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Talk Back: “I Am Not a Man” Commentary

JET wants you to Talk Back.  This is one of the reader submissions that we received and opted to publish.  Want to make your voice heard?  Submit your commentary, TV show recap, poem, or essay HERE.  Read all the rules (link on the page) so you know how it works.  And with no further ado, this week’s entry.

I am six foot three, can bench press 435 pounds, fathered two children, and look better than Trey Songz, but apparently, I am not a man.

This fact has been delivered to me by waves of female students washing into my classroom during planning periods or lunch. Their words have washed up into my conscience and eroded my definition of who I thought I was. I thought I was a man. In fact, I thought I was “the man”. However, I was wrong, wrong, wrong, and I have never been prouder to be wrong in my life. I am glad I am not a man.

“Dr. Daniel. I need to talk to you.” This phrase has become part of my daily life as a teacher. Unless I am in class, I know I need to focus my attention on the brave eyes now trying to fight back inevitable tears. Another fragile young woman has made a choice to seek me out. I am humbled by this choice every single time. They did not choose their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, best friends, boyfriends, brothers, counselors, or psychiatrists. They choose me. I was honored to be viewed as “the choice” but I could not help but wonder why? Why did a girl whose man told her to abort her baby because she was not his idea of a real woman tell me “When he said that, most girls would have cried ‘oh Daddy,’ or ‘oh a best friend’, or ‘oh So and So, ;but I cried ‘oh Dr. Daniel.’”

Why did she want  to talk to me? What kind of person am I?

I know I am not quite as sane as other teachers. I know I like to play around some and teach simultaneously. I also know that students know I will tell them the truth no matter how painful it is to hear. I am pretty sure my students trust me and know I am not here to judge them. They also know I am all about them improving their lives and developing their own identities, voices, confidence, and love of self so that they can conquer our cruel world. But a lot of teachers are like that right? This did not explain why so many girls were telling me things that only their diaries knew. Was I a living diary?

The issues that they have brought to me are overwhelmingly sensitive. I don’t even know how to begin to express them. I guess I will try the band-aid method and just rip them right off. Maybe then I can get through the list without crying with, and for, my girls again. Rapes, molestation, loss of virginity, asking me if they should lose their virginity, believing they were ugly, that their bodies were ugly, believing a boy who said ‘I love you’, believing they are not important, wondering how to survive being labeled a ho, how to survive a father believing you are a female dog, believing you should not be alive any longer, believing…… I can’t make it. There are just too many wounds. There simply is no pill to dull this pain. It would essentially be taking aspirin for a bullet to the heart. I never learned the lesson that men can’t cry or feel.

Why were they telling me these things? That question has haunted me these last few years, until I was blessed with an answer last week. A young lady told me “I hate boys. I hate men. I do not trust them. I ignore them all at home and in school. I would never tell a man anything about myself. They are all dogs and disgusting.” Then she proceeded to tell me something devastating. I asked her “If you hate men so much, then why are you telling me? You do realize I am a man?” Her answer struck my soul like lightening. “No you are not. You are not a man; you are different.”

I saw the light. For an infinite number of girls today, the term man has come to represent darkness, fear, manipulation, hatred, depression, or pain. For an infinite number of girls today, a man has turned into a sexual predator, a liar, an abusive mate, a thief, a pervert, a foe, a taker, a user, a dragon breathing pure evil itself.

I was not doing anything special; I was simply not doing anything terrible. I was no monster … I mean man. I was different because I had no ulterior motives when I talked to them. I was strange because I wanted what was best for them. I was weird because I told them I loved them and meant it. I was an odd creature because I helped them to understand they had the power to heal themselves, and to love themselves despite the “perceived flaws” and unfortunate circumstances. I was not a man because men don’t do those things for women. A man can’t just be an honest, open, caring friend to a woman, therefore in their books, I was not a man. I was safe.

Not being a man is a gift and a curse. The gift is that I get to be there for a girl when they feel no one else is there. It is the ultimate gift, simple, yet eloquent; it is the chance to help. By not being a man, I get to matter.

The curse is being depressed or burdened by so much sadness. I will listen to them all day if I have to because they need help slaying the beasts in their lives. The curse is having to prove myself to every girl I teach, year after year, that I am not a man. The curse is because of my genetics, many girls in need will not think to talk to me in fear that I am just a man. I am cursed because I don’t know how to help you guys stop from becoming men. I am cursed because I have to go home to talk to my two sons. At the innocent ages of three and five, I wish I could just have the talk about them growing up to be anything they want in life. Instead, because of you (and honestly the man I was in college) I must tell them they can grow up to be anything but men.