Recovering the Wonder of Boyhood: Part 2.
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Looking at my tanned, muscular friends, and the sea of beautiful women around us, I took a sip of my drink and waved them away with a tired smile.
''You go and have fun, boys! You know I'm not really into swimming...''
Inside, I felt like a little child, weak and pathetic, full of shame and hidden in a man's body. This is what I felt most of the time when I was in the presence of people who lived the life and didn't just read, think, and fantasise about it...like I did.
* * *
I was about ten when I first became aware of my fear of water. I was in the shower and, unlike most times, was not being careful enough not to let it run straight over my face. And so it did, and suddenly I couldn't breathe. I felt scared and alone, trapped in a body that was not as good as I would've liked it to be, with a slow, clumsy mind that was not as sharp, able, and focused as I needed it to be.
When my father was little, his older brothers threw him in the river, thinking that this would 'make or break' him in regards to swimming. According to him, it broke him, and he never entered deep water again. Neither did I and my brother; and neither did my nephew, my brother's boy...
Do you see how limitations travel through families? Granted, other things travel too, things that are very good or very evil, so what is swimming comparing to alcoholism or anger?
Maybe not much, for some. But for a growing boy like myself, who wanted to explore life and engage it through his mind and body, such limitation is a confirmation that he is not good enough to be as free as the others are...another confirmation out of many.
* * *
About a decade ago, however, I began rediscovering life, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, my initiation began. This meant revisiting old places of pain, buried in my soul, places of weakness, shame, and fear; it also meant that my mind and my body had potential far greater than I could've conceived at the time, and that my father, the man whom I've idolised for my whole life, could've done a far better job at helping me realise that potential and reach the heights that were unreachable for him.
At the age of thirty-two, I took a week-long trip to Cyprus, where my friend Keith lived. I knew that my love for water was still with me and I was determined to face my fear head-on. I wanted to fight for this and was willing to put in the hard work. Never in my life had I have a man in my corner, someone who was committed to help me discover my true self and be the best I could be -- a strong, kind, and patient man, a man who was willing to become a father-figure for me during this week, and also a coach, a brother, and a mentor. Together, we fought for endless hours in the pool, day after day, and together, we won a great victory. Every ounce of my being was challenged there, in this idyllic place, and the little boy who was so burdened by panic, fear, shame and wrong beliefs about himself, came to the surface. I met him again there, by my friend's swimming pool, and for the first time in decades, I did not run from him but accepted him and welcomed him back...
* * *
I had come to the country carrying a great burden, but the person who stepped onto the hot tarmac a week before was very different than the one who boarded the plane on the return flight. A lot more about me felt good, I felt lighter, I moved with greater ease, and I was...well, happier. There was less to hide within me, and this was evident in the way I made eye-contact with people -- with less self-consciousness, less shame and less of that subtle fear of rejection that ever lurked behind my eyes. That part of me I had rejected for so long was now back -- the little boy was free, and I no longer hated him. He was no longer an obstacle between me and what I once thought was true manhood. And most of all, he was not weak, pathetic or in any way shameful -- he simply carried great burdens, and was bound with many lies and wrong beliefs, and chained with the shame with my hatred of him. He was also untrained in this area, unfathered and unloved by the man who could not give him what he himself never had...
But he was back. I had become a boy again and -- what a paradox -- I finally felt more like a man than ever before!
Sometimes, you become strong not by pushing yourself harder, not by hating yourself more, but only by embracing yourself in your weakness.
Ah, yes -- I learned to swim too...
With much respect,