“Better late than never,” my Bubi always used to say but I think “better never than late,” sometimes. Going through puberty at the age of thirty-eight is not easy on a grown man- it takes a toll on his body. The chest hairs growing through my flesh are painful and sore. The chronic pulsation in my muscles are driving me mad. When I was young I always wondered where my puberty was. My friends were growing hair on their chest and legs (and other regions) and their voices were changing like string sections in an orchestra. I instead maintained my childish ways and never had the satisfaction of knowing that I was growing into a man. Girls were attracted to me because I reminded them of a little boy. When most of my friends started to shave and get laid I was looking in the mirror at a bare, virginal face wondering what went wrong. Even though the discovery of a few miniscule hairs on my back helped me to feel more apart of the “growing trend” little did I know then that I would have to wait until I was thirty-eight to become a full-grown man.
It started a few months ago with a scratch in my voice that I thought was a symptom of a coming cold. While in the middle of a conversation my voice crescendoed into a high-pitched squeak that made me sound like a car with bad brakes. This was embarrassing because I am man and most of my conversations are serious. When my voice squeaks I know I appear less confident about the things I say. People question me, think I am insecure and wonder if I know what I am talking about. I have to squeakely assure them that I do. The squeaks of puberty are manageable because realistically I am the first to admit that I know very little about anything. What is most difficult about puberty is the intensity of feeling that seems to be flowing around just beneath my soul.
To deal with this intensity of feeling I have been doing a host of unreasonable things. I run my bike into piles of leaves jeopardizing my life. I knock on strangers doors and then run away at high speeds. I play in the mud trying to get as dirty as I can and I climb trees so that I can feel on top of the world. The longing, the expectation and fear of disappointment that comes along with puberty is so intense that at times I feel like I am going to lose it completely. I cry, scream at walls and beg for attention from my wife by wearing cologne (something I never did before) and by acting sad and wounded. I wear tighter pants than I ever have in my life and I notice that the music I am listening to seems to embody a teenage angst. One of the advantages of going through puberty as an adult rather than as a young man is that now I have some control over my impulses, since I have learned to respond rather than to react.
In the adult onset of my puberty, I have been inspired to find out “who I am” behind the thick prison walls that have been erected all around me. I always believed the Descartian lie that says “I think, therefore I am.” I have spent my life thinking but have little clue about who I really am. Now that I am finally starting to grow the chest hairs, the feeling muscles and the self-approval that has eluded me until this date- I am having faith that I can break free from the prison walls that have impeded my emotional growth for so long. I now can see that becoming a man means that I need to reclaim the lost self that wandered off somewhere in childhood, so that I can live a life that is healthy and free from the repressed dysfunctional emotional stains that have been stuck on me for so long.
The squeaky voice, the chest hairs, the intensity of feeling and the persistent erection (that I need not go into) are all aspects of puberty that every young man must face. I imagine it is easier to go through this when one is young enough to not really understand what is going on. When young, a person has the reckless abandon, the naive idealism and the health to helplessly become a victim of biological impulses. They can follow these impulses and desires wherever they may lead, without worry for repercussions. But after three decades of feeling the harsh side effects of painful repercussions, my puberty has to be navigated with the skill of a master. So I am being judicious, wise and allowing myself to feel every hair that bursts onto my chest and every emotion that inflames my mind and soul- without losing myself in the pain. I could be mad that I am finally experiencing puberty at the unfair age of thirty-eight. Instead, I am riding my bike more and turning my attention to the fact that something deep in me is finally being expressed that was not ready to come out before. Even though this is hard and I envy those who go through puberty when young, finally I can cut the hairless umbilical cord of my youth, come out from behind the prison walls and inhabit the space of a fully realized man with a chest filled with hair.