Tag Archives: motherhood

What My Mother Taught Me About Being A Better Man (With Roller Coasters)

roller-coaster-2

Whenever I get a little personal on this site, I often focus on two topics. One is how awful high school was for me. The other is how awesome my parents are. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m just being honest and truthful. They really are that awesome and I intend to belabor that every chance I get.

As it just so happens, Mother’s Day is tomorrow and since I have such a wonderful mother, I’d like to share a personal story that I hope conveys a larger message about masculinity, in general. I promise this isn’t going to be another complex exploration about bogus topics like “toxic” masculinity or double standards. It’s just a simple story about my amazing mom and how she helped me grow into a better man.

There are a long list of stories I could share. Some of those stories I’m sure my mother would prefer I kept private. There are plenty others I’m sure my mom would love for me to share, if only to document some of the more memorable moments our family has shared over the years. Since I know she occasionally reads this site, I think she’ll agree that this is definitely one worth sharing.

That’s because it involves roller coasters. That’s not some elaborate metaphor. I’m dead serious. This is a story about me, my mother, and roller coasters. It’s kind of what it sounds like, but I promise it has other, more meaningful connotations that I think are wholly appropriate on the eve of Mother’s Day.

First, I need to provide a little context. This particular moment occurred when I was around ten-years-old. That’s relevant because that was the age when I was finally tall enough to ride most of the rides at amusement parks like Six Flags and Kings Dominion. As it just so happens, both are within a two hour drive of where we lived.

My mom, being the wonderful person she is, used that as opportunity to plan a day-long trip to Kings Dominion. I went with my younger brother, my aunt, and a cousin of mine. It was blazing hot, but being an energetic kid, I was too excited to care. I don’t even remember complaining with my mom urged me to put on extra sunscreen.

After spending about an hour just exploring the park, doing some small rides and playing some games, we came across a roller coaster that, to my 10-year-old mind, might as well have been Mount Everest. I’m not saying I was an overly fearful kid, but this was uncharted territory for me. My first instinct was not to go on such a ride.

To some extent, that was my default instinct to that point in my life. I know kids at that age can be both frustratingly reckless or annoyingly helpless with very little in between. It’s an age where kids still cling to the safety of their parents, but are just starting to feel that inclination to explore the world.

I was probably more reluctant than most kids my age. Both my parents and siblings would probably admit that I was a very self-disciplined kid, often to a fault. I did not like going out of my comfort zone and taking chances. I even complained when I had to, as kids are prone to do.

On that day at Kings Dominion, though, my mom gave me an extra push. She never shoved me or pressured me. She got encouraged me, getting excited about the ride so that I got excited too. Before long, that excitement overrode any fear or reservations I had. Thanks to that encouragement, I went on the ride with her and to this date, I feel like that was a pivotal moment in my young life.

At the time, though, it was just an incredible thrill. I loved it. I loved it even more than my mom promised. I remember getting off that ride, feeling dizzy and unable to stand. I probably looked like I was drunk, but I didn’t care. I had so much fun and so did my mom. We went on that ride again.

It was the first of many. From that day forward, my mother and I became the roller coaster aficionados of the family. Whenever we went to an amusement park, be it Kings Dominion, Six Flags, or Disney World, my mom and I would jump at the chance to ride the biggest, scariest ride. Sometimes friends, siblings, and cousins would join us. Other times, they would chicken out. My mom and I never did.

Those were wonderful times. They’re among some of the fondest memories I have with my mother as a kid. Beyond the thrills and adrenaline, though, I find those experiences had another effect on me. This effect was more personal, though. It also played a major part in the critical, yet often treacherous process of a kid growing into an adult.

By taking a chance on those roller coasters, doing something risky for once, my mom taught me a valuable lesson about being an adult and a man. She showed me that sometimes, we need to embrace a little danger. We need to leave the safety of the familiar and explore new, potentially hazardous experiences.

That kind of mentality takes both bravery and even a little foolishness. It’s a combination of traits often associated with masculinity, being willing and able to take those risks for new and exciting experiences. I’m not saying that men are the only ones who have such risk-seeking behavior. Women can be every bit as adventurous, as my mother so aptly demonstrated.

For me, the ten-year-old boy who still saw himself as such, those experiences marked the early steps of a more profound maturation process. It wasn’t just that I was now old enough and tall enough to ride all the roller coasters at most theme parks. I realized that my experiences didn’t just have to be kid-friendly experiences.

I could take chances, venture into once-forbidden areas, and explore life in ways I hadn’t dared. Doing that can be scary and sometimes requires a little encouragement, not unlike the kind my mother gave me that day at Kings Dominion. It can also be very rewarding, as the rush from an awesome thrill ride so wonderfully proves.

I was still a shy, reserved person, even as I entered adulthood. I still took longer than most to emerge from my shell. However, thanks to my wonderful mother and her loving encouragement to try out a few thrill rides, I understood what it meant to be an adult and a strong man.

To my mother, and all those wonderful mothers who encourage their children with the same love and care, I thank you. You helped teach me how to be brave, how to embrace the adult world, and how awesome roller coasters are. For that, I will be forever grateful. To her and to all the other mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

2 Comments

Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights

Dangerous Double Standards And The Distressing Stories They Tell

father-main1

When it comes to conveying complex ideas in an understandable way, I don’t consider myself exceptionally skilled. When it comes to telling a story, though, that’s a skill I know I have and not just because I aced every essay question in college.

Sometimes, a story is the best way to convey an idea and the emotional weight it carries. Anyone can list the details of complex issues like gun control, abortion rights, or net neutrality. Some, like John Oliver, can even make it funny or entertaining. However, explaining what an issue is doesn’t necessarily convey why it matters.

