limitations. Angry, afraid, only able to exact pain upon each other our ourselves as we attempt to cope with madness. The only other feeling available in the wasteland of crushing submission is the crack of self-flagellation. If we cannot introspect, if we cannot express, we will lash out. If we lack the stomach to lash ourselves, we will strike others instead.

Our walk from the verdant fields to the grey expanse becomes ever more distant. As we sons make our way across the landscape our fathers wither, fall and hand off their responsibilities and their irreconcilable psychic chaos to us. Innocence is abolished. Tenderness squashed. It is only the wasteland that we must be prepared for. There is no going back to the green. No return to the fields of our imaginations, our hopes, our desires, our loves, our longings. Forward, to the darkening distance, we crawl towards any patches of trickling light which can be made out between the churning sky of darkness. Other men, other sons, will be in our path. When we find them we shall beat them. As our fathers beat us. As we shall beat ourselves.

I see you. I can barely make you out from my field of grass. My crayons laying on the patches of rich dirt, one buckle on my overalls unpinned. My hair in a muss, my eyes still blue and straining to see your struggle. I wave to you. I see you raise your hand in blurry recognition, in the momentary connection with a child, as you were once.

In you I see my friend. I see the companion I looked for while riding my toy car through the empty city streets. I see you as the little boy I wanted to hug while we played with toys through the night, and made mischief under the stairs. I find you to be the still tender child, wrestling with changing feelings, and changing body, as you grasp your way through confusing times of puberty. I look at you and see the young man who has all the potential to be what his innocence pointed towards at his arrival in this world. I notice you, as the young adult who has such determination to do good, to succeed, to connect, to enable, to make peace with others and the world around you. I see you as the man, struggling to find relevance, acceptance, agency and fulfillment in a world so full of hyper-connected isolation. I see you as the adult, as the one who looks to take on the responsibilities laid before you by a culture of crushing expectations, of diminished prospects, of circumstance and inequality.

In all this, at every stage, I see you and I love you. I love you in your childlike ways and your grown-up mannerisms. When I touch you I can feel how your heart aches and how your brain burns. When I hold you I can hear you crying inside of your own head. When I kiss your forehead I can sense what your father did to you, or what he did not do for you. For you I am here. I am your friend, I am your brother, I am your lover, I am your family.

I want you to come meet me in the forever green. Back the cracked path you tread. Passing back through scenes of broken men who never made it through. To the edge of the wasteland.

Bend down and look at me, the child, much like the one that is inside of you despite the pain, the derision, the loneliness and the isolation. Past the expectations and the pressures. Come, take my hand, shed the ragged grey clothes. Step out of the frozen shell this world has crusted around you and play in the grass with me.

Together we will make the wasteland green. Together we will be the fathers of a new world.

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