How did you learn what it meant to be a man/woman?
I don’t really know. I don’t think there was ever one way that I learned what it means to be a man. I also don’t believe that I’ve finished learning (and have a high suspicion that I never will).
As with all things, there were disadvantages as well as advantages to growing up in a dysfunctional family/foster care. One disadvantage being that I never truly had one stable person to look to as a father (and trust me, that’s something I still long for and it never stops sucking to not have it). However, the advantage (the silver lining, if you will) is that because of my unstable upbringing I got to meet and interact with a lot of different men during my childhood. Some of them were great guys, but others not so much.
I don’t know that I ever truly developed a friendship/relationship with any of them because I was always much too timid and socially awkward to even know how to go about accomplishing such a thing, despite how desperately I wanted to. What I did get from this experience was the opportunity to find a character trait in this guy, and a moral stance in that guy; and in a way I pieced together what I felt best represented manhood. It was patchy work at best, filled with many gaping holes. But whenever I could, I filled those gaps with all of the “what not to do’s” that I found in some of the not-so-nice men in my life.
It’s tough growing up as a boy without a role model to look up to. Hell, it’s tough being a 28-year-old guy without a role model to look up to. I’m sure the absence of a mother creates the same impact for girls and the women they grow up to be, as I have found that not having a dad did for me. Of all of the losses in my life, I truly feel this is the greatest one. It’s also the biggest reason that I am a huge advocate for reaching out to children through volunteer programs, and specifically through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
In a nutshell, the program in which I participate requires that I, as a mentor, interact with my “little brother” at a minimum of twice per month. Combined, that usually doesn’t even amount to a full day at work. I log more hours per month in front of the TV than that. It’s a very small commitment, but to a young boy it’s a huge investment. Not to mention that it’s not a purely selfless act on my part, because believe it or not, I have actually learned a thing or two from my “little”. Not to mention I now have a snazzy “#1 Big Brother” keychain that he gave me as a gift, which I use with pride.
I know that I could have benefited from the kinds of interaction typically found in a Big Brother match. There’s just something that changes within a kid who knows that there is an adult who is interested and invested in their life and wellbeing. It’s a permanent impact. It’s a gift. It’s life changing.
Peter Combs is a 28 year old husband, writer and former foster child. He currently lives with his wife, Renee, in Atlanta, Georgia. Peter is the author of the blog Home.