Whenever I talk about gender double standards, be it uncomfortable thought experiments or imbalances in our sexual attitudes, I try to do so in a way that highlights the larger implications. Those implications, I believe, are part of the reason why there’s so much hostility on issues like the anti-harassment movement, representation in popular culture, and fair treatment under the law.

I don’t want to belabor the points I’ve made on that topic in the past. Instead, I want to tell a quick story that I thought about turning into a short novel. Then, something happened in the process that struck me on a personal level. Read the following story and see if you can tell where the process broke down.

An average man, single and living alone, is walking down the street on a Saturday evening. It’s cold and rainy. Not many people are out in these conditions.

Then, as he passes by the dumpster near his home, he sees a girl who can’t be older than 10-years-old huddling under some dirty boxes. She’s wearing dirty clothes, she’s shivering, and is clearly in a bad situation.

The man feels sorrow and concern for the girl. He asks her where her parents are. He learns that the girl has run away. Her mother was abusive, even showing him some scars she had from when her mother cut her with a fork. Horrified, the man offers to help the girl. She eagerly accepts.

The man takes the girl home, gives her some badly-needed food, lets her take a hot bath, and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning, he calls social services and finds out the girl’s mother is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed and under-staffed, they are unable to find any relatives to take care of her.

Having grown fond of her company, he offers to look after her. The girl eagerly accepts. The man spends the next several weeks caring for her, getting her new clothes and introducing her to his family. At first, his parents and siblings are uncertain about him taking care of a kid. When they meet her and see how much she loves him, their worries quickly fade.

As time goes on, the girl comes to love the man as a father. She starts calling him daddy. At first, he keeps reminding her that he’s not her real father. Soon, he stops and just smiles. The girl enriches his life in ways he never imagined. He wants to be a father to this girl who isn’t his. He wants to love her in the way she deserves.

Then, one day, a woman arrives at his door. She’s angry, disheveled, and badly dressed. She claims to be the girl’s mother. When the girl sees her, she’s terrified and hides behind the man in fear. The man demands that she leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. He threatens to call the police, but she threatens to do the same.

She then takes a step closer, revealing bad teeth, foul breath, and loveless eyes, and presents him with an ultimatum. If he doesn’t hand over the girl, she’ll call social services, the police, and the local news crew and tell him that he’s a sick pervert who took a girl off the streets just so he could groom her to be his personal slave.

It doesn’t stop there. She points out that he’s single, unmarried, and living by himself. Conversely, she’s just a poor woman who got taken advantage of by the girl’s biological father, fled out of fear for their safety, and got tragically separated in the process. All she wants to do is get her daughter back and away from a sadistic pervert. She even says she’ll claim he gave her all the girl’s scars.

In that story, he won’t be the man who took a poor little girl under his care and loved her like a father. He’ll become a disgusting pervert, his reputation destroyed and his life ruined. The fact the girls loves him will just be proof of how much he’s groomed her to be his slave.

The man is horrified. The girl says her mother is a liar and a monster. The woman just laughs before asking one more time for the man to hand over the girl. The man, seeing the terrified look in the girl’s eyes, doesn’t want to see her suffer. He then gets up in her face and tells her this.

“You stay the hell away from her! She belongs with me! Lie all you want. I know the truth and so does she.”

The woman just shakes her head and laughs again.

“It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Everyone will believe me at my worst before they believe you at your best.”

This is as far as I could take the story. At this point, the creative process broke down for me. For someone like me who loves telling stories, sexy or otherwise, that’s akin to tripping over my own feet in the middle of a race. It usually takes a lot for me to throw my hands up and give up on a story. This was one of them.

Image result for man in defeat

That’s because when I imagined that final confrontation, I could not come up with a way to see it through. I can easily see the man fighting the woman’s accusations and winning out in the end. I can also see the woman winning out and the man having his life ruined, all because he showed compassion for a little girl.

The fact that I can see both outcomes as equally possible really bothers me and not just because I found myself unable to finish the story. In telling that story, I touched on a disturbing implication of double standards and the assumptions we have about men, women, and how they treat one another.

The story was partially inspired by an incident in the UK where a man, who happens to be a widower, took his teenage daughter on a vacation. When they checked into a motel, though, the staff got suspicious that an older man was traveling with a teenage girl. They called the police on him, suspecting that he might be a pedophile.

 The dad and daughter were staying over for trip to Thorpe Park together

By most measures, it’s a simple, albeit egregious misunderstanding. It deeply disturbed the girl and put the father in a terrible position. He was able to show the staff pictures and IDs to prove that he was the girl’s father and not some pervert. The damage was done, though.

When I read that story, I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if the man hadn’t had those family pictures. Then, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man wasn’t a blood relative of the girl. Then, and this is where the impact got especially heavy, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man had just tried to help a girl who had run away and had nowhere to go.

If he had been a woman helping a 14-year-old girl in her time of need, I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. However, because this involves a man and expectations about parenting is different for men, the situation takes on a much darker undertone.

Image result for man with daughter

That undertone highlights why these gender double standards can be so damaging. It’s one thing for those standards to inspire overplayed tropes about men in sitcoms. When they create a real incentive for people to not do the compassionate thing, that’s not just a problem. That creates real, tangible harm in the world.

Men are capable of kindness and compassion. Most decent people believe this. However, when there’s a situation in which assuming the best for one gender requires that you assume the worst for another, that reflects the kind of double standard that needs to be confronted.

We’re already seeing men show more reluctance in being alone with women. Any level of reluctance requires a certain level of fear. When it gets to a point that just being alone with another human being scares us, then that’s a sign that something is very wrong with our attitudes.

6 Comments

Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality