It’s November again, which means that thousands of people all over the world are growing their very best (or worst) moustaches in order to raise awareness about prostate cancer and men’s health. This year is different, because I’m one of them. You can find my page and support me here. Now, I think there are good reasons to get involved with this event, either by participating by growing a moustache to raise awareness, or by supporting a person or team, but when the site asked for my motivation, I was stumped. I don’t have prostate cancer, or know anyone who’s had it, though I know people who know people. It’s one of those troubling questions that seems to come up around charities. Why should someone who isn’t affected by the outcome of the charity in any way make an effort to help? I thought about it a lot, and this is the result.
I should point out that I count myself pretty lucky. I’ve never had to really watch a friend or family member go through that slow decline. I’ve always been too far away, so I’ve never really had to think about it. I’d hear that they were in the hospital, but at that point all I can do is visit and make them comfortable. Then I’d hear that they died, and I’d attend the funeral, and that was sort of the end of it. I’m an atheist, so I don’t trouble myself with notions of an afterlife, but draw comfort from the time I had with them, and it feels right to talk about them.
My uncle Arvi was my mother’s brother, and he taught me about fatherhood. In the fifth grade, I went to stay with his family for a month. It had always just been my mum and I growing up, but Arvi and Anne had a pretty full house with four kids, a cat, a dog, and assorted hamsters. I remember him showing me how to use a computer, because I’d never seen anyone with a computer in their home before, and not just how to use the word processor, but how to load up all kinds of games that he’d collected on diskettes and floppies. I remember playing outside with a few of my cousins, Arvi making dinner on the barbeque, cracking jokes and smiling, and I remember thinking “This is how dads are supposed to be.”
We drove most of the night to get to his funeral, and then the rest of the night to get home, because I had to work in the morning. I was eighteen or nineteen, and I had an inventory counting shift starting at 4:30am that I couldn’t afford to miss.
My uncle Pierre was my mother’s sister’s husband, and he taught me about being smart. He was a geek like me, as well as being intelligent and funny. He had a huge library of fantasy and science fiction books, thousands of them, and every time I came up to visit he would help me pick some out, and send me home with a box of them to borrow. Pierre had a knack for picking just the right book for the right person at the right time. He also got me into D&D;, and helped me understand why games work the way that they do. I remember, when he lent me the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it was so good that I’d lent it to a friend. When the time came to give back the books, I’d forgotten, and so my return was one book short. I scoured my room, but couldn’t find it. He shrugged it off and bought another one, it was just a couple of bucks, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d let him down in some way, violated some secret understanding that only we, as fantasy book nerds, shared. I never dared to ask him to borrow a book again. But when I think back on it, I realize that I needed to relax, and to take responsibility, which is exactly what Pierre would have done.
It’s a six hour drive from Kitchener to Ottawa, and we made it there and back in a day, because we both had to work the next day. I don’t drive, so I had to keep my mum awake the whole time by talking about random weirdness. At the funeral, people kept saying how much I looked like Pierre, and how much I reminded them of him. Some of them thought I was his son, and honestly, there’s worse things to be. Years later, visiting my aunt, she asked me to go through his library and take what I wanted. I instantly spotted all these books that I’d read and loved, but it was the ones in between that bothered me. Had he read them? He’d bought them, after all. What would be lost if I only took books that I’d read before? Now when I visit, I come away with a few boxes, moving them to their new home on my shelves, where I lend them to people. Sometimes they don’t come back, and I don’t sweat it.
Dennis was my friend, and he taught me what it meant to be an adult. He had a million stories about his checkered past, some he regretted, and some he embraced. When he said he’d do something, you could count it as good as done, and when he took a stand on something, he’d look you in the eye and tell you so, but he was always listening to reason. He loved trains, and stories and old Louis L’Amour books., and always wore button downs and blue jeans, like a cowboy. One day, I visited him in the hospital, and I could tell that he knew. He was on the way out, and he was ready. Just before I left, he said “You take care of things now, alright?”
A few days later I got a call from his sister, asking me to be a pallbearer at his funeral, and my first thought was “Why me?” It seemed like an adult job, and I’d never really thought I’d have to do that sort of thing, even though I was in my early twenties. But I had to take care of things now, and this was the sort of thing that people who took care of things dead. If I passed on this responsibility, how would I be doing that? So I laid his body down with the help of five of his friends, and stood with his family that day.
Now, there are lots of people who’ve had an influence on me who are gone from my life in one way or another. And I’m romanticizing all three of them a bit. They were just like everyone else, they had their ups and their downs, their good days and their bad days. And I’m not doing Movember for them. I can’t do anything for them, they’re dead. But I am doing Movember because of them. Caring about other people’s well-being is part of being a father, part of being an adult, and part of being myself. Recognizing that we exist in a network where we not just can but ought to take care of each other is a part of being those things. If growing a moustache helps me do that or be a part of that, then I will moustache so hard that I’ll make Tom Selleck look like a prepubsescent boy.
In short, here are some people who taught me that caring about people is realpeoplestuff. Movember is about caring about people, therefore Movember is realpeoplestuff. Why do you mo?