The Sunday Magazine

Men will be boys - Michael's essay

Men will be boys - Michael's essay: Here's an excerpt: "High school for most of us was a time of trial and turmoil. It was a time of great pain. Puberty attacked, hormones exploded, we fought to discover the world and define for ourselves our place in it. It was also a time when anything was possible, or so we thought. Those years stamped us forever. And some of us never outgrew them."

Men never seem to grow out of high school

U.S. President Barack Obama watches the Super Bowl during a Super Bowl party in the family theatre of the White House. ((Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images) )

How is it that some men never get out of high school? Or at least never get OVER high school? We all know grown-ups like this, great big kids even as adults. They're sometimes called Peter Pans. They seem to carry all the baggage from those high school years right through middle and into later years.

High school for most of us was a time of trial and turmoil. It was a time of great pain. Puberty attacked, hormones exploded, we fought to discover the world and define for ourselves our place in it.

It was also a time when anything was possible, or so we thought. Those years stamped us forever. And some of us never outgrew them.

Kurt Vonnegut once said that "true terror is waking up to find your high school class is running the country."

I thought about this a lot during the four-year shambolic municipal administration in Toronto, now and forever known as the Great Ford Darkness. 

Mayor Rob Ford collides with Councillor Pam McConnell (seen in green) in council chambers in 2013. (CBC)
Mayor Rob and his councillor brother Doug seemed to epitomize men frozen in time in their high school experiences. Their body language, the snarling, sarcastic, aggressive use of threats and ridicule reminded me of nothing so much as high school jocks who liked to throw their weight around. There was always something swaggering about the brothers Ford. I could visualize them playing rough football, clowning around in the locker room, indefatigable towel snappers.

The thought came back again watching the antics of the males during Super Bowl earlier this year. And again with the annual Toronto Auto Show full of muscle SUVs and dreams and memories of first cars.

We all had our hearts broken but we somehow managed to get past the pain. In part, by creating in our imaginings a golden age when everything was about cars and girls and rock and roll.-Michael Enright

High school was a season of firsts: first date, first drunk, first love, first sex. They all have tremendous emotive power even years later. 

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta in the classic high school film, 1978's "Grease". (Paramount/Canadian Press)
Our self-image and what happened to us -- or didn't happen -- in those years are almost impossible to get rid of.  Even if we wanted to. Life was felt more intensely in those years. Most of us have never really been able to recapture that level of intensity. We all had our hearts broken but we somehow managed to get past the pain. In part, by creating in our imaginings a golden age when everything was about cars and girls and rock and roll.

Nostalgia, in a way, is the device we use to accommodate our current lives with our memories of teenage-hood.

I could be very wrong about this, but girls, I think, got through high school, suffered the aches and pains and trauma of adolescence, but once out, moved on. They got over it. They became mature adult women. They may still keep in touch with high school friends, may even take in the occasional reunion. But you would never think of them as perpetual high school students the way you might with some men.

A little nostalgia goes a long way. The familiar tickle of remembering good times past can be comforting. But too much of it drags us out of the present and imprisons us in memory.

As Nick Carraway says in the last lines of The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly in the past." 

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