Mother’s Day in a pandemic for a single man who just got his AARP membership card is a unique point in life’s journey and perhaps deserves a quick post. Whether it deserves a post or not it is getting one here. But this is not really about Covid-19 or Mother’s Day it is about the struggles of life.
I will turn back to getting my AARP card later in this post. I will be turning 56 in June. It seems like a long time ago that I turned fifty. I was not a superlatively healthy kid. But I lament the loss of my photos by the score of me hunting, fishing canoeing and climbing trees. They provided a useful alternate view of the reality that I was a quiet and bookish kid often afflicted with allergies, childhood asthma and other health problems which were more chronic and debilitating than acute. But I do have more mud and grass on my school pictures than most people did, I had a snakebite, several broken bones and lots of other issues that occasionally reinforced my pattern of social distancing and that were earned out in the real world. Nonetheless, I liked to think, visit with older people and be alone on a way that comes from being picked last in many sports and near last in others. However, I remember some glory days in quite a few sports and not everyone can honestly say the same. I hit quite few home runs in backyard lots and though they were a tiny percentage of the times I was at bat there is a lot of that failure to hit thing in baseball. A book that I am reading just now, which is at the center of this blog post has a chapter called “Get a New Definition of Failure and Success” . In that chapter the author tells of going to watch a game in which a baseball player got the 5,113th out of his career. He later mentions that this guy was also the great Tony Gwynn who got the 3,000 hit of his career during the same game. The author of the book was at the game but missed the historic hit due to the foibles and vicissitudes of his own life and schedule. I cannot relate to the kind of success that superstars enjoy but I still find the story compelling.
The story is illustrative of how failure is part of doing something difficult often enough to achieve great success. But most of us are not going to be superstars. I am glad at times to have done what I regard to be a lot of good work and a lot of other work while also making some money to meet some obligations. Often enough my work and making money have been in conflict not on the same trajectory. A very different person just mentioned in the book is Vincent Van Gogh who is widely considered one of the greatest artists of all time and sold only one painting in his life. Of course, I cannot help but feel that Van Gogh and the American self help book industry are very much on opposite sides of the spectrum of human experience but more power to the author for including the angst-ridden painter at east briefly in his book.
I have not read as much during this semi-quarantine as I would have hoped I would read. But I have picked up some books that I had wanted to read for some time. I recently replaced most of the gaskets in my almost twenty year old car. There were more than a few which were leaking. It was not the last thing that needed to be done but it was the most urgent. I think that despite my relatively new tire and suspensions it may have been a ride over one the occasional rough and bumpy roads which triggered many leaks in these aging gaskets to go at the same time. It is not the same as a perfect vehicle but I am invested in keeping it going a little longer. I think that this crisis is a patch of bumpy road that is doing some damage. I basically do believe that sort of football coach stuff that finds its way into adages and maxims like “when the going gets tough the tough get going”. Biblical adages about the faithful like gold tested in fire, wisdom emerging from the crucible of humiliation, salvation being what happens when the wheat is left over after winds of wrath have blown the chaff away. Those are the Biblical passages less likely to appear on mugs and bumper stickers that have some meaning for me. This is a time to find the inspiration to carry on and reach the goals that remain, I also got my AARP card this week, it is almost six years after I reached the age to qualify for this participation as a member in the American Association of Retired Persons, which is what the letter stood for as I remember but which has been transcended over time. I am certainly not retired.
I am reading John Maxwell’s Failing Forward during this Stay at Home period. I am not sure what the purpose if someone of my age reading a self help book can really be — but I am sure that it helps me brighten my perspective a bit to read such things from time to time. The effort to find my way in life does not get easier. I am aware that it may just end soon and that won’t much matter in the way that many lives matter, But I still try to devote myself to finding a way a forward from time to time. Some of that guidance comes from more abstract sources like science and philosophy. Some comes from spiritual classics and sources that are clearly spiritual and religious. but some comes from the self help sections of American bookstores and libraries. Failing Forward is an important enough book in that it focuses on the necessary process of growing and succeeding through failure. I have read whole shelves full of academic books with footnotes and those in several languages and honestly for me the books like this one will always fall into the category of nearly guilty pleasures like the many paper back spy thrillers and pulp science fiction books I read on life’s road.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. It is a day to honor and show affection for one’s mother. I have tried to find a way to do that. It will be different because of social distancing. The set of pictures below does not contain any pictures of women with whom I have been romantically involved. There is a bible passage at the start of the big book in early chapters Genesis that says “It is not good for man to be alone”. The story goes on to tell of this being God’s motivation for creating Eve from Adam’s rib. The story has been subject to a feminist critique in recent decades and always had some limits as a paradigm but it has a kind of ring of truth as well. In woman there is something that completes what a man is and does, For men the presence and identity of women is one of the links by which we see the world as complete and hopeful. That may be true to some degree of how some or many women see men but it is not exactly the same.
