Drummer Boy had two posters taped to the cinder block walls of his dormitory room. One was of a man with a saxophone. “Who’s that?” I asked a little bit tentatively.
“You don’t know Bird!” He said with evident surprise. For a moment I was afraid he was going to run me down for being lowbrow. I’d gathered from the picture that the man was probably a jazz musician and my experience with jazz lovers was that they were a bunch of snobs. Much to my surprise, Drummer Boy gestured for me to sit down. “Well, you’re in for a treat” and with he slapped a record on the turntable. He was more interested in sharing what he loved than in playing a game of one-upmanship. I’d only met him about a half an hour earlier and he was already throwing my stereotypes out the window.
We sat on his bed listening to records for much of that afternoon. Mainly we just listened, but sometimes he pointed out something he liked about a particular piece. Eventually, I asked about the other poster, not what it was, because I could see that it was the text of the Bill of Rights, but where he had gotten it.
“My father works for the ACLU.” Drummer Boy would turn out to have two passions, music and civil liberties.
A few days later we were lying in the grass in sloping field outside of some classrooms. By that point, we had both become aware that our acquaintance would remain platonic. Still, I enjoyed his company and continued to spend time with him. He was telling me about an older musician he knew growing up in New York and how he was a role model for him, not only as a musician, but he saw him as a role model for what it meant “to be a man.” It was a difficult thing to for me to relate to. I couldn’t think of anyone teaching me what it meant “to be a woman.” I couldn’t even conceive of the concept. So I encouraged him to talk.
He fumbled for words a bit. I don’t think he had ever had to articulate exactly what it meant. It had a lot to do with ethical behavior. How to treat women was part of it. He put it in terms of gallantry and chivalry that seemed a bit out of step for someone whose politics clearly fell to the left of center. I questioned him a little about that, but the conversation remained friendly. Another matter was taking care of any children you may have. As someone who had grown up in a more sheltered, suburban world, I don’t think I understood the context from which this was emerging. I had grown up always being told, by all the adults around me, that my biological parents had done the right thing in putting me up for adoption. In fact, I would venture to say that I had never heard a contrary opinion. Certainly, no one had ever so much as suggested to me that there would have been anything virtuous in two, terribly unprepared, young people trying to raise a child. No one ever suggested that biological father should have “been a man.”
Then, considering the passion he felt for civil liberties, he shocked the hell out of me. “If I were to get a woman pregnant and she wanted to have an abortion, I’d file a lawsuit to force her to go through with the pregnancy.” As he saw it, he had rights and the law did not acknowledge those rights. We argued about this until we were interrupted by another of his friends. At the point we let it drop, neither of us had made any headway in convincing the other or our positions. He did impress upon me the strength of his feeling on the subject. In the discussions about unwanted pregnancies that I’d had throughout high school, most of the focus had been on the pure horror of the idea. It was taken for granted that a man always wants to escape from the situation. The notion that a man, in that situation, might actually want the child, and not simply oppose an abortion but actively want to raise a child, had never occurred to me, at least not seriously.
After that conversation, I canvassed a few of my male friends and acquaintances about their feelings. I was quite surprised. Although Drummer Boy was the only one who would want to go as far as forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy against her will, several of them did say that they, too, would want a child. Every single one of them said that they would want to know and would like to at least be consulted before the woman made a decision. This really presented me with something of a quandary.
In many ways, I feel that being raised without a religion forced me to think deeply about ethics starting at a young age. I don’t mean that people who are raised in a religion don’t ever think about it, but I didn’t have a ready-made set of behaviors that I could fall back on, no one to tell me what to think when I couldn’t figure it out myself. In the end, I had to acknowledge that Drummer Boy had made an important point. Although I didn’t, and still can’t, see how it could be practically implemented from a legal stand point, I did conclude that, from an ethical standpoint, a woman should consider the man’s desires and take them very seriously.