Artifacts

My mom and I were talking recently about the resurgence of traditional names in American culture: Eva, Hazel, Virginia, and Ida are back! As I gushed about how sensible it is to hold on to your dated clothes for the next cyclical trend and ranted about the cinematic remake of every good movie from my childhood, my mother got quiet for a second: “Yeah, all the names have come back – except mine.”

Yes, it’s true: Doris seems to have resisted the redux. My mom complained but also understood: she’d never really liked the name Doris. I was shocked when I was a kid staying at my grandparents’ house when I found my mother’s old high-school yearbook: “It’s been great to know you, Dottie!” her classmates had scrawled in the autograph section. I knew even then that my mother had never really liked her name and had done what she could to escape it.

“Bertha hasn’t made it back either,” I offered weakly.

So it goes the ebbs and flow of what’s hot and what’s not.

It got me thinking about other fashions that have fallen by the wayside. Recently at work, a photographer sent us a thick envelope of images that were clearly all from the seventies. I appreciated the grainy quality of the film, the large hair and sunglasses, and the preponderance of stripes. Among these gems were several photographs of men with mustaches. They looked so normal! When a guy sports a mustache these days it’s like a joke for Halloween that he shaves off the next day. But for these guys, and for most of the men I knew growing up, including my father, the mustache was a critical part of their eternal and dying quest to look good. My dad’s mustache was so ubiquitous that when he shaved it off we squealed “Ew!”

Occupy Upper Lip!

What else has gone wayward? Surely the smoky bar, which disappeared the day California passed the first anti-smoking ordinance, bless her heart. I certainly don’t miss coming home from a night reeking of cigarettes I didn’t inhale. But I do miss the cultural reference: the smoky bar was a place where anything could happen; where reality was obscured by slants of smoke and adults cavorted in some sort of divey harmony.

Last night, as I rose to clean the kitchen after Annie had cooked me and Rio a stellar meal, I flashed for a second on the mid-century man: “I’ve worked all day! I don’t need to do a thing!” I fantasized about  standing up from the table, walking out the door, and making a beeline to my friend Jeremy’s house to watch basketball and drink beer. Yeah, damnit! Dinner, clean-up, bedtime, dog care: why should that be my concern? Surely Annie could handle it. I thought of my mother in law, who’s always been impressed that I even know how to do the dishes, let alone iron shirts. But then I came to my senses, remembering that cohabitation and shared duties actually build collective freedom because all parties are invested and passing the baton and finding time to sit on a chair and do nothing, which these days I consider the closest thing to nirvana. So I cleaned the damn kitchen. Well. And then I recalled Annie’s standards and wiped a few extra corners. I had a wifebeater on. And a goatee.

The River in Our Eyes

Last weekend I attended a beautiful wedding at a farm near the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

As the crowd quieted and the groom and wedding party looked out from under the chuppah, our friend waltzed down the cottage steps in her flowing white dress. At the bottom of the stairs, her father waited for her in his wheelchair. As they began their walk down the aisle, I felt the familiar gush of warm tears falling slowly from my eyes and down my cheeks. Simultaneously, I felt an opening in my heart that rose like warm air through my chest and up my throat until it met those tears in some sort of emotional thunderstorm.

At the reception later, in two separate conversations with female friends about our favorite parts of the wedding, I mentioned how affected I was by our friend’s grand entrance, how quickly it brought me to tears. One of the friends responded, “Wow, Tim, I didn’t know about that side of you.” The other said, “It’s refreshing to hear a man talk about crying.”

All I can say is: What’s up with that? It’s not that I judge the women I was talking to; it’s just alarming that male tears are so rare that women take such note of them. I say this because crying, to me, is something I am infinitely grateful for. When I cry, I feel gratitude that I am touch enough with my heart that it can supply water. When I cry, I feel gratitude for feeling, because my mind can so readily chase away my heart’s evocations.

When did crying become something to be ashamed of for men? When Rio cries, I hold him to give him a safe container to let them flow, as opposed to hastening him to halt them. I know a mother who chastises her son when he cries — toughen up, dude — and I can’t help but imagine those stifled tears coming out later as angry outbursts, or at best reclaimed sadness on a therapist’s couch. The truth is that when I cry, I tend to walk away from whoever is around because I have internalized this association of male tears with weakness, but in secret I cherish each and every one. In fact, I’d say that crying for me is one of the most exquisite feelings in the world; it means I’m in touch with life’s shadow, which let’s face it deserves to be in the light. I don’t want a merit badge for crying: I just want it to be as common as a smile, for the world, and the human condition, is a trying place.

Sometimes when Rio and I watch videos, he takes a look back from his perch on my lap and takes note of my tears. At first he seems confused, because he associates water from the eyes with sadness. “Why are you sad?” he often asks. I tell him it is because I am happy. He has noted this apparent contradiction. We have usually watched something that bolsters my faith in the human potential. I am crying in part because goodness is not more of a norm, just as shedding tears isn’t. Tears come because I taste what could be; there is a hope and bitterness to that. A friend of Allen Ginsberg’s once described him as a “man with leaky eyes.” A mentor of mine once copped to a similar tendency, admitting to me that he is often “that guy in the car you see crying.” Damn I love a man’s tears.

May my destiny, and all my brothers, be so bold and  real.