Tolerance…we’ve come a long way
August 2, 2012 By Ian Robinson
My son labours under the burden of being bright.
So when final exams rolled around, our house was full of desperate 15-year-olds trying to learn a semester’s amount of math from my son.
In one day.
The reason Jake’s friends hadn’t bothered to learn math prior to the spring was simple: They’re 15. They had more important stuff to do.
There were aliens and terrorists and zombies to slay in the artificial environment of Xbox Live and girls to pursue in the real world. There were trees to climb. Football goalposts to scale. Baseball backstops to conquer.
Note to parents: You’re used to the fact that you can buy a 15-year-old a pair of jeans and, 10 minutes after he dons them, the knees are gone. But if you’re wondering how they manage to rip holes in the inner thighs?
Tree bark. The ragged exposed chain link at the top of a baseball backstop. That’s how.
So there they were in my basement on the venerable couch stuffed with horsehair that I bought 20 years ago, sprawled bonelessly in their torn jeans and battered Converse All Stars, doing math together.
And math questions are ridiculous.
“If Jason buys 73 cantaloupes, and as a general rule 6.2 per cent of all cantaloupes are asymmetrical and not suitable for consumption, and 7.4 per cent of all cantaloupes are too rotted for consumption, how many of Jason’s cantaloupes are suitable for consumption?"
Jake’s friend Tim lost it.
“Who the #%$#! buys 73 cantaloupes? What kind of freak wants 73 cantaloupes?
“Is Jason trying to hoard cantaloupes so he can artificially inflate the price of cantaloupes? Is he founding a cantaloupe cartel? Are there going to be gunfights in the streets like in Mexico? Am I going to wake up one day with the severed head of a blood relative on my front porch because I bought a cantaloupe from the wrong guy in the wrong part of town?”
“Maybe the cantaloupes are a sex thing,” said Alex.
That brought the house down. And in the chorus of laughter and jokes that I could hear from upstairs, the nature of some of those jokes led me to think … Really? Alex? I’ve known Alex since he was six. I never thought….
Turns out when I say these were boys with girls to chase … there was one boy with boys to chase.
When I was alone with my son later, I said, “Alex gay?”
“Yeah. He came out a while ago. Thought I’d mentioned it.”
“Whatever. Have you seen my lacrosse stick?”
I mention Alex because it’s noteworthy how my son and his friends, in the casual way of 15-year-olds, have gone and changed the world on us.
My son is nearly six feet tall with shoulder-length hair. He favours leather and denim and canvas sneakers. He owns 27 identical white T-shirts. At a glance, he’s the heavy-metal thug who, when he turns up on your street, could be there to date your daughter or steal your car … and given the choice, you’d prefer he hot-wired your car.
His friends are cut from the same cloth, except the Aryan Nations-style buzz cut is more prevalent. They’re mostly all veterans of the local football system, which means as they lumber down the street, they look like a band of ripped young Visigoths on their way to sack Ancient Rome.
Football gave them confidence and made them a little dangerous. They are tougher than other kids in the nanny state world. Unlike most kids, young athletes in a sport like football know what actual pain is. They know how to absorb it and conquer it and how to hand it out and I think other people sense that in them.
Sometimes, middle-aged people cross the street when they see the boys coming and clerks with mistrustful eyes follow them around stores.
The boys run more often than they walk. They laugh a lot and loudly. They swear joyfully and take pride in combining obscenity in unique and biologically improbable ways.
They ride bicycles with such gleeful foolhardiness that it makes you cringe just to watch the wonderfully reckless thing that is a boy on the edge of manhood..
Despite what the store clerks think, they’re good people. They call adults “sir” and “ma’am” and none of them has been in trouble, unless you count the time Jake used a Sharpie to change the sign on a classroom door from “Social studies” to “Socialist studies” after his teacher showed them their third Michael Moore movie.
And when Alex announced he was gay … nobody cared.
The boys of my generation would have cared.
The boys of my generation would have been scared or repulsed or even angry.
The boys of my generation would have, in the face of difference, abandoned the rough and unspoken love boys can have for one another.
The boys of my generation would have screwed it up.
Not these boys.
And they’re the kind of boys the culture expects to screw these things up. These football playing, redneck, corn-fed, aggressively hetero Alberta boys collectively shrugged and the group’s consensus was: “Shoulda known. Alex dresses too well to be straight. Hand me that Xbox controller, willya?”
They’ve managed to achieve tolerance without being politically correct. Their differences are acknowledged, respected … and roundly mocked. Their maleness means they give each other crap for everything, for being too tall, school-dumb, street-dumb, fat, zitty, homely, inept with girls. The gay kid makes straight jokes, the straight kids make gay jokes, the Native kid makes white people jokes.
As is the way with boys, their true feelings are apparent in what they do … not in what they say. And what they do is stand together.
I never did find out how many of Jason’s cantaloupes are suitable for consumption but that’s OK. I think I learned something a lot more important.
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