I Went Looking For A Father On YouTube.
September, 2012. My first week of college. Excitement in the air. Vitality in and of my body. A sense of openness and possibility. Apprehensive but strong; the future is in my hands. People. Places. Things and more people. An Opportunity for growth, to become a man like I always dreamed — ever since I was a little boy playing lord of the rings in the front yard of my mind. Even my smelly little dorm room was a symbol of freedom. I can do, say, and be what I want — and best yet, I get the privilege of taking responsibility for everything. I am everywhere at once. It is my time to BE..
Well, life is a Bitch.
This fleeting memory is the last I have of my healthy Self, as 6 dark years of loneliness and excruciating spiritual agony came to follow soon thereafter.
I woke up one morning, in my smelly little dorm room that was beginning to feel like home, with a headache like none other. I had been drinking and exercising more than my normal, caught up in the energy of college life, but still this feeling was very strange. As I lifted my body out of bed, I realized something was very wrong with me, but I didn’t know what.
It didn’t feel like I was “sick”, in the traditional sense. I was too scared, in my body, to just have a cold or something. It wasn’t that I felt afflicted, as though some bug had taken me over, rather it was as though something was broken inside of me. Some part of me that used to be there, keeping the cogs moving and the neurons firing, was now gone in a dark and profound sort of way. It was as though something had been extracted from me, the marrow of my bones or the fibers of my flesh, rather than having some vile microbe injected into me. I could be remembering things wrong, as often our memory synchronizes with our personal narrative and inner dialogue more than reality itself, but I do recall a certain “knowing” in the depths of my being that my life was going to change forever.
Moments later, I realized what was happening — though I was not capable of accepting it then. I had become chronically ill.
I left. I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t compete with other students. I couldn’t navigate through the whirl and twirl of young life, the academic and social hierarchies that beckoned all around me. There was simply no way. My brain was foggy. My body was perpetually exhausted for no tangible reason; my energetic resources being drained like one of those outdoor pools when winter rolls around. There was nothing in me to give. If I strained too hard, my head would turn into molten lava, shattered glass thrown around my skull. Out of breath, constantly. The journey across campus was a menace. I was done. It was over. Goodbye. Time to go home.
I took the semester off on medical leave, hoping against hope that I may return — that I would wake up suddenly one morning and have a different body, a better one, a body that works. I was hoping for that every day for longer than I would like to reveal. Maybe I am still holding out hope for that, in some dormant chamber of my mind.
So, here I was. A young man with nothing to offer anyone, nothing at all. No skills and no body. Even the ability to read had become so difficult (the lines would blur together and the ideas would escape me in a matter of moments) that I couldn’t muster it. I would have worked for my father’s construction company, but such a company did not exist nor was he ever a handyman, as my Dad was scraping by in a little apartment down in the city far away from me. Always far away from me, sort of like when I was kid waking up crying in the middle of the night asking my mom where Daddy had gone. I had no way of knowing.
My friends and family didn’t know what to make of me. One of the first doctors I saw told me “You need to deal with your demons.” Eesh. Thanks, Doc. Maybe just the old “I don’t have the knowledge or ability to help you” would have sufficed. I ask whoever is reading this, ‘What would you do?’ No one had anything to offer me, at least nothing that a confused 18 year old boy would be able to receive. “Go one with your life”, a friend once told me. “You got hit with the sick stick, it happens” a completely healthy 17 year old had said to me after pouring my soul to him. I would like to get on with my life, I thought, but it would be nice if it got on a little bit by itself. Was this really a question of “will”, of my desire to move forward (which I could hardly doubt), or was there something obstructing the way that was beyond the understanding of the people around me, beyond any of us perhaps?
Enough of that. I found a path and a way, that’s all that matters now. Fuck self-pity, it didn’t help me in the least. Natural, yes. But helpful, no. I could never justify my blind spots and idiosyncrasies back then, as I sit here today with all that I have seen over the past number of years. I’ve seen things. Human things. Inhuman things. Scary things. Bad things. Beautiful things. I regret nothing and take it all in my stride. It all happened and I was there. I was there when it happened and there is power in that, even though I felt powerless then.
I sat on the beaten mattress in my childhood bedroom, staring at nothingness, obsessing over my own helplessness. Waiting for superman. Waiting for salvation. I got bored.
