What Makes You A Man?

A man with a handlebar mustache c1913

Been thinking about my uncle, dad’s little brother and how much he has missed. Been thinking about how he died when he was only a few years older than I am now and how bizarre that feels to me now.

Wonder what life would have been like for him now. He was gay and I didn’t care, loved him just the same.+

Miss him sometimes because he is a connection to a past and part of the family that has changed dramatically. He is gone and so is my grandfather and my other uncle. The men on that side have been whittled down to my dad, me and my son.

His being gay is really immaterial, what I wonder about sometimes where the similarities between my grandfather, dad him and of course, me.

What is genetic? What sort of habits are learned?

Sometimes old posts are where I find inspiration for new posts. Fat, Ugly and Stupid Is No Way To Blog caught my eye or more accurately those words in the block quote. More on this later.

Wandering through Costco today I overheard some kid describe me as the fat old guy who wouldn’t get out of his way so he could grab a sample.

Part of me laughed with him because twenty years ago I would have looked at me and described the guy I saw as old.  Funny thing is lately several people have asked me what my secret is, they wanted to know why there are virtually no gray hairs on my head nd relatively few wrinkles.

One of the boys suggested that the only reason people don’t think I am 25 any more is because I have become…chunky.

I almost turned around and asked the kid if he wanted to have a contest to see who could do more push ups because the old guy does 100 a day and is working towards more. Might not look like the circus strong man but that is because I am not dressed in a spandex leotard, rocking the bald head and handlebar mustache.

The Story Doesn’t End There

They don’t know. They don’t understand AIDS is a death sentence. Once you are HIV+ it is just a matter of time before shit gets real and you don’t make jokes about being so sick you want to die because you will.

I was 17 when I found out my uncle was gay and twenty when I found out he was HIV+.

One day I walked into the kitchen at my parent’s house and tried to grab a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and was told I couldn’t have it.

“Your uncle is having trouble keeping his weight up, so mom made him cookies.”

My dad said it in a normal tone of voice, plain expression on his face but I knew something was weird so I asked. Don’t remember what they said or how they said it, but it took a while to sink in.

It was 1989 and no one beat the disease. I didn’t know much about it. Really had a limited understanding but I understood it was a death sentence.

No one beat the disease. Back then that was all I remember hearing about it.

I loved my uncle and I was concerned for him, but I figured medical science was always coming up with new solutions and if he took care of himself he could see a cure come about. It wasn’t impossible.

What Makes You A Man?

The world I grew up in is very different from the one my children are growing up in. My uncle grew up in a time when same sex marriage was a pipe dream and you hid your sexuality.

From my perspective things didn’t change all that much between my uncle’s childhood and mine. One of the worst insults someone could hurl at you was to suggest you were gay.

And now my children have friends who have two moms or two dads and they think nothing of it but they don’t know I didn’t know whether I should hide my uncle’s sexuality from my friends.

I didn’t know how they would react. I didn’t care that my uncle was gay. I loved him the same but I won’t lie and say it didn’t make me wonder about the world and things, especially when I found out that I had another uncle who was gay.

Part of me was ambivalent about it because what difference did it make, but another part of me wondered how they knew.

I had a conversation with my uncle about it and we talked about having sex with women. He told me it never felt right to him and asked me if I ever felt that way.

He didn’t describe having sex with a man. Didn’t get into any details other than to tell me it felt right and that women never did.

Does Sleeping With a Woman Make You A Man?

I remember calling my girlfriend and telling her about my uncle. She didn’t care that he was gay and when I told I wanted to have a lot of sex she laughed. “I’ll do whatever you want but that doesn’t make you a man.”

She followed through on her promise but what I remember the most isn’t what we did it was her saying none of this makes you a man. It just means you are a guy who is physically capable of putting it in a woman.

I probably rolled my eyes at that but I didn’t quite get it then.

Twenty-five years later I am staring at this screen trying to put myself back there, wondering if I have used too many words or not enough, trying to figure out how to tell this story.

Thinking about how I would explain to my uncle what a blog is and how I didn’t have any idea what I was going to write about until I started writing. Thinking about how I am touching upon something I haven’t thought about much.

Most of the time when I think about him it is in the context of how much he missed and how I would have liked to have learned more from him.

But now I am thinking about how I felt then, trying to pick away at something that is bothering me and I am not quite sure what it is.

Nobody Beats The Disease

It is 1994 and my uncle has come to that place we always feared he would reach. The disease has grabbed a hold of him and it is beating the crap out of him.

My dad and grandfather drive up to San Francisco to go visit. I tell my dad I want to come and he says no. “Grandpa may not get a chance to see him again. This is the last time my family will be together. It is not personal.”

But it is personal to me, how can it not be.

When I think about it now it makes sense to me. I can understand my dad’s decision and see how he was trying to give my uncle and grandfather a chance to say goodbye.

Now it makes sense and part of me aches for my grandfather because as a father I cannot imagine having to say goodbye to my child.

And I know my father. I know how badly it must have hurt him to see his little brother like that. He needed that time to be a son and to be an older brother.

But we were all raised to look out for each other, so how could I not feel like maybe I could have helped.

There Is More To The Story

Twenty years later I understand things differently than I did then. Twenty years later I remember my uncle’s CD collection including music I liked and wondering how a 49 year-old man got into Guns N Roses.

Twenty years later I wonder what sort of conversations we would have now and how different some things would be. There wouldn’t be that memory of telling my grandfather that his son had died and the guilt I felt for making grandpa cry.

I think my uncle would have enjoyed Texas and encouraged me to do so many things.

Twenty years later the conversations about what makes you a man would have been far different. There is much more to this story but the time for telling it has ended…for now.

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14 Comments

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  3. brumTEMP April 28, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Wow what a post Jack. Very powerful and easy to read as well!

    I had noticed you been promoting my stuff so just had to check out your blog!
    I am sure your uncle would be very proud now!

    I think that what makes you a man is not how good you are in the sac but
    also how you treat others in your life!

    Money and possessions have nothing to do with it either but your actions 
    in this world will make people remember you for who you are!

    That’s what i think makes a man. Or a Gentleman for that matter! 
    Loved this post Jack. Very powerful indeed!

    – Phillip Dews

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  5. TheJackB April 27, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    kdwald  Thank you. It surprised me. I love when that happens, the revelation that comes with putting words on paper.

  6. TheJackB April 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Julie Barrett  Absolutely. Not always easy to do, but important.

  7. TheJackB April 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    @EditMoi  That sounds like it could be a fascinating story. So much to learn.

  8. TheJackB April 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    @Moniqua Sexton  Sometimes the most frustrating part (for me) about death is all of the questions it leaves unanswered. I have so many.

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  10. kdwald April 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

    This was a wonderfully “chaptered” post. Thank you for sharing it — very powerful.

  11. Julie Barrett April 26, 2014 at 7:27 am

    The most important thing is probably to know what does feel right to you and not to deny it for anyone’s sake.

  12. EditMoi April 26, 2014 at 6:12 am

    The questions you ask about your uncle remind me of my maternal grandfather, a father of three, who got drafted at 37 and died in WWII. I think I will write my own post about what it means to be a man.

  13. Moniqua Sexton April 25, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    I loved this. I can relate. I had an uncle who was gay and died from HIV. My family and I had just moved back to the states before he died. I was so young back then. This was 1998 or 1999, so I was 10 or 11. I hadn’t even got to really know him before he died. At that time, I didn’t understand what HIV was or even what being gay was. All I know now is I wish I could’ve gotten to know more about him other than he was gay and had HIV.

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