I will never be a dad and there are many times when I wish I could be. However, that is what Fate sometimes deals us in life. I don’t say it’s all bad, as I can do what I want, when I want to and I don’t have to find money I may not have. Selfish, isn’t it? Perhaps.
I have something that I have wanted to write about for a long time; a deeply emotional, humiliating and traumatic issue that I kept locked away for many years, until, at last, I was able to come to terms with my past and deal with it.
Buried in our human psyche and fundamental to our selves are the events and experiences of our early lives. Thus it is with me.
It may appear easy for me to criticise my parents (who are still living), because they cannot defend themselves and because I don’t know what it is like to be a parent. However, I do know what it was like for me as a child and as a young adult. I do, also, have a true understanding and feeling for the people who not only brought me into this world, but who also looked after me, until it was time for me to look after myself.
For those of you who are parents and those who want to and will become parents, I send to you this message in the hope that you may spare your offspring the pain and self-loathing I have known all of my adult life so far.
I am talking about the sensitive issue of sex and, above all, privacy at the most important and critical stage of a young person’s life: adolescence.
As a boy, I had little, if any, privacy from the intrusive and crushing “interest” of my mother. It wasn’t deemed necessary, as I was only a child, to do exactly as I was told, when and how and, if I didn’t, there were various forms of punishment that would be meted out. These ranged from verbal threats to physical violence. It was part of being a child in the ’60s. When my boyhood began the slow and difficult process to manhood, I had no support from my father; he was either just not interested, or he didn’t know how. I was small in stature and a “late developer”, which meant I was teased at school, where most of my peers were beginning to develop into young men. I wished I could have talked to someone, to alleviate the worries I was experiencing, but I knew that it was impossible because it was a “dirty” subject, which is embarrassing and shouldn’t be talked about.
Even our “human biology” lessons at school were risible; the female teacher discussed sexual anatomy in a manner that showed she had only a slightly better understanding of it than we did. Her stupid and naïve discussion about contraception, quite frankly, was a disgrace to her profession: she was mocking and silly towards this most important topic. I remember her stupidity so well that it doesn’t surprise me that, for most of my youth, I grew up with a basic lack of any proper understanding of sex and sexuality.
I was totally clueless as to how sexual intercourse was performed; I didn’t know about the beautiful act of love-making. I was totally naïve. I couldn’t ask my peers, because they had already mocked me for being physically weak and, because I took my education seriously, I was a “snob” and a “poof”. These were daily taunts I had to endure. Neither could I ask my parents, because, somehow, I just knew that they would be too embarrassed to tell me; or was it that they were too ashamed? Whatever the reason, I sensed their unease and thus I never asked them.
My mother, as I explained, was an intrusive person. She controlled every aspect of my life, from what friends were “suitable” to the dreadful haircut I had to have (which my sister referred to as a “crash helmet”). Her instruction to her hairdresser was that my hair should be “all one length”. Yes, my hair did resemble a “crash helmet”. I despised it, but despite being 14 years old at the time I had no say in the matter.
As I grew, my sexual awareness also matured and, although still “undeveloped”, I began to have feelings; feelings that were exciting but at the same time I “knew” they were wrong. I knew if I were found out, some dreadful fate would befall me. However, as an insect is drawn to light, so was I to the dawn of my sexual awareness. I couldn’t help myself, because it felt so good, it felt so very good and so very exciting.
I was nearly caught on several occasions, by my mother’s acute sense of hearing, if I dared to step out of my bed, in order to find something I needed from the bathroom.
I’m sorry if my text offends; it is difficult enough explaining this to you and I am doing my best to do so in a delicate, polite and civilised manner, but human sexuality, sometimes, requires clarity and directness. If you are offended, perhaps you suffered as I did, or perhaps you are a perpetrator of the type of “crimes” that were meted out to the little boy who now writes this text. Don’t be embarrassed, ashamed or afraid; there truly isn’t any need to be!
My continuing maturation gave me more confusion and yet more feelings, as well as the subsequent actions that eased the pain in my young mind. I made the mistake of writing about them; I wrote about how I felt, what I found myself doing and my increasing sexual awareness. What I wrote was articulate, erotic, personal and brief and I only wrote it because I so desperately needed to express my feelings, but lacked the contact of another human being to ask. I never intended anyone else to read it. Unfortunately, I was not as careful with the document as I should have been and shortly after I had finished it, my mother, in her intrusive way, found it and took it away. She never said anything to me, but I knew it had gone and I knew who had taken it. I dared not ask for its return, as I didn’t want to risk any further humiliation. What I had written was deeply personal, private and embarrassing to the young adolescent that I was. That was the first – but not the last – time when I felt utterly crushed.
Her intrusion into the private world of my adolescence continued and worsened. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know why she sought to punish me in this degrading and wicked manner.
I cannot detail anything further of what I was subjected to; modesty, humility and shame prevent me from doing so. However, the combined effect on me was that, eventually, I felt ashamed and dirty each and every time I engaged in matters of a sexual nature. The shame and disgust was ingrained into my very being and my sexuality and, despite the enjoyment and sheer pleasure I received, I carried this with me throughout my life and coped as best as I could. Sometimes it was worse than others, sometimes it was better. As I grew wiser, I began to realise that it was not I who was wrong or “dirty”, but it was so deeply buried into my psyche, that it was still impossible to shed.
However, at the “tender” age of 49, I had probably one of the most profoundly beautiful experiences of my life. I need not detail explicitly, but suffice it to say that it was sexual. It was almost as though a key had turned in my mind. I had nobody I could talk to about it at the time; I couldn’t even share it with the person who had “turned that key”, because I didn’t know how to, or if it would offend. However, even with the doubts and insecurities I still had, I knew that, at long last, I had found the beginning of the end of my unnecessary disgust for something which was, after all, both essential and beautiful.
I thought carefully in my mind; I thought about what I would have done, had I a son or even a daughter and I know very well precisely what that would be. Without any fear, embarrassment or hesitation, I should want to talk to my offspring, perhaps put a fatherly arm around them and reassure them that I was their friend and confidant. I should want to gently and unashamedly give them the privacy and respect that I, myself, so desperately craved, but which was denied to me. I know, also, that I would help them to understand that, in me, they would find someone who cared about, understood and loved them for who and what they were and that they should never ever feel or be ashamed of growing up and being sexual.
To my son, I would tell him to be a man in every sense of the word, but with humility, decency and respect. I would tell him to enjoy his body and his sexuality, without shame or fear. I would ensure he knew he could come to me with the questions that once burned in my own mind and that he would be answered with honesty, compassion and a total lack of shame. He would never lack the knowledge that I did; he would never have to feel stupid for not knowing and he would, I hope, use this understanding to enjoy his life, but not at the expense of others.
To those of you who are parents, heed my words and talk to your children; ensure it is you that they turn to for the answers to the questions of life – the questions of their lives – and be certain that they never have to feel as I do. Perhaps, then, I will not have suffered completely in vain! Maybe, too, they will grow into well-balanced and whole human beings, who don’t feel it necessary to hide themselves away from life and happiness.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of a man with a gun in hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win but sometimes you do.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mocking Bird