After stumbling upon the Joe Rogan Experience podcast on YouTube, something in my soft pink brain clicked. It actually made sense. It was one of the only things that made sense to me, actually. I remember a video about the deeper meaning of break ups (my high school sweetheart had left me after I became hopelessly intolerable, linking up a month or so later with a local jock I looked up to when I was a younger when he was a senior and I was a freshman, talk about sting. She needed more than I could give her at the time, and I have forgiven her since). The video struck me like lightning. Damn. “If I really love her, than I should want her to be happy.’ I had never received such guidance. Not from my teachers, not from my parents, not from my community, not from television. I was beginning to come out of a fog. A year and a half later I was almost fully healthy, working as a stonemason full time before moving to the city to train and study mixed martial arts (I subsequently relapsed after over-training and my illness has become much more complicated than it was before, but the glimmer of hope my first road to recovery gave me has not left me since. I will get better again, I have no fucking doubt in my mind).
I went looking for a Father on YouTube. I found many. Joe Rogan. Jordan Peterson. Chris Ryan — to name a few. Really, a Father is no more and no less than a guiding principle to follow in life, an authority both to struggle against and acquiesce to, a force of encouragement to grant us the necessary power to overcome fear, and a consistent structure off which to model our own being. God is the Father.
Coming from a single mother household, like 23% of Americans, I never understood the necessity for personal discipline to meet our potential in life, and to realize ourselves fully (My mom worked her ass off for me and I’m forever indebted to her, both my parents gave it their best shot and I wouldn’t be here without them). I wouldn’t say modern culture pays much attention to the value of fatherhood and right masculinity. Quick little example, while marriage out of wedlock rates for Black Americans has gone from 25% to over 70% in the past 60 years (over 90% in certain urban centers), the predominant cultural narrative regarding the racial divide is that it’s a consequence of systemically racist policy arising from implicit white supremacy (a particularly unconvincing stance in my view, and yes, I have read The New Jim Crow) with all of the emphasis placed on victimization as opposed to the necessity for communal development and personal responsibility (Where are the Fathers!? What the hell is going on!?). Cultural narratives, which characterize the public dialogue and outline the momentum of policy, impact our collective psychology in all sorts of subtle ways that we never really notice. In my sweet little darling opinion, our culture seems to be raging solely against the oppressive masculine energy, the “Tyrannical Father” archetype, and the result is a kind of strange psychic feminization that scoffs at any kind of male self-improvement. To stand in a public square and denounce the evils of toxic masculinity will likely garner applause, with maybe a casual after-sneer by some male passersby wearing Harley Davidson gear.. Now imagine doing the same with toxic femininity (which is a million percent a real thing and it’s literally sexist to say otherwise), and I don’t think it would go so swimmingly. Oof. Just the thought makes me nervous.
I’m not saying men are, broadly speaking, “oppressed” ( though there is a conversation to be had considering that men fill the prisons, have higher rates of suicide, and are more likely to be the victims of violent crime). That would be dumb and stupid and probably useless. We are all oppressed, isn’t that obvious? I’m just saying I think male problems and male development are neglected in our culture, and even the attempt to address these things is often judged as being oppressive or evil or something. Men need guidance. Men need responsibility. Men need real power (not corrupt power), the power of selfhood and conviction. If we don’t get that, we get a little weird. I think most of what is being perceived as toxic masculinity is more the absence of true masculinity than a sign that masculinity has “gone too far” or something like that. It hasn’t. It’s just not there. Young men are starving for meaning that our culture is refusing to provide, out of a misplaced cultural attitude of feminized cosmic justice, which mistakes emasculation for virtue. There, I said it. Phew. Weight off my chest.
Okay, so I’m a guy. I’m a skinny little manly man with a chronic illness. I can’t drink beer because it will make me sick. I can’t work out because I’ll literally die. Throwing my weight around (all 145 pounds of it) would be a bad idea being how vulnerable my body is. Yet, I believe TRUE masculinity is absolutely essential to moving gracefully and powerfully through the beautiful tragedy of life, for both men and women (but a little more so for men because one’s biological predisposition happens to mean something in the real world), and it’s shameful that we have forgotten this. I wonder if “Make America Great Again” (I’m not a Trump person, don’t worry) is not a return to old our old sexist and racist ways, but a display of the latent desire in people to retrieve the holy Father, a time-tested guiding principle that might help us sort some things out in this crazy old world, and the feeling of conviction and authentic selfhood that comes with subtle swiftness when we become an adult.
I went looking for a father on YouTube. I became my own.