As far back as I can remember I have lived in a caffeine addicted world. At the age of twelve I began drinking horribly strong black coffee to demonstrate that I was a man; and not just a man, but a good man who could be trusted and counted on. It was the measure, as I was taught, of a man’s character.
It began with my father who would brag about the insomnia inducing coffee-you-could-chew swill he was able to stomach in the Navy. He continued to drink crap long after he left the Navy; proud to down coffee as stubborn and awful as he.
This understanding continued to be imposed in the setting of my church. In the sacred basketball court of the YMCA, where we gathered to hear the will of God, drinking coffee was considered to be a manly art not to be taken lightly. A practice reserved only if you were ready to have your manhood and your spirituality assessed.
I remember many times when men were mocked and teased if they added sugar or cream to their cups; accused of engaging in the enjoyment of the ever sinful frou-frou coffee. Those who did defile their coffee with such things did so as if they were hiding some sort of secret shame. They looked around to make sure no one was watching, held their cups close, and drank quickly in hopes to conceal the contents of their sin.
My exposure to the art of “coffee assesses man” has not been limited to my experience with the caffeine addicted church and my napoleon complex father. I have worked in environments where drinking coffee strong enough to put hair on your chest (or kill you) indicated if you were of strong and honest character.
I can recall grizzled old angry men regaling each other with tales of coffee strong enough to strip paint, eat through concrete, or melt through steel. For them, this was essential to true manhood (along with hating animals, mistreating children, and fucking women). Somehow this made them good men.
When I was young and naïve I couldn’t be prouder that I was able to keep up with these good men. To this day I can still drink horribly strong and bitter black coffee with the rest of the pack. After all it is the foundation upon which I was raised –strong burning hateful bitterness.
This life –my journey- has been marked by serious mistakes. I have hurt people I loved both intentionally and unintentionally. I have shipwrecked myself and my relationships with others more times than I’d like to admit. My ability to drink shitty coffee does not make me a good man.
If anything is to define my character, if anything is to define me as a good man, I pray that it would be the actions I have taken in light of my mistakes. I have owned up to what is mine to own. I have offered apologies, attempted to make amends, asked for forgiveness, and have worked to restore the things I have broken. I have known a contrite heart.
What we do with what we have before us, how we respond to our failures and the failures of others, and how we treat one another when no one and everyone is looking, better serves as the measurement of what kind of people we are -regardless of age, gender, race, or coffee drinking habits. Often it is easier to default to strange measurements in order judge ourselves and each other. And I wonder if we use these strange measurements because we are somehow afraid that we -ourselves- won’t measure up to the things that matter.
Certainly I still have stupid yardsticks in my life. I hope one day to purge myself of all that crap and simply measure people based on who they are and what they do. Until then, I’m going to shamelessly add a little Irish Cream to my cup and take on the day choosing to be better than I was yesterday.