There are a few males included in the pictures above but we see a pattern of human experience in the female form of life. We are able to glimpse, in all these women, some part of what we as men honor on Mother’s Day. It is not so easy to be sure what family and motherhood ought to mean these days. But certainly what I have heard about the popularity of the Netflix series the Tiger King shows a different focus of American ideas just now. There is a cost to the decline of the traditional family. The value of men and the traditional family has not been without its defenders. That is not what this book is but it seems related in some tenuous way to other such books.
<li class=”wp-block-coblocks-gallery-collage__item item-1″>One of the areas of human potential that has been addressed in the industry of American self-help literature is the area of masculinity. That work is evident over the years in books like Maximized Manhood: A Guide to Family Survival, Fatherhood: A Fresh Start for the Christian Family, Iron John: A book About Men Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in the Light of the Scriptures and the Social Sciences. .each of these books celebrates manhood in reference to a high if arguably disingenuous value of women. I have lost a few segments of earlier versions of this post in the editing process and that is just one of many aspects of the troubles with technology which characterize my life. I think I do alright, but staying current in technological terms is one of the bumps on my life’s road. Therefore I may never get the links to the above books working properly again. Mothers of course have a lot of experience with finding good past failure. But there is a difference between men and women because men really cannot expect to become mothers.
So as a man who is not a father and is not likely to become a father, I am aware that motherhood is a great and complex journey on which I am not engaged. I have posted about motherhood and mother’s day tangentially on this blog here, here and here. In my model constitutions I discuss motherhood and womanhood quite a bit. But Mother’s Day is usually devoted more to writing Mother’s Day cards and Facebook posts to my living and actual mother. This is not really such a post as I would class as a Mother’s Day post. I am sure that pregnancy and childbirth in this pandemic must be even more extraordinarily challenging than the ordinary series of natural miracles and ordeals which normally define this process.
I never have really known the world as a great male athlete knows the world but there was a time when I at least felt that I participated in the life of manhood and did not have to sweat the details to feel those feelings that go with being a man. . But later life has brought some indignities since then. The most recent is that my e-harmony profile gave me a substantially higher score for the feminine side of my personality than for the masculine side. I think that the fact that i watched ice dancing with my ex-wife, have worked in female dominated workplaces, have done much of my own cooking and housekeeping explain a lot of that but of course that is real stuff and I could have ended up doing other things. I have so many memories of playing rough sports, chopping trees, shooting guns, riding horses, building fences, working on cars, and hiking alone in the wilderness but I somehow do not think that showed up as well in the test, I honestly have had a lot of female friends and spent a lot of time with female relatives but there have been a lot of of hunting camp and road trip experiences with the guys as well. I think that more than anything. I missed the boat of life which would have recognized the kinds of courtship, family life and eroticism in all its many forms which was suited to me and which was actually eroded by very powerful forces. So I seem to have kind of lost my guy card amid all the powerful forces at play in the world. Women may say different things but I think that few are attracted to men with a perceived surplus of feminine qualities. My brother gave me a book a few years ago called Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan Petersen. That author also seeks to figure out the path of masculinity for his largely young male following but he does it in a less direct and exclusive way than the books on manhood I listed above. I liked the book alright. I am not that guy either however.
I do not think that I am really the kid who got beat by all the jocks and warriors and just cannot take life’s hints. I remember going into martial arts studio once and not being well received partly because one of their best fighters out moved and out paced me but also because I kicked him literally off the sparring mat which that particular studio had. I also remember taking down two highly trained killers drunk behind a bar in a relatively friendly non lethal bar fight. I have not had a legendary sex life but I really like girls. I think society does not doe me a lot of justice in terms of understanding my sexuality. I have my resentments about all of that and it is too late for them to be resolved.
There is so much more I could say about all of this but I will change course and reach my conclusion. Not all of us are going to recover from the crisis well enough to feel like winners. Some of us have suffered losses and adversities that we honestly feel we cannot overcome. Some of us are the walking wounded and will not get over the ways we have been wounded in areas central to our identity. But even if we are not going to be superstars we can make the best of this. We can do our best, look for opportunities and respect ourselves. We can treasure our good moments. We can honor our Mothers and other mothers this Sunday and Americans can join in the national day of prayer today. We can enjoy the safe interactions that we have with loved ones. Life is not just about the good times and goodness is to be found in all times.