Saturday, July 3, 2010

Boring Men, Lions, and Marriage

I used to think that marriage made men boring. Growing up, all the images I saw of men I wanted to emulate involved things like fast cars, concealed weapons, super-secret missions, and usually some womanizing. With a wink and a smile these men would rush into danger, disregarding their own safety, defeating evil and kissing pretty girls. None of those men ever had wives, and even when they got the girl at the end of the movie I was pretty sure they never married them. Most of that came from movies, which I realize can be somewhat fictional, but I felt the same way about men I knew in real life too. When I was young I had a hero, his name was Dan-O. He was a Birkenstock wearing pseudo-hippie from Seattle, as far as I knew his last name was “O,” and he did whatever he wanted. I remember that his hair was long, sometimes he sported a beard, and he wore these loose fitting european shirts like he was a beat-poet or something. I can remember being a kid and him tossing me into the air like a rag-doll, then he would throw me over his shoulder and carry me around the house. He could do cool things like juggle flaming bowling pins, and once just for fun he went to Spain and learned to play the Flamenco. Sometimes he would come over and teach my brother and I about sailboats, other times he would talk about his world-traveling adventures and my brother and I would stare on in wide-eyed wonder. To look into his blue eyes was to look into the face of adventure; he was a magnificent machine of a thing. To this day Dan-O isn’t married, and today he lives in Alaska on a boat. As far as I know he is happy.

Lets contrast that with the people I knew who were married. First you have to understand that the married people I knew existed within the conservative church-going culture, so already I had that going against me. I would see them mostly on Sundays, and they always wore cardigans and collard shirts, they smiled a lot and never talked about sailboats or juggling flaming things. They all had good looking families with matching cardigans and collared shirts, and wives who cooked good meals. They always seemed nice enough, which I guess was ultimately the problem. None of them ever seemed dangerous, or edgy, or controversial in any way. In fact, if I had a word to describe them it would probably be “subdued.” Then later I came to learn that some of these men had secrets, they had affairs with other women, some of them even left their families. Other times we would go camping with a few other families, and I learned more things about what married men were good at. They could assemble a tent. They could operate a grill. They could tell their kids to stop doing things. All very useful things, no doubt, but when you are a kid you are still naive enough to want to do something really special, like be an astronaut, or captain a ship, and it was demoralizing to think that maybe no one ever grew up to actually do those things. And it made me wonder at when these men stopped wanting something unique for themselves, when they decided to become an accountant or a banker or salesman.

When you are young these things leave impressions, and its hard to erase these early ideas of what married men are like.

I once read in a book about a guy who was at a zoo and saw a huge lion in a cage. The lion was big and beautiful with fire in its eyes, and the sign next to it read Panthera Leo, which I guess means Lion in Latin. He said that the lion was the biggest he had ever seen. He said that this lion was meant to be roaming the savannah as King of the Beasts, taking down gazelles and running free. But instead it just lay there, unable or unwilling to move, sleeping away its days in a small cage. He said that men nowadays are the same, great dangerous things but confined to a small cage. And as soon as I read it I realized that what he said was true, it was something I had felt for a long time but couldn’t put words to.

I felt called to get married a long time before I did. And even though I had my parents as a model, and they are very happy, because of what I had seen of married men growing up I wanted nothing of it. I had decided that I would never become a caged lion, and I still had some small hope of becoming an astronaut, so marriage was definitely out.

I ran away to Korea for a year, and I learned to use chopsticks and eat raw things and even speak some of the language. While I lived there I knew lots of smart, adventuresome unmarried people. These people seemed to be living the life, unattached and able to pick up and move wherever their hearts desired, they were nice and for the most part, happy. I reveled in this freedom, I lived somewhat irresponsibly at times, but then one day something changed. I was watching this movie directed by Sean Penn, who is a great actor but a little crazy in real life, about a guy who runs away to find himself. At first it sounded cheesy to me, like every other movie about the same thing, but this one was different. The main character wants to escape his comfortable existence and his rich parents who want to send him to an Ivy League school, so he burns his money and runs away. The movie chronicles his journey as he encounters people and places that are beautiful, and, like me, he revels in his newfound freedom. But by the end of the movie, after all he has been through and experienced, he finds himself without food in an isolated wilderness somewhere in Alaska, where he eventually starves to death. I remember being struck not so much by his dramatic death, but by what he wrote in his journal just before he died: “happiness is only real when shared.” After all his grand travel and adventure and freedom, the last thing he wrote, as a sad, broken human being, was that his happiness had been empty. To be honest I wanted to disassociate with the main character, because he was tragic, but deep down I knew he was me.

I’ve been married a year now, and maybe I’m a little boring. Maybe. But so far I’ve found that the complacency that I saw gripping so many married men can be resisted, it can be beaten back. It’s a conscious decision that has to be made every day, and its also something that has to be creative. I say “creative” because the truth is that as a married person there are lots of domestic, boring, uncreative, utilitarian necessities that have to be done. But that’s just life. As soon as I stopped resisting those things, and focused on finding adventure where I could, the sooner I found a happiness that I could share with my wife. I’m still pursuing the passions of my heart; this last year I’ve been to the Middle-East, and soon I’m moving with my wife to Pennsylvania to learn about law at Penn State. And the thing is, everything I do now is enhanced, it’s like looking at something beautiful through a magnifying glass instead of with the naked eye, everything is that much clearer and simpler. Now I get to share the things I care about with someone that’s not facebook, someone who will push me to do even crazier things with my life. Instead of making me boring, marriage has made me more exciting, and it has given me more than a real happiness; it has given me a real peace.


Derek Froeb said...

I shouldn't be this excited that you've posted again, but I am - and on such a sweet topic too. I'm glad you're feeling a little better about this endeavor than you did back in December.

So you'll be at Penn State? Sweet! Please tell me you'll be coming to NYC every once in a while. Needless to say, you have a place to stay if you need it.

Hope these posts continue!

Ann said...

Loved reading this and the conclusions that you reach. Thanks for giving us a window into the progression of your thoughts. A degree of mundane is inevitable in life. Marriage is what you make of it!

beccaluvsafrica said...

Jon, I'd say you're one of the LEAST boring people I know..and yes, you have resisted glad you're enjoying married life! p.s. I enjoyed reading that're a good writer!