He looked up as the boy approached, an eyebrow raised in anticipation of a troublesome problem of youth, one that only an elder could answer in his detached, worldly view, a straight answer shorn of moralizing. Peter Robsin took his pipe from his mouth and turned his head stiffly to face Michael. One glance and he could tell that he had anticipated correctly. This was going to be a consultation, one requiring both knowledge and diplomatic skill.
“Grandpa,” he began, smiling in that disarming, charming manner of timeless youth, his curly hair spilling over his ears, reminding Peter of some magnificent work by a nameless Ancient Greek sculptor. The boy had his father’s good looks, his smooth, unwrinkled yet untested skin and level blue eyes, which could captivate in a glance. “I have some questions.”
Given Michael’s recent transformation into an adolescent from a child, the result of profound hormonal changes beyond anyone’s control, Peter assumed that his question would involve rapidly changing relationships with the universe of women. And this presumption would shortly prove correct.
“Yes, Michael. Any question you have, you know, is between you and me, man to man, and any answer I give will be treated with the same respect. What is bothering you on such a fine day?”
“It’s about girls. You seem to know everything, at least you always have before. But do you know bout girls?”
Peter put his arm around Michael’s waist and drew him closer to the chair, an act in preparation for the shared intimacy of a timeless question, and an equally timeless answer. “I know that girls and women are of the opposite sex. You, of course, know that also, but I suspect that we might dispense with the fundamentals and go straight to relationships between men and women. Would that be the direction to start, Michael?”
“They confuse me. They seem to dislike being around me even though I try to be pleasant, to be interested in their conversations. Each time I try, I feel belittled, as if I am some kind of inferior. Why do they do that?”
Peter Robsin put his tobaccoless pipe back in his mouth and looked away, trying to organize his thoughts about women and put his answer on an appropriate plane. He softly cleared his throat before answering, then let Michael go and nodded to the chair beside him. Michael seated himself and put an elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin supported by his hand, waiting patiently for a succinct answer to an issue which has perplexed the male sex since time began.
“We are men, and as such, are not allowed to fully understand women or girls. We are separated by only a small fragment of a gene, but it is enough to make our bodies and thoughts different from each other. It’s not a bad thing, these differences, but a very, very profoundly good thing. We are complementary in that way. Divergent enough to make us interested, our strengths and dispositions meshing in ways that make a whole, a human race. We are attracted to females and they to us. But we necessarily develop into adults along slightly different paths, our hormones and DNA directing us into maturity along lines which will insure propagation of our species. Girls are a marvelous and wonderful creation, are they not? I feel that, in some special way, a man can appreciate women even more than they can themselves. We notice how they are different from us, how they stand and move, how their laughter is compelling to our ears, how they can hold us in their eyes in that mysterious way and how they appear delicate but are really so strong of body and of mind. You will become larger and stronger than most girls, yet never start to think that you are tougher, more resourceful, or smarter. You are not and neither am I, nor is any man. They engage in social activity more easily than do males, the interactions, the teasing, the alliances of their youth becoming the traits which create a family and hold it together, even an entire society.” Peter paused, his thoughts continuing without words, his memories flashing in his mind’s eye before continuing.
“I just want to talk to one, just talk and be around her. Is that a lot to ask?” Michael persisted.
“The way will be found with patience, Michael. You must be willing to listen to her, to be there when she feels like teasing, and to leave when she grows impatient. Be respectful always, because you are, not because you are pretending just to be near her. When she breathes, listen, when she moves, watch, when she asks, respond. Never degrade yourself, never grovel, because she won’t respect you for it, but be willing to give her your time, your effort, your loyalty. Some things she will say or do may seem trivial to you, but resist that notion, instead seeing the beauty in her, the innocence of her, the very wonder of her in everything.”
“So, Grandpa, your advice is to just stand around and be insulted?”
“Not really, but at times, you have to avoid having a thin skin if you are sincere. You should also understand that your interest may not be shared; she may not be ready for you. In time, she and you will mature and comprehend each other by differing measures. It may be that you no longer will see her in the same way nor she you. Time will tell.”
“How do I talk to her…what should I say, Grandpa?”
“Understand that you can’t force anyone to like you, especially the opposite sex. Talk about yourself very little, and concern yourself with what interests her. Listen and keep your eyes on her, be complementary but avoid excessive praise. There will always be unknowns in an adolescent relationship because so much wisdom has yet to be acquired. At your age, you should look for friendship, nothing more. Part of your delight will be finding, discovering, the other half of humanity, the part of us which has been refined for millions of years, attaining not just nearly, but absolute perfection. Imagine…we are the only species which can appreciate beauty, and the most beautiful thing of all is ours to behold.”
Michael nodded and stood, fixing his grandfather with love in his eyes. “I’ll remember your words, Grandfather. Perhaps they will return to me when I can better understand their meaning.” He gave his grandfather an affectionate kiss on the cheek, then disappeared back into the house, leaving Peter Robsin to wonder if his little sermon had helped, even a little.