I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard,
breast, hands, in return
“To A Stranger’ Walt Whitman
My soon-to-be twenty year old daughter dismisses the word “bromance” as the relationship between two straight guys who love each other but are afraid of being perceived as gay. I don’t entirely agree. I feel that sometimes we have to provide a phenomenon with a word in order to define something that makes people uneasy; by naming it, we often demystify it. (She’s way beyond the simplicity of semantics; “It just is, dad,” she says. “You don’t need to label it.”)
And she’s right. Perhaps what Walt was describing in all those fervid lines about his male-to-male encounters were, indeed, the first recorded bromances. The Urban Dictionary defines the word as “a relationship between two men that are unusually close” while several mainstream dictionaries suggest it’s a relationship specifically between two heterosexual dudes.
“What was the name of the poem you mentioned in class today?” Mitch asks. Not only are we in the Whitman class together, his room is directly across from mine in the dorm. Mitch possesses that television star virility with an accessible sexiness rather than movie star hauteur. In addition to his physical prowess (athletic, confident stature), he is intellectually muscular as well.
How can I not hope for a bromance? Yet, that part of me that is often distrustful of being drawn to a straight man was on alert when I reminded him of the name of the poem. A lot of my hetero buds would not be able to wrap their pretty heads around the complex nature of Whitman’s “To A Stranger”.
But Mitch got it, responding with a certain masculine ease that assured me were destined to the George Clooney-Brad Pitt stratosphere of bromancehood.
This was confirmed by our enlivened chats about what went on in the day-to-day seminars and our burgeoning reflections on Whitman. In addition, we intimately bonded by sharing details on the roller coaster ride each of us values and struggles with on a daily basis: fatherhood.
Katherine with her dad Michael
As the father of a nine-year old, it was clear that Mitch (mid-forties) was a spectacular father and part of that praise I heap on him is derived from his anxiety about being a good dad. He’s listening to his boy; he and his wife are paying attention to the world that his son is growing up in. These details all swirl in the orbit of Whitman’s passages.
And Whitman does stress the gloriousness of conception—above all else, in fact. And please, my fascistic gay friends, don’t tell me that’s homophobic. Whitman is celebrating the miracle that is each new life. I feel certain that he would applaud the soulfulness of “conception” in all configurations of the Twenty First Century.
When you rivet on the same subject for several days, you inevitably come up with alternative words to describe them or their trademark beliefs and behavior: “Whitmanesque,” “a Whitman moment ” or, perhaps, “ Walt would like that.”
Mitch’s relationship to his son is Whitmanesque and, according to Mitch, they share what I would identify as “Whitman moments”: every morning when Mitch drops his kid off at the school bus (“Be kind and smile,” he encourages him) and every night when he tucks him in (“Dream big,” he says).
In getting to know each other, I told Mitch—keep in mind, this is a man who teaches at a private school in
black turtle necks five days a week—I was going to go to see a healer because I
have been suffering from sciatica. Connecticut
“A healer?” he asks, intrigued but without a whiff of judgment.
I admit that I don't really know what a healer does exactly but I feel
is where they would likely do it best. He agrees and offers to drive me to Santa Fe ’s. Aurora
This is part two of a five-part series.