I was telling Amy about my father when she made a suggestion.
What she said: "You should totally post about this!"
What I heard: "You should totally stop telling me about this!"
Talking about my Dad is a double-edged sword. To simply say that I had a crap dad is insufficient. "Yeah, I know," people will say. "My family is dysfunctional too." Well, no. We are almost certainly not peers. You will not hear about soccer practice or Christmas in my stories. My dad wasn't crap because he didn't hug me enough, or because he hurt my feelings, or because he occasionally hit me. He was an unrepentant monster. I gots plenty of examples. For the purpose of this post, let's just say that he's dead, I'm glad he's dead, and if he still felt anything at all, he'd probably be glad he's dead, too.
And there's really no way of conveying this without getting into gory details that, I've found, people just don't want to hear.
Except for the cross-dressing. You guys eat that stuff up.
With Amy, I talked about muddling my way toward manhood without the aid of anything remotely resembling a positive male role model. I knew who I definitely didn't want to be, but that didn't give me a direction any more than knowing you don't want to drive to Chicago gets you to Miami. There was a lot of trial and error on my road to manhood. For the most part, it was the women beside me who shaped me, often against their will and at their own expense. First my mom, then my girlfriends and girl friends sweated blood chiseling me into a facsimile of a man. Anything redeeming about me today, you can bet I learned from a woman.
But when I was a kid, my role models were fictional men. Rick from Casablanca was one. He was and remains my masculine ideal, from his grudging courage to his gallows wit to his mannequin-mashing kissing style.
Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?Swoon.
Rick: I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters?
Rick: I was misinformed.
But there was one guy who was everything I wanted to be, and I thought about him day and night. That guy was a rabbit. And a cross-dresser, come to think of it. Let's not read too much into that.
More than any flesh-and-blood male, Bugs Bunny taught me about life, about coolness, about justice, and—unfortunately for everyone in my presence—about pronunciation and about conflict resolution.
What I loved about Bugs, what I still love, is that he usually finishes fights but he never, ever starts them. This ethic appealed to me tremendously. It still does. Don't start none, won't be none.
It was as an adult that I read Chuck Jones "Chuck Amuck." (If you grew up on the Warner Brothers cartoons as I did, you simply must read this.) In it, the director articulates his golden rule: "Bugs must always be provoked." This, I realized instantly, was the ethic I had internalized as a child. The rest of my family were the Elmers and Daffys and roid-raging wrestlers and psychotic opera singers. They went looking for trouble.
But me? At my best, I sit alone in my rabbit hole, munching carrots, watching my stories on TV, minding my own business. If no one starts dropping red sticks of dynamite down the hole, they'll never even know I'm there. But people being jerks, they invariably they start with the dynamite.
Of course, you realize this means war.