Guilty of Objectifying Judging

 

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Category: Relationships 21 Sep 14

 

I was in the gym wondering why, as in the myth of Sisyphus, human beings spend so much time pushing a heavy ball up the hill, working out, pumping iron only to watch that ball rolling down, muscles dwindling, fat returning with a bout of the flu or a single indulgence.

I was thinking of the vanity of some of the muscle men whose blood-curdling hollers while weightlifting sounded like women in labour. I have to confess that at times like these, I am guilty of objectifying and judging these men as vacuous peacocks, just as men are of objectifying beauty queens.

Feeling guilty about my stereotyping (glad he couldn’t read my mind), I asked a bodybuilder (whose brain I didn’t think I would ever be interested in) for help. As he obligingly tossed about my pathetically light weights like air, an exchange of pleasantries turned into a kind of confessional. People get ponderous, expansive around journalists. It’s a perk of the job.

All these years I have been biased towards women, thinking us more economically and physically vulnerable. In doing so, I may have denied the wounds of boys and men, demonised “the man” as an automatic predator.

It must have been a blind spot. It’s not like I haven’t met broken men: men who have been taken advantage of, men who were bullied when they were little, men who were neglected as babies, men who never ever got approval from their fathers when they were boys no matter what they did, how hard they tried, men who got licks, men who simply weren’t encouraged to develop their emotional intelligence, men whose hearts were stunted and stained by all kinds of woundings.

All I saw was the manifestation of the wounds. The taciturn, unspeaking, sometimes violent men. I turned away. On this day in the gym, Alvin (not his real name) said he was 60 but looked 40. I’m guessing he has not destroyed his body with steroids and drugs to win competitions. To digress: in yoga they sometimes say “soften your eyes,” during a particularly difficult pose. To do this you have to consciously unfurrow your forehead and literally allow the stones in your heart—disappointment, loneliness, fear, sadness, loss, to melt away. Alvin’s torso was ripped, his eyes soft as he told me his dramatic story.

Alvin was just nine months old when his Vincentian mother abandoned him to his father and went to England to work as a nurse. She never made any contact with Alvin. I asked Alvin the usual questions. Was his father abusive, was he a womaniser? No, Alvin said, his mother “just wanted a new life.” It didn’t include Alvin.

When his mother left, Alvin’s father remarried. Until he was 15, he didn’t know he was a stepson. He was treated just the same as his half-brothers and sisters. Same love, same buff. One day after his stepmother allowed a remark to slip— “I wonder what your mother would have to say about that?”—Alvin’s world splintered into bits that he was always picking up.

He wanted to meet his biological mother but hadn’t a clue where to start. When he was 40 his inquiries led to a relative who told him his biological mother thought he was dead. She told him, “You were only a baby when she left and doesn’t know if you survived without her.”

Alvin flew to St Vincent, where he found his mother’s details. He phoned her. I got the impression they spoke, cautiously, hesitantly. The past was a heap of fragile bones. He found out he had four siblings. “It was just like the movies. Suddenly I had a whole new family. I couldn’t wait to meet them.”

The softness in Alvin’s eyes turned into water. He said, “I was ecstatic, but a doctor advised me not to go to England to meet my biological mother unless she sent a ticket for me. I didn’t take him on. I spoke to my half-brother before I got on a flight. I asked him how I would recognise him. He said I would just know because that is the way of blood.

When he received me we recognised one another at once. We hugged and cried. It was like the movies. “When I met my mother for the first time, I found after all the anticipation I couldn’t call her Ma. The doctor was right—and wrong.

“I shouldn’t have gone unless she’d sent me a ticket to show me she really wanted to see me.

“But also wrong because I am happy I met her. I know now my real mother was my stepmom, the woman who looked after me, loved me so completely as her own that I could never guess I was her stepson until she told me.”

He added, “When my son comes to meet me in the gym I hug him, kiss his forehead and people think I’m ‘funny,’ but I don’t care, because I know what love is.”

“What is it?” I asked. “Love is associated with blood and marriage, but it is actually a choice. Anyone you truly love is family.”

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur