Richard Turner is an organic gardener and family therapist. He lives with his wife Kristina in Grass Valley, California, where they teach how to compost the trappings of the American Dream into a simple, nourishing lifestyle that is friendly to the planet.
IT IS A DIFFICULT TASK to be a man in this culture and still allow some innocence to remain. Rare is the man who can be both self-confident and vulnerable, who can achieve success in work and relationships while staying open to his deeper uncertainties and longings. What a joy it is to be learning how to do this with my own son, Michael.
In the 1950s I went from high school straight through the manly pursuits of college, graduate school, career, marriage, and the birth of three small children without a clue about how to use my scared, shy feelings productively in my life. Suffocated by my own manhood, I searched for an answer through a divorce, two career changes, and a health crisis.
Michael, the most sensitive of my children, six years ago went off to the mountains for a job, new friends, and independence. He has gained confidence, but some innocence remains. He is still surprised when girls like him. Still only has to shave twice a week.
Now we sit side by side on the beach at sunset, looking out over a majestic, blue lake. A secluded spot, reserved by nature for quiet sharing.
"This was my favorite spot to bring her, Dad." He has just lost his first real love, and he hurts. He hurts badly enough for it to be O.K. to call me at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and say, "I need you, Dad."
I’m with him now, for a few days, and he’s growing up into wisdom in big leaps, while I’m growing back into innocence. Coming closer to moments when we can cry and laugh at the same time, feel childish and adult together.
"When I see her will I feel that overwhelming sensation in my stomach?"
"Probably. But it’s not something you have to fear. Let’s see what it’s like. Draw a picture of it."
As Michael starts to draw his eyes light up. "I’m drawing kindling on fire. A fire in my belly, Dad!" He looks like he wants to jump up and down. His excitement is contagious. I stand up and point to his abdomen. Images spill out of me.
"That’s your manhood starting to ignite, Michael! You’re feeling your hunger to mate."
"I’ve never felt this way before."
"She was the spark, now she’s not here. But you’re on fire. So filled with warmth you’re afraid you will be consumed, because there’s no-one to receive it."
"What can I do?"
I flash back to the times in my life when I felt this same way. Adolescence. Alone with my sexual urges. Guilt, shyness, confusion. Mid-life divorce. Friction between my loneliness and my need for freedom. Caring friends I can call late at night, when I feel I can’t stand the friction any longer. Unable to sleep. Poems come from my gut for the first time in my life.
"Let the fire build inside you, Michael. You can take this time to feel yourself more. Start a journal. Get clear about what you want next. This is a valuable time. It’s O.K. to just feel your feelings." He looks down, taking in my words, his body tense. How can I love him now?
"My fire is down here, too. It wants to show its warmth, like yours does. The coals are just a bit more kicked around and mellowed out. Come on, let’s breathe into our fires, sing them, act them out. It’s man in us, wanting to create new life!"
I stand up, he follows. We take turns saying "It’s man in us." Tentative at first, his response encourages me. We get bolder and louder until our fists reach up into the sky and we shout across the lake. "Man in us!!" The two of us, audaciously proclaiming our manhood to the universe. Exhilarated, we finally stop and look at each other. I’m excited and a little scared. A totally new bond is there. Father and son becoming brothers now, too.
We sit down, arms around each other’s shoulders. Look out at the lake again, and start to relax. Time to reflect. Quiet minutes pass. We get up, and walk slowly on the beach. I tell him about some of my loves and losses, longings still not perfectly fulfilled.
"My life has been so smooth until now, Dad. No big problems. Everyone has liked me."
I trace a line in the sand. "This is your lifeline. One step after another. Easy. Suddenly one step sinks in much deeper. Passion, tenderness, caring! Now before you can lift yourself out . . . "
"Yeah, pain!" He stands in that deeper place in the sand. We both wait. Finally, he speaks. "How do you forget?"
"You don’t get over a feeling by trying. Use it. It’s your fuel. Sit down and remember her. Cry. Keep remembering until you fully understand what new part of yourself you have gained by being with her. Then let your tears teach you about your hunger for a deeper, more complete relationship than she could offer."
Three days pass. More tears and laughter. Drawing cartoons of the dreaded "green Volkswagen syndrome" (her car – the mere sight or sound of which means immediate pain). Growing camaraderie. Gestures of affection from Michael, helping me to feel my own shyness in comparison to his spontaneity.
Our last evening together before I leave. I cook dinner while he cleans his apartment, as we had planned. He clears out possessions from his past, creates bare walls, and clean shelves. Open space, waiting to be filled with new life.
I sit on the side of his bed, stroke his forehead, and tell him about my father. A quiet, good man, who came to the hospital when I was fifteen, and rubbed my back before I fell asleep. My first memory of being touched by him.
Early the next day Michael goes to work, and I drive one- hundred miles to my home. Two weeks pass. Time for me to feel. Then his letter arrives.
I’ve started a journal and I write in it every day. Even if I ramble on in it, I can feel that burning sensation ease up a bit. Thanks Dad, for spending time with me. It’s a loving feeling to have someone who cares listen to me. I never realized until our time together that my father and I were so much a part of each other. I guess it takes a great emotional blow to find another great high.
P.S. My beard has started to grow. I’m going to have to shave every day. I want you to have the honor, Dad, of showing me how to use my new razor!