I have had the most extraordinary day. Perhaps it was the moments spent with Pat and Wally Kutteles in their Kansas kitchen, sharing their journey and embracing their loss. Surly the wine I sipped with Scott Merritt at the Sutton Place Hotel bar only enhanced this day. It may even have been from the euphoria in regard to missing the moose as I was whisking along the road towards Shaw’s wedding. I am currently in another era, smiling triumphantly as the words “You don’t hit girls” rings in out clearly across the campus of a Swiss private school.
Gifted writers paint with words; they create pictures. To state such in regard to Michael Rowe’s newest book, “Other Men’s Sons”, is to say the Sistine Chapel is worthy of being clipped to a refrigerator by a plastic red “A” letter magnet, along side other stick figure drawings and stained soccer schedules. Rowe surpasses the puerile “painting pictures” expression, transcending it as a master weaver would intertwine golden threads of knowledge and compassion into a tapestry filled with palpable elements. I confess that I have yet to pick up one of his essays and not felt as if I had experienced the state of affairs first-hand, either as a bystander or in his subject’s own shoes.
One does not see the pictures in their minds; rather, one is spiritually thrust into the environment at hand, an active participant in the story itself as it winds its way along. Rowe entertains even as he elucidates, propelling the reader on a causeway of emotional highs and lows. There is pure literal intent in my last turn of the phrase for Rowe is indeed the master architect of bridge builders between worlds.
“Other Men’s Sons” is a series of essays that have thoughtfully been divided into three interlacing entities: Mosaics, Portraits and Portfolios.
“Mosaics” are a collection of essays that, as Rowe explains in his introduction, consist of nine essays that are “primarily culture criticism and journalism that explores the tone of the time and the nuances that inform gay culture. Never heavy handed, and possessing literary poise that renders the soapbox as a useless tool utilized by those lacking wit, Rowe doles out his sage opinion with eloquent flare. He uplifts even as he critiques. He challenges the reader to see beyond stereotypes and set thinking. He is both advocate and adventurer, stripping away the misconceptions so commonly held by those who are distanced from the subjects at hand.
“Portraits”, the second category, is a collection of profiles. Clive Barker, Phillip Ing, Peter Paige, Gale Harold and Drew Harris share an equal amount of time with Angie Moneva, a young heterosexual girl who grew up in a distinctly gay neighborhood.
Rowe defines Mirrors as “essays that are autobiographical in nature.” Nestled in this heading are four stories that allow us a personal glimpse into the workings of Rowe’s world.
It is here that we meet Shaw in the piece for which the book is named. We find ourselves stepping quietly into Rowe’s world and indeed into his marriage and family life. We experience him as a true nurturer and a superb parental figure in the life of another man’s son. We find ourselves laughing alongside him as he struggles to adapt to the common rivalry between adoptive parents and biological parents, unfamiliar surroundings, antiquated small-town thinking, and wandering moose along the bumpy road as he and his spouse make the life journey towards Shaw’s wedding.
“Our Libraries, Ourselves” allows us to glimpse the passion of a brilliant mind. In is address as the keynote speaker at the 2003 GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards, Rowe urges gay writers to write “the stories of our lives” even as he urges librarians to purchase them and make them readily available to those who would benefit from reading them.
“Let them see that generations before them – indeed before us – found the strength to live our lives with dignity, grace and courage, effecting change and redressing injustices through actions, deeds, and, ultimately, our literature, which succeeds us,” Rowe writes. He likens the space occupied on a library shelf as a “garden where not only tolerance, but understanding, love, friendship, and bridges, spring up.”
He speaks passionately about the significance of his own marriage in a short piece titled “From This Day Forward”.
Perhaps his greatest donation to the literary world is “My Life as a Girl”, the revealing look at the dilemma of transgender people. Michael Rowe shatters the misapprehensions regarding transgender by revealing his own childhood struggle to harmonize his inner self with his physical self. Rowe is wholly inspirational in his explanation of the emotions and approach held by those who are transgender. This is perhaps his most luminous endeavor and should be held as required reading for any seeking answers in regard to understanding the various dimensions of gender identity.
To label “Other Men’s Sons” as “a book for gays and lesbians” is to do a disservice to all those who strive towards building bridges between our communities. The hallmark of a good writer is that he or she leaves their reader wanting to know more about a subject. I found myself hoping that there might perhaps be a just one more essay tucked into the book, the pages stuck together by accident.
Rowe brilliantly leaves us wanting to know more about our neighbors, our friends, and our acquaintances within and outside our communities. He leaves us holding onto the rails of the bridge mid-crossing. We desire to go the full distance, to continue along the conduit that he has provided, in order to embrace every man’s son or daughter as our own, to work towards understanding and acceptance of each other as a complete society.