Friday, May 20, 2011

Raising Men

I watched them through the thin layer of grime on my windshield. The dried yellow goo that had once been some kind of bug, the dried up remains of early morning dew, the fine golden dust of pollen.
There was a wide lawn in front of me. An old fashioned, uneven field full of tiny mounds and clusters of small white flowers that I used to make into garlands and drape over my hair. The square field sat beside an elementary school, partitioned from the collection of single story buildings by several rows of giant eucalyptus.
The day was full of wind and I preferred to remain in the shelter of my car. A 70 year old man jogged along the sidewalk between my car and the field. He had short running shorts on and a wide-strapped baggy white tank top. His face was full of wrinkles and his head was completely white, but his body looked firm and strong. I remembered hearing a 40 year old lithe acrobat saying that the face was the first thing to go. I made eye contact with him as he jogged past and I felt bad about being in my car, sitting on a soft seat, I felt somewhat guilty that I was not exercising too.
In the field were groups of young children led by a few adults. They were spread out, seemingly unaffiliated and congregated in different corners of the field. Closest to me, in the corner to my left, was a group of 20 three year old boys. In charge of them were two men dressed in slightly baggy, yet tailored jeans. The men both looked young, professional, as if this was the place they stopped by on their way home from a high-rise office building.
Two women stood off the side, somehow lending their moral support just with their presence. They talked, angling their bodies towards each other while still mostly facing the group of boys. They were young stay-at-home moms, the type of mothers that proliferated in the tree-lined streets and gated homes of upper-class Hillsborough. They had lovely expensive houses, SUVs, and plenty of time to drive their kids to fields such as this, plenty of time to chat and exchange stories.
A young girl, perhaps four years old, dressed in little shorts and a pink T-shirt, fluttered like a butterfly on the outskirts of the group. No one spoke to her and she spoke to no one. She skipped, jumped, entertained herself entirely while everyone gathered was busy with other things.
The men led the young boys in a series of exercises, each relating to baseball. Each boy had a baseball mitt and matching blue baseball hats that were slightly larger than their heads. The boys were divided into two groups, with one man leading each group. I watched as one man threw the baseball underhanded, practically rolling it along the grass and the little boys, one at a time, would attempt to catch it and throw it back.
The boys were all so short, most of them would fall as they enthusiastically sent a ball flying as high as they could. The would run to the back of the line, jumping into place with the explosive energy that such young children have.
I saw how such mentoring would be applauded by a community and seen as noble. I saw the blind mechanically of it too. These men were teaching the next generation, just as they had been taught. Little boys get pajamas with trucks, cars, hammers and sports equipment. Little girls get flowers. Little boys play baseball, they play soccer, they run, they hit, they jump.
This was the cycle, the process of socialization. The process of turning young boys into men that liked sports and teams and competition.
This process was not only the consequence of being born male. It had happened to them, it had been taught to them by the elders. Blue, gray, black, green, it was part of their conditioning. They were taught by their fathers. By the men that spent time each day teaching them to throw. Those adults in their nice clothes, in their noble position as mentors and teachers, they had once been taught as well.
I watched the young girl try on an oversized catcher’s gear and a helmet. At first I thought she was about to join them, but she danced around for a moment in the large black helmet that wobbled on her head and then put it back on the grass.

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