Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Scratch the Man, Find the Child.
2/28/2008 2:46:27 PM
Macho myths and studly stereotypes be damned as we commence peeling back some layers of the epidermal male onion skin to find out what often lurks deeper. The writer abnegates all responsibility for what severe conumdrums and enigmatic convolutions may emerge as we consider 'the tender side' of the XY chromosomal type bioaffect in the following paragraphs.
Scratch the man, find the child...
A few weeks ago, when I was chilling in my friend’s North Coast ‘bunker’, one of the several dozen or so DVD movies I found on the shelf there was ‘Nanny McPhee’, a screenplay adaptation of Maylasian-born author Christianna Brand’s delightful series of children’s stories about a magical nurse who becomes the nanny to a large family of children named Brown.
I’m ashamed to admit that I had never before heard of Brand, or her Nurse Matilda character, much less of the Emma Thompson written screen adaptation that first appeared as a movie in 2005. Despite this ignorance on my part, it seemed at first glance (from the DVD dust wrapper) to be at least as eclectically intriguing as Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’(another DVD movie that I really enjoyed), so I slipped the disc into the player and sat back, uncertain as to what to expect from it. I could have allayed any doubts I might have had about it, since as soon as the opening scene played, I was absolutely captivated by the story. By the time the film had ended, my enthusiasm for the film included being filled with admiration for Emma Thompson excellence (both as an actor and as a screenwriter), for in my opinion she couldn’t have done a more perfectly enchanting job (either in playing ‘Nanny McPhee’ or in writing the screenplay).
The resulting film of this wonderful children’s story is one of the most delightfully told tales I have come across in years. The characters were all superbly cast (especially Emma, as the benevolent, spell-casting central character, Nanny McPhee), the acting by all in the film was perfectly suited to the roles played, and even the musical score (performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra) was a source of inspired, buoyant delight to listen to, as well.
At this point I must share what with you what is perhaps a startling fact: I am a extraordinarily sensitive person. Way down deep inside me, and reaching down into the very roots of my personality, is a streak of emotional tenderness about as wide as the channel between the Hawaiian island of Molokai and Maui. As such, I am not, every now and then, beyond being considerably moved by the sensitiveness of the dramatic subject matter one occasionally stumbles across in certain movies. In the past I’ve always felt compelled to hide this fact when among friends, but it’s true that while I may seem rather impervious to bouts of emotional vulnerability on my exterior, not infrequently certain things have brought me to the point of definitely getting a little moist around the old eyes. This fact is embarrassing only in that rigidly circumspect social context wherein men are raised that does not permit admission of vulnerability to anything, not matter whether physical or emotional in causation. Most modern men are quickly brought to feel (doubtless a result of all of the gender socialization processes that we are immersed in from an early age) that it is somehow unmanly to express deep emotion the way women routinely do; our induced fear of being thought of as anything but strong, mute pillars of strength does not permit this. Any man in his early youth who betrays evidence of being anything less than this is the subject of cruel jokes, nasty bullying, and all sorts of unpleasantness from his peers.
Fortunately for me, I was able to keep this quality hidden from those around me, and to all outward appearances throughout my childhood and teens I was a perfect specimen of balanced emotional neutrality and absolutely a paragon of indifferent male stoicism, just like that affective mode prescribed in the Handbook for Men (2000th Edition) on page 52, Chapter XII (“How to be manly”).
Having said this, I must admit that the movie ‘Nanny McPhee’ successfully penetrated all those hardened steel layers of affectual equanimity that normally shield my heart from the cruelties of life and made me feel rather unusually tender-hearted inside, such was the intensely pure pleasure viewing it produced in me. Now this is a curious thing that amazes and interests me as much as it may those who know me, once I’ve shared this fact with them. Invariably, such inexplicable (and often confusingly) contradictory nuances of personality prompt strongly focused internal reflectivity in certain of us (speaking for myself).
In trying to analyse my own reactions of this sort, I have to look backwards at the earlier circumstances of my own life, and in so doing I am compelled to recognize that part of this pattern of response is likely due to the fact that I never felt I was truly loved by my own mother. OK. Sorry if this seems a little too personal to be throwing out there to you who do not, after all, really know much about me (and probably care less). It is a fact, however, that I never loved my mother for the reason that I felt she never loved me. Simple logic would suggest that she did care for me—her only child--but her actions and behavior suggested otherwise. At least as interpreted by my childish mind and emotions. Thus, I suppose you could say that there exists still to this day a great void in my early life where there would have normally been the unquestioned and completely committed love of one’s mother for her children.
