Jacob Lawrence, Magic Man (1958)
October 21, 2002:
The importance of a man in my life.
Her vision of "manhood" is John Wayne. She equates masculinity with dominance,
femininity with surrender, childhood with powerlessness.
"When I marry again, I'll marry a man who'll say, 'Jump!'. And you'll answer, 'How high, sir?'"
For a time she considered sending me to military school. Not sure anymore what my age was. Maybe five or
six. Before kindergarten, I believe.
Thin woman with died black hair in that Jackie Kennedy flip. Holds a little boy by the hand. Sweet smile,
red sweater, very, very skinny. Early '60s. A multistory building of brick, unusual in California, set within
a wide expanse of mown grass and deep green trees, unique in California. There's an East Coast sort
of manicured look to the place. Young boys in cadet uniforms parade in lock-step around the grounds. They've
got real rifles on their shoulders.
The issue for her was "discipline," which she felt unable to provide. In her mind this was a male role.
The symptom that most worried her was my malnutrition, based on refusal to eat enough food to gain weight. Her
fear was that The Authorities would judge her An Unfit Mother. It's important to capitalize those phrases, which
loomed before her mind's eye like squadrons of baton-wielding police, marching in lock-sync with some vague
sorts of experts in white lab coats. Men like these were going to take me away from her, any moment now, for being
Little boy in press-creased khaki trousers. Black leather shoes, shined. Stiff collar. Long sleeves, with
cufflinks. Khaki suspenders with gold-colored clasps. Military haircut with Brillcream.
This little manikin is me, for 18 months or so. If it's necessary to be military to avoid being separated from my
mother, I'll be even more military than the military.
In the end she's unable to part with me, and so I grow up without a rifle in my hands. She never remarries, so
I also grow up without John Wayne in the house. I make it through boyhood without male role-models,
discounting her strange, machoburger and vaguely ominous fantasies which even as a child I recognize as cartoons.
Talk about dodging bullets.
2001, Pacifica, CA. "You need to start being careful. You've reached the age when men start having
trouble with their backs."
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© 2002-2013 Mark Phillips.
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This writing is fiction. Please don't confuse it with reality.