Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Man of My Own

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“A Man of My Own”
By P. Woehrer

We lived on the western edge of the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee. The single-family houses and duplexes were very modest compared to other homes that Sherman Park was famous for. Our block was ethnically diverse with Caucasian, African American, Hmong, Latino, and mixed-race families. About a quarter of the homes were female single head of households and another quarter was elderly residents who had established that neighborhood in the early1900’s.

Early one summer evening we were sitting outside on the front porch and watching the neighborhood kids play. As my husband Steve moved toward the street to pick up a rolling baseball a little 8 year old girl came running up to him, threw her arms around his leg, hugged him tightly and said “give me a hug!” A bit surprised, my six foot husband bent down and hugged her back. Just as quickly, she withdrew and their eyes locked for moment and both shared huge smiles. Little Shamika* ran back into her vacant yard, arms flailing in joy. Steve had obviously given her what she was looking for and we both chuckled at the sweet scene.

Days later, I was again sitting on my porch. Steve had been there too, but left for a few minutes to tend to something. Shamika walked over and stood before me.

What’s that?” she asked, pointing to my wedding ring.

It’s my wedding ring,” I said.

She sat next to me, and asked where it came from. Somewhat surprised by the question, I responded simply that my husband had given it me. As she gazed at it, the wheels began turning in her young mind. Pointing inside my house, she asked if “the man” in there was my husband. Again I was a bit confused why she would need to ask, but I responded that yes, he was my husband. Then she asked if she could have my ring. My first thought was that she needed some lessons from her mother on what is appropriate to ask an adult, but then it occurred to me that something much deeper was going on inside this little girl.

Young Shamika did not recognize the important symbolism of the wedding ring. In her family, her mother was not married. She only saw a father figure when a man came by from time to time to spend a few minutes with his biological son. There was another man who came to visit Shamika’s mother, but then the children were required to play outside for a while.

I felt bad as I explained that I could not give her my ring. For a moment, she seemed a bit embarrassed for having asked, but then had another idea that might fulfill her desperate inner need.

To my amazement, she asked, “Could I have your man, then?”

The entire conversation seemed surreal despite my own family heritage of divorced parents and my proclaimed appreciation for cultural awareness and sensitivity. I realized then that I didn't have a clue of what this little girl was missing, or needed, or hoped for. It also surprised me that even though I felt our own household was fragile at times due to the hectic pace of life and the adjustments to a marriage relationship; Shamika suspected it was better than what she had in her own home. At least there was a man there – every day. She instinctively seemed to sense that this was something she wanted.

For weeks, Shamika almost “stalked” Steve! She would watch for an opportunity to see him outside so she could charge forward for a spontaneous hug. Steve gladly obliged as a simple ministry to her.

I wish now that we had reached out more intentionally to Shamika’s mother and her family to tell her about my belief of how God has a divine order for relationships. As I reflect on the fact that Shamika would be about 22 years old now, I still have to wonder how she was affected by the pattern of relationships she observed while she was growing up. I have to wonder if she ever did find “a man of her own.”

*A true story but the name has been changed.

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