That, I suppose, is why this movie…about a family of 7 children whose mother has died…is such a terribly heart-warming (perhaps even embarrassing) experience for me. I must conclude that because of my own loss of that critically important emotional support early in my own life, a theme dealing with childish love for one’s parents, like the story that ‘Nanny McPhee’ is based upon, has a far greater personal meaning for me than for most people who never had any questions at all about whether their mother actually loved them or not.
For me, lacking a father (who died when I was 4) and being raised by my mother, such unqualified maternal love was even more critically important to my sense of who and what I was, since the only source I had from which to obtain parental affection was my mother. Factoring this circumstance into the whole of my life story, I have to conclude that these unfortunate circumstances led to a great yearning for profoundly romantic love early on in my relationships with women, and a strongly consequent need to project those expectations. I recognize now, in looking back at all of my earlier romantic experiences, that intensely personal love was a principal requisite high up on my list in just about every relationship I ever had. Unlike all my little normally gendered XY friends who just wanted the gratification of sex, for me it wasn’t all about getting into a girl’s knickers; there had to be some genuinely deep personal regard in the process of mutual attraction or sex was merely a not-unpleasant mechanical act of carefully calibrated mutual gratification. That need for love in a relationship, I am sad to admit, got me into quite a bit of emotional turmoil when the same deep ability to return such intensity of feeling was neither shared nor capable of being returned in equal measure by the person I was interested in. In fact, I had to deliberately force a posture of casual regard for the object of my regard in most cases, for otherwise such intensity of feeling might well have knocked many women off their feet (or at least chased them away rather quickly).
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one views the process), life has a habit of knocking sense into us (whether we welcome this effect or not), despite our insubstantial natures, and in the doing hardening our vulnerable spiritual affects with every hammer blow of life experience that we undergo (and survive). That is perhaps the actual acid test of life itself as we human beings, burdened with our bigeminal blessing/curse of reasoning, continue to absorb experiences the way body armor absorbs and dissipates the energy of a spent bullet.
Over the years and little by little, I learned more about the origins of this self-perceived ‘loveless’ nature I had been given. It seems that when I was born, my mother, who was a very literate and highly educated woman, had fallen under the thrall of that notoriously prolific pediatrician and author, Dr. Benjamin Spock (sorry folks, no relation to the famous Vulcan 1st Officer on the Enterprise with those pointy ears). Spock was one of the original proponents of a unique child psychology of child-rearing that drew largely on the life’s work of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (among many others). Spock felt that rather than being merely supportive, too much motherly love could be crippling (especially for boys), and he was also very chary about the possibility of Śdipal complexes taking root in boys through oppressively close mother-son relationships.
Ma, who at the time I was born, had left her previous career work as an elementary school teacher and was working as a clerk at San Francisco’s Emporium, while my father continued his own career as director of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Catholic Military School Program. As a result, her duties often involved the sale of books in the Emporium’s book store, and having a keen mind and possessed of an omnivorous appetite for reading, regularly came across all sorts of new and interesting publications that had just been released. Doctor Spock’s first edition of his book on ‘progressive’ child-raising was one of those books. Previously childless and with a ‘bun in the oven’ of her own, it is perhaps understandable that she avidly devoured every single word in Spock’s Unified Field Theory of Child Raising. That HAS to be how this all came to be, of course, looking back on things. At any rate, after I was born, the good (virtual) Dr. Spock was as good as a regular guest at our dinner table every day, and I suffered accordingly (and unknowingly, naturally).
This regimen continued for a full 4 years until my father suddenly passed away at the ripe old age of 72 (do the math: he was 68 when I was conceived! What does that say about my own scornful own take on our national obsessing over Vialis and Viagra? No wilting willies in MY family, needless to say). When this unhappy event occurred, it was suddenly up to Ma to wear all the hats in the family, since she now had to both earn a living and take care of the two of us...never an easy prospect for any woman prior to our relatively modern times. Thus, I suddenly became the Dr. Benjamin Spock virtual poster child of the year for almost 6 years concurrently (at least that’s how I see myself then, looking back over all this).
One of Ma’s primal fears was that I would grow up to be a dependent personality, a soft and compliant little wusse who lacked backbone, strength of character and purpose. Consequently, she began to deliberately and persistently distance me from herself emotionally. This amounted to being kept always at arm’s length in all matters, at all times; even in those when only a mother’s love can make sense of a child’s many confused uncertainties. Thus, when it was time for some motherly hugs and a few inexpensive affirmations of familial love, I was the poor little tyke standing there at the intersection of Withdrawn Boulevard and Anomie Street, pathetically equipped with a small virtual cardboard sign stating “Will be a good child for a little genuine motherly affection’. At least that’s how it always seemed.
The eventual result of this was undoubtedly what I am today: a person who maintains a hard, austere outer shell that most of the time appears impervious to the world’s many unhappy circumstances, while inside I have the heart of a fire-warned gooey marshmallow, ready to melt away at the first sign of genuine human warmth and freely offered, undemanding affection.
