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I am a man. I figured this out at some point between the first time my father told me not to cry, and the first time a woman asked me why I could not. Manhood, for so many of us, is the experience of slowly becoming what you desperately wanted to be as a boy, only to ever so slowly recognize everything you gave up. Sometimes I want to feel like a boy again, and every time I do, I learn to regret it. So many times I prayed to be able to cry. Each time I cried, I knew why my father said what he said. He was a boy too. He learned.

You make a fool of yourself or you feel weak or you lose a fight. You just can’t take it one day and you tell yourself, “Never again. Be a man.” You do this for five years, and you find yourself holding a beautiful girl and looking her in the eyes as she tells you something you cannot hear. You tell yourself “one more time.” One day you do not have another time. There is someone right in front of you who asks you to be a boy again and love innocently, but you have walled yourself off so completely that he cannot come out. You say “I am sorry.” And you are.

One day I met a girl who loved me and I did not have to tell her I was sorry. She was like the ocean and I got lost in her eyes as the clouds covered the stars. To this day, I have not found them again. She made me cry again for the first time in years. When I cried she told me she knew how deeply I loved her and was delighted. That is when I began to know I did not. She asked me why, and I did not have the heart to tell her that she made me cry, that I was crying because of her and not for her. She did not understand the difference, but was so happy to see me cry and I told myself “never again.” 

She made me feel like a boy again and it was wonderful. Every time I feel like a boy again I learn why, as a boy, I wanted to be a man. I have been a man again since I went away from her and I was for a long time while I was with her. This was better for me because one day she was crying and I was not. I could tell her “I am sorry.” I was.

Often I wish I felt things other than deep anger, but I know it is just the boy fighting back. The last time I knew I had feelings for someone was because she made me angry. If she felt the same way, I could have told her how sorry I was.

I fear I will become what I idolized as a young boy: stoic, alone, and terribly, terribly independent. I imagine if everything goes right along the course I have charted, I can one day hope to be a cool uncle. But I do not want to be an uncle. I want to be a dad. I want to be a husband. I want to be a father so I can tell my boys not to cry, and so they can cry on my shoulders when they want.

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