So, what’s your name? (M.I.A.? A.O.K.)

>> Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Most days I smile at the male custodian at the University where I work. He smiles back and occasionally we chat. He’s a friendly fellow. People know him and like him. But I can’t ask him his name. Because if I do, I’m afraid he’ll misunderstand my question as an invitation for sex. So I don’t ask.

The custodian is a nice, normal human being as far as I can tell. He’s never pinched my ass or placed a lascivious love note on the windshield of my car. He’s never leered at me from behind a bush or even glanced at my boobs (at least not when I was looking). Our relationship is based on weather talk and waiting for him to reopen the bathrooms.

But still, I can’t ask his name because he’ll think I want to have sex.

I know it sounds crazy. But for some of us girls, this is what it means to be raised without a dad (or brother, or any male influence). I just don’t know how to react around most men. My ignorance of them, combined with what I’ve learned from television and Hooters ads, tells me that most men want sex from a woman. Since I’m married and don’t want to have sex with any other man (sorry guys), I keep my distance.

Oh yes, I’m married. I’ve been married (to a man) for over 15 years now. I’ve learned a lot about this one man. But of course we have sex, so I still don’t know how to have a casual relationship with a man. Unless, of course, this other male has a girlfriend or wife, and then everything is hunky-dory. It’s classic “When Harry Met Sally.”

I have a theory about all this:

When we’re born, we have a physical body that we can see. We also have a mental/spiritual body that is created in part by our relationships. A mother’s love forms our spiritual right leg. A father’s love forms the left. Our spiritual bodies are completed with security, friendships, confidence and encouragement. If we’re missing important relationships, we’re not fully formed.

My dad was Missing-in-Action. So, I walk a little funny.

Which doesn’t mean I’m not functional. I’m just differently-functioning. I limp along, doing the best I can. So far so good -- I have a great husband and two fabulous little girls.

But as I limp along, I realize that M.I.A. Dad is often better than horrible Crappy Dad. I hear horror stories all the time about what it was like to grow up with a dad who inflicted deeper scars than my missing “spiritual” limb.

My Mom realized early on that the man she married was likely to become a Crappy Dad, so she divorced him and he became M.I.A. Dad, which is probably a very good thing. Had he stayed to become Crappy Dad, he and I likely would have bonded over a crack pipe, I’d be familiar with clever racist terms, and I might know what it smells like from inside a jail cell. Fun! Perhaps I could have driven the get-away car he used to flee the drug deal that went sour, you know, the one that eventually caused him to have a plate in his head. Hey, maybe I’d have a plate in MY head, too.

Thank you, Mom.

I’ve been pretty pissed off at my Dad for not taking an interest in my life over the years. But it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Instead of limping, I could be in a full-on wheelchair. Or bedridden. Or dead. So, “Yay, Mom!” for thinking ahead and picking the lesser of two evils. I know it wasn’t easy raising a child by herself. We have a lot of great memories together, even if they didn’t include a father. I’m very lucky not to be burdened with painful memories -- only missing ones.

Now, as a full-grown adult, I have the power to make my own memories. I picked a great husband who’s taught me what it means to be a loving and generous father. But it’s up to me to learn to have male friendships outside of my marriage. If I don’t, the alternative is to live in fear of the unknown "male" forever, and what kind of life is that? Since my formative years are over, the ball’s in my court (so to speak...)

Which brings me back to the custodian...

Next time we’re having a friendly chat, perhaps I’ll ask his name. I'll take one tiny step outside my cozy comfort zone to learn something about the unknown male. And if for some bizarre reason he mistakes my question as an invitation for sex, I’ll just smile and say, “No, thanks,” and quietly limp away.

(Here's a shout-out to all the boys and girls out there with M.I.A. Dads or Crappy Dads. God love you all -- it ain't easy. Peace.)

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