Naturally enough, when my mother finally passed on herself (I’ve remarked upon this before in one of my blogs: she died while exploring a lead and silver mine in Idaho), I suddenly found myself, as cartoon character Popeye the Sailorman would have put it, ‘ a orfink’. It doesn’t take much to imagine the confusion and uncertainty that such a situation might fill a normally raised 10 year old with, but there I was, an ostensibly emotionally stoic child, suddenly alone in the world and attired in emotional body armor that had mortal gaps in the Swiss-cheese plates and inner layers held together with little more than melting chocolate. It looked like it was going to get VERY messy for this little person for a while, until a distant relative in the armed forces and based in Honolulu suddenly stepped in to give me a place with his family, in his US Navy provided quarters at Pearl Harbor’s Hickam Field air base.
That was the start of a whole new and (fortunately) wonderful phase of life for me, over there in all that scenic beauty of the islands, surrounded by things I loved (airplanes, airplane noise, and...oh yes...scenic beauty, tropical beaches, and the charm of the islands’ eternal Aloha spirit). The unfortunate aspect of all this was that my truly formative years were now behind me and that ineradicable sense of being unloved and unwanted by those closest to me, although patched over considerably and compensated for greatly by the new start on life in Hawaii, was to remain a very critical part of my being (as I suspect it shall be to the day I die).
As anyone who has studied child development and human psychology knows, these early life experiences form the enduring bases upon which adults develop the permanent personality traits that they later maintain in perpetuity, unless otherwise subjected to massive therapeutic reconstructions of the self somewhere along the trail. This less-than desirable latter option was happily obviated by the fact that I had a wonderful new environment to thrive within on Oahu, as well as a number of new friends and all the ‘extended family’ support that comes as part and parcel of any Hawaiian ‘ohana (family). Thus, what could have been a crippling lifelong emotional trauma, by that fateful change in circumstance these savagely unhappy circumstances of my early life were transformed, and I became a person who could now develop well beyond their limiting constraints, albeit still possessed of a somewhat tender core matrix around which the normal thick armor of life’s experiences has aggregated.
There. You see what a maelstrom of complexities comes tumbling out completely unbidden whenever I watch a simple children’s story like ‘Nanny McPhee’? I am convinced that each of us has these same darkly closeted chambers within, only awaiting the appropriate catalyst to suddenly throw open the locked doors and let the light of genuine joy and happiness flood their dim corners. This last fragment of expression (‘genuine joy and happiness’) fairly well expresses what I felt when I watched this film, although I certainly hope to God that no one ever has the chance to see me get a bit teary-eyed like that, the result of profoundly intense feelings of this sort at such moments. It’s one thing, after all, to indulge in a bit of harmless self-therapy to purge experiences in the company of a virtual audience, but it is a another entirely to share the same room with an individual at the same time you are undergoing this Jekyll/Hyde transformation and risk seeing clear through them, possibly even able to gaze deeply into their soul, for whether good or bad, that sort of vicarious proximity always carries emotional risk of a not entirely predictable sort.
How much safer for everyone (emotionally) to stick with boringly predictable action movies and fast-moving thrillers, rather than take a chance on getting all bogged down in vignettes of loving hopefulness, as is the case with movies like the Nanny McPhee film. Besides, it is so much easier to hate than to love (despite the fact that hate is half of the equation of ‘care’, coexisting equally with its fully complementary and requisite opposite, love). Although both emotions are part of the same whole and not all that distinct from each other (ask any teenager who thinks he/she is in love) when both are viewed under a high-magnification objective, it requires less risk to opt for the first than the second.
There is an old saying (among many that have similar bearing on subjects like this): “Scratch the man and find the child”. That seems to fit the nature of what I am addressing here perfectly, for very likely a great many of us big overgrown, serious male creatures, once the elaborate armor and impenetrable outer defenses have all been stripped relentlessly away, are just big kids who could use a little more genuine love than we are used to admitting we need. If this has been a bit too personal and perhaps a little more than you ever wanted to know about me, I apologise, but I find that occasionally following Mao’s ‘self-criticism’ technique of freely purging and admitting things that might otherwise remain hidden and cloistered is a beneficial thing. And next time I see Emma Thompson, by the way, remind me to thank her for having moved great big old serious me so deeply with her wonderful adaptation of a simple children’s fairy tale.
If we ever meet personally, you’ll perhaps understand why outwardly I always seem so serious, keeping the childlike interior well-hidden. Be well friends and never fail to seize affection that is freely and unconditionally offered! You never know when (as Antonius Marcus Aurelius noted, a few thousand years ago) you might pass this way again.
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