The Day I Became a…
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
“…man! Today you are a man!” dad shouted, loud enough for everyone at the party to hear it.
A man? Zach wondered as applause washed over him. He had turned twenty-one, and somehow that had triggered a fundamental change in his being. A day ago he was still a boy, a child. Now, a few hours later, he was deemed ready for all challenges the world might throw his way. It terrified him to the point of nausea, and unaware of the many eyes following him he fled into the privacy of the bathroom.
The mirror light switched on, the young adult examined himself. Wherever he looked, he was not able to detect any bodily changes. Mentally he also didn’t feel different. What had made him a man? Did he pass any trial he did not know of? In a book on African culture he had read that some tribes circumcised their boys, then sent them off into the wild for a month. Upon their return they had seen hardship and brotherhood. And they had become men. Zach had never been circumcised, had never hunted, never even started a fire. He could see no justification for his manhood, and his family had never handed him any guidelines.
His thoughts drifted to other young men he regarded as friends. He thought of Rick, the tall, muscular lad who had a cabinet full of rowing trophies. Rick was five months older than Zach, but Zach had regarded him as a man for years. Maybe it was the way he held himself, maybe his achievements, or just his appearance. There was no way of knowing. Rick just was a man, opposed to Tim, a kid of exactly the same age. But Tim also spent his time playing sports, had a firm build and loads of girlfriends to boot. But Tim was not a man. It all confused Zach.
As he emerged from the bathroom, dad instantly swept him off into his private study, clutching a bottle of the whiskey he enjoyed on special occasions. On this special occasion, Zach was also given a glass, having just reached the legal drinking age, and after cheering along with his dad, he took his first sip of what he then deemed the worst thing he had ever tasted. The ensuing grimace was not easily hidden.
“You have to learn to drink it, son. It’s a man’s drink,” dad said with an encouraging smile.
“I thought I already was a man?” Zach countered.
Dad laughed. “You are, yes, yes, you are.”
“But why? Why now? Why not yesterday? What is different today?”
The question obviously caught dad by surprise. The man who, throughout Zach’s life, had always had an answer ready, had to think. Think hard.
“Umm. Well. You see,” was where he froze. Even his own father, definitely a man himself, could not say what exactly made someone into one. And if he couldn’t tell, then nobody would be able to. But then the response finally came.
“Do you remember when you asked me about girls? About why it’s so incredibly difficult to talk to them, to ask them out on a date?” he asked.
Zach nodded. He remembered the conversation very well.
“I told you not to worry about it, that something like that comes naturally. And now look at you. How many girls did you already bring home this year? Four? Five?”
Zach nodded again, this time a bit embarrassed.
“Now,” dad continued, “I can’t be sure, but from what I remember about becoming a man myself is that it went a bit like that. I guess you just grow into it. You move into your own place, take care of your own bills, start a family. Sometimes I wake up and feel even more of a man myself, and I’m fifty-five!”
“But what about Rick? He’s been a man for years, and he’s my age!”
“Rick sets his own pace, as you should set yours. Start by learning to drink that whiskey, I don’t want to pour it back into the bottle. And we don’t let it go to waste.”
With that he got up, grasped his son’s shoulder for a moment, and returned to the party.
Zach eyed the glass of what to him seemed like the start of real manhood, and took another sip, followed by another grimace. But he kept at it. And somehow, it made him feel different. Stronger. Confident.
When dad had to carry him, drunk out of his mind, upstairs later, followed by many scanning eyes, he threw his arms wide and shouted loud enough for everyone to hear.
“I’m a man!”
That time the applause didn’t follow. All that did, was dad’s soft, encouraging whisper.
“Yes, son. Yes, you are.”