The Blacksmith

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BlacksmithI stopped in to the bar on my way home from work to finish up a couple of emails.

Bringing work home with me, especially work that stresses me out, is against whatever rules I’ve set up for myself.

I ordered an IPA from Michigan and sat sipping the thick, frothy top off a malty, hoppy bomb of a beer minding my own business.

I know the owner, Dave, well, and we shot the shit for a little while, as we do. I got the lay of the beer board and finished up my emails.

For a few minutes, I sat there, silently, just soaking in the dark wood, the sounds of the pin ball games and Operation Ivy’s “Unity” playing on the sound system.

If every author or television writer or pastor who has ever painted the local bar as an evil lure for men on their way home from work, understood the tragedy of puritanism and the beauty of distance and space from the things we carry, they might just show up there too.

The big, tattooed guy next to me on the barstool tapped me at one point when making a point to Dave, who was tending bar.

“Ya know what ay mean,” he said in a particularly South Side accent.

I took in his look.

Bearded with light brown curly hair and a flat cap. Tatted up with beefy arms and a chest like a anvil. He was drinking something light and he had his keys on the counter with a pack of Marlboro Lights.

He disappeared every few minutes to take a piss or smoke a cigarette, so our conversation was disjointed.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

He’s a blacksmith.

He told me so.

He runs his own business and has four kids.

His two-year-old swears like a sailor.

I liked him immediately.

We shared stories about our upbringing. His parents are sailors, mine are missionaries.

We talked about community and raising kids.

I doubt we agree on everything, but it didn’t matter in our conversation. It was shared experiences.

“You know what I struggle with?” I told him. “I struggle with how to raise two boys in to men today.”

He didn’t blink, which was cool.

I totally thought he would blink and call me a female body part.

So I went on.

“I want them to embrace who they are in this changing world,” I said.

He nodded.

“Masculinity is not a lost art,” he told me.

I looked him over again.

Indeed, not by appearances.

His version of it included some serious weaponry.

And I can’t convey this in quotes, because it would have required a recording device, but the blacksmith said something that changed everything.

He said raising boys is not that challenging. It’s not that we don’t have anywhere to go, which is what the world is telling us. It’s not that we can’t see eye to eye with our female partners. It’s not even that we can’t be ourselves, the passionate, violent, creative monkeys that we are.

What he said caught my attention in the way that misdirection catches your attention if you’re sharp enough.

He said something to the effect of, “We can be our wonderful, messy, violent selves, as long as it’s directed at the right thing. As long as it’s directed at wrong doing and injustice.”

I finished his thought.

“As long as it’s not directed at our fellow humans, we can be ourselves. Violent, passionate, angry, strong.”

“Yes,” he fairly roared.

I came away from the interaction tingling.

Because I had not thought of this before. Not in this way.

It’s tough raising boys, because to combat the misogyny, the homophobia, the racism, the basic premises of manliness, you have to rethink the entire state of your being.

And I’ve done that for years, for sixteen years, to be exact. Since the day I first knew I was having a son. From the read-out of an ultrasound with a little arrow pointing toward his penis.

I’ve questioned the role of men in this world.

I didn’t want to add to the problem. But I wanted boys.

I’d never really thought about what the blacksmith said.

Until I heard him say it, I never really understood the implications of male rearing.

You bring them in to a world they cannot inhabit. Not fully. Not bearing the genes passed down one warrior to another.

Men used to go out in the spring. Out to war.

It was their purpose.

The last man who disgraced that edict was King David. The Biblical David.

He stayed home to screw Bathsheba, a beauty that caught his eye as he gazed from his rooftop over the houses of Jerusalem as his men were away fighting his battles.

And I’m probably a pacifist.

I say probably, because I know I’m opposed to the kind of faceless warfare that is conducted around the world today, though I believe in self defense and the protection of liberty and justice at all costs.

To raise  men in this environment is insane.

Sparta be damned, if a silly Hollywood film is to be believed that men raised by women and then thrust into battle at the ripe-old-age of six will go on to defend an ideal to the hilt of a sword on a lonely beach.

I’ve talked to a lot of men and women about raising boys today.

To meet a blacksmith in a bar who advocated violence against the wrongs of the world. A man whose 2-year-old swears like his grandparent sailors, a man who believes manliness is a holy assignment, is pretty awesome.

Sometimes security comes in knowing and believing in what you are doing.

A blacksmith kind of guy strikes me as a guy who knows what he’s doing when it comes to balancing strength and artistry.

Violence against metallic compounds molded by heat and iron and steel.

And yet he understands where to strike when the iron is hot.

You don’t strike the hardest parts, the parts that compliment you. You strike the parts that are most malleable, the parts with the ability to change.

It’s a little clearer to me now. Raising boys today is not about reverse engineering them. It’s not about shaping them into something that no longer fits this world.

It’s about allowing them to be what they were born to be, with their energy, their spear points, directed at the malleable parts, the heart of change, the injustices and wrongs of this world.

I think I can do that.

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