As I mentioned in last issue, you know me and yet you don't. My last several columns have been an intentional effort to give you, constant reader, a more intimate view of just who the boy behind the anonymous Internet mask really is. . . maybe even someone not unlike many of you? Although I feel that I have found my place in my school and in my family, I still at times feel alienated and confused. I suppose that's normal for teens to feel that way, and when you're gay those feelings seem to be magnified tenfold. As any outcast can testify, sometimes you won't even fit in with other outcasts no matter how hard you try.
I've understood the power of influence since I was a young boy, but I have only recently started to understand just how powerful that influence can be. Of all of my relatives, I am the first one that has been born in America. I can remember hearing my grandparents speak of me becoming President someday! Hey don't laugh, that's the same thing Teddy Roosevelt's Mom used to say to him!
I've also seen how strong my influence can be in more personal ways, especially when it comes to my younger brother, and I can see the beginnings of my influence on my baby brother too. Chris has always looked up to me and although we have our separate interests, we also have much in common that we share. I also know that my younger cousins look to me as a advisor and confidant, and I strive to be the best role model possible to them.
It's not very easy being a role model, especially when you know you are one. I cannot count the number of times I've chastised myself for not doing something to stop the sexual abuse that befell my brother and I. What kind of big brother am I to let someone hurt Chris? Why didn't I stand up to Bob and protect my brother? Those questions have dogged me for years. I was the one who slit my wrists first and Chris -- wanting to be like me -- followed my lead. . . a fact my parents still haven't quite let me forget.
Nor should they.
Our society seems to have a near rabid obsession when it comes to creating heroes, and an equally powerful fascination in destroying them. From an early age we are taught to hold in awe the feats of so-called professional athletes, regardless of their behavior off the field. Movie "stars", musicians, and even criminals are surrounded by the masses and given distinction and even special treatment for what they do. Like the moon, people have a dark side that we can't see, and even when we see it we often choose not to.
My Dad never encouraged my brother and I to look as athletes as heroes, and for years I never understood why he wouldn't want us to look up to the football player that returned a kickoff ninety-eight yards for a touchdown as anything more than a good football player, or why we shouldn't be in awe of the Olympic sprinter that won a number of gold medals?
Now it makes perfect sense.
When we make a human into something bigger than they really are, we are the ones who ultimately feel the burn when they fail our ever growing expectations. I used to be in awe of certain NBA players until I learned that many of them have fathered children out of wedlock -- and ignored their offspring. Their irresponsibility to their own progeny made me question as to whether or not they deserve to be idolized, and well I feel they don't. They deserve some recognition for their athletic feats but not the neurotic attention that so many of us give them. Across America we have kids and adults that memorize the stats of their favorite players and even get into physical fights to defend their "man". . . a person who might have a temper tantrum if they're asked for a autograph by a fan. I've experienced this, and believe me it hurt.
I'm not picking on NBA players by the way, I feel the same thing goes on in other entertainment arenas also. Let's face it, the music industry is full of illegal drug use, the fashion industry has models starving themselves to be thin, and so on. Are our lives so dull and empty that we have to blindly look up to others and place them on pedestals and shower them with praise and affection?
I sure hope not.
When a professional athlete achieves a certain feat or breaks a long standing record, many of us are transfixed in awe. People will literally drop everything to be able to witness "the moment" that the greatness was achieved, and when it does finally happen pandemonium breaks out. . . anyone ever notice the riots that often break out in the home city of a Super Bowl or World Series champion? Destroying cars and causing property damage is sure a great way to celebrate victory, isn't it? Should the family of someone that's been killed because of these overzealous fans take comfort in the fact that their team won? Hey, your car was destroyed but we have a NFL championship to be proud of!
The night that St. Louis Cardinal player Mark McGwire broke the home run record held my Roger Maris, my household, like so many others around the country, was glued to the TV set in anticipation, but this time it was different. Mark (and Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa also) showed something rare in professional sports as they raced to become the first one to break the record: Class. Instead of mad-mouthing each other as is so common in competitions, they came across as schoolyard buddies. And when Mark broke the record, one of the first things he did after touching home base was give his son Matt a hug, which I thought was the coolest thing!
While we have those who enjoy being heroes to the masses, we have those who don't and do everything possible to prevent themselves from being one. One such person that comes to mind is the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, incidentally one of my favorite bands. He was so distressed at the idea of being a hero that he ended up killing himself. Hero or not, what kind of example is that to give? I can tell you that his suicide shook me as much as a death in my family would, which should tell you something. I'll be honest, I looked up to him and he let me down, but at least I have their music to enjoy.
Over the span of time that I have written a column for Oasis I've realized that I have become an influence for some people, especially the younger readers, and while I could be like some and whine and moan about this I'm going to do something refreshing. . . I'm going to accept and appreciate this. While I've written about some things in the past that I probably shouldn't have, that was then and this is now. I'm going to strive to be a positive role model to a group of people that has precious few to look up to, and I hope that I don't fail any of you. And if I do let you down remember this:
Learn from my mistakes.