One of the topics I’d like to blog about is people and places.
This blog post is about a person. Recently a friend of mine asked me who the most interesting person I met during my road trip through the USA was. This is a difficult question as I met a lot of very interesting and amazing people! However, when my friend asked me this, one person in particular did spring to mind. This person’s name is Mack. My encounter with Mack occurred at a campsite in a small rural town in the Northwest of America.
Mack’s camping gear was sprawled out in the tent site next to mine. Mack and I were the only two people in the campsite. However, Mack was not there when I arrived. It was not until after I had set up my tent that I got my first glimpse of Mack. A dull pulsating noise in the distance, which slowly became louder and louder was the first I heard of Mack. Eventually, a motorbike emerged about 200 metres in the distance. It was Mack. As Mack got closer I got a much better look at him and here is what I saw:
- Mack was wearing a baseball cap and had a thick grey unkept beard extending down to the bottom of his neck. It looked like a wizard’s beard, except scruffier. He was wearing a t-shirt. A blanket of tattoo ink covered Mack’s throat, arms and the top of his hands.
- The motorbike’s handlebars were level with Mack’s head. While he gripped the handlebars he looked as if he was halfway through a pull up. The motorbike had a silver chromed engine and was shiny all over. The bike was clearly well cared for.
My immediate reaction was nervousness. Here I am, in a foreign country that tolerates (correction: was founded on the right to) private gun ownership, camping alone next to someone who, at first glance, appeared fairly rough around the edges to say the least. At this point it is safe to say that I was a little concerned about who was camping in the tent only a stones throw away from mine.
Internally I told myself not to be so judgemental and decided to speak to Mack after he had gotten off his motorbike. I walked over and introduced myself. To my immediate surprise, Mack was extremely friendly, responding with a gentle smile on his face and a reasonably soft voice. This was not how I expected Mack to sound. Based on his appearance, the preconception I formed was that Mack would likely speak with a deep, possibly husky voice and would have a semi-permanent angered look on his face. Mack busted my preconceptions down instantly with a simple smile.
We continued to chat. Mack proceeded to offer me some firewood to build a fire. Having not camped in the USA before, I thought the fire pits available in the campsite were for cooking. I politely declined his offer as I had just eaten a pack of dry noodles and some cheese and crackers (eating healthy! LOL). Mack then told me that he was going to make a fire, and offered that I join him for some beers later around his fire. Declining an offer to drink beers next to an open fire is not something I have ever done. I’m happy to say that it still isn’t.
Mack and I shared a few beverages that night. I learnt a lot about Mack, and he a lot about me. The part that I would like to share is about Mack’s children. Mack was fifty years old and had two children – both boys in their 20s. He told me that one of his boys was gay. When he told me this, I expected the conversation to continue down a path where Mack was going to explain to me how hard it had been for him to accept that one of his sons was gay. I expected Mack to explain to me the things that he had struggled with in coming to terms with his son being gay. But this was not the conversation we had. In fact, the conversation we had was the complete opposite of this. Mack spoke of how he loved both of his sons immensely. He spoke of how it broke his heart to watch the struggles his gay son went through while growing up different to those around him. This is something neither Mack or I will ever truly understand, however Mack’s empathy was evident in his speech. It was powerful and real. BAM! Mack busted down another of my preconceptions just like that.
Mack told me a story that I won’t ever forget. The condensed version of the story is that Mack took his two boys, at this point both less than ten years old, to Walmart one day. When they got to the toy section at Walmart, one of Mack’s sons rushed over to the action figures, while Mack’s other son rushed over to the barbies. Mack told me that it was at this point that he knew one of his sons was gay – he knew before his son knew what gay was. The reason I repeat this story is not to stereotype gay men as liking feminine things. That is not the conversation that Mack and I had. The context in which Mack told me this story demonstrated that Mack strongly believed that sexual orientation was not a choice. BAM! Preconception busted again. My preconceived idea of Mack’s view (which was that he would think being gay was a choice) was so incredibly wrong.
Mack was not someone who I expected to speak softly; not someone who I expected to be friendly; not someone who I expected to be kind; not someone who I expected be tolerant, let alone extremely accepting and loving, of a gay son. But you know what? I knew nothing about Mack. My preconceptions were formed solely based on Mack’s appearance. It was not until after I spoke with Mack, that I knew anything about Mack.
The day I met Mack was the day the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” gained true meaning for me.
P.S. You know all those tattoos Mack had all over his body? Well, at one point Mack owned a tattoo shop where he also worked as a tattoo artist. Mack showed me pictures of some of his tattoo designs, as well as some of the tattoos he had given people. Needless to say, he was extremely talented! Oh, and he also had a passion for building his own motorbikes from scratch…