As boys some of us are fortunate enough to be set up for disappointment at an early age. Most adults teach their sons to expect unconditional love, appreciation without caveats, attention for talents and discipline, acceptance and value just for being who they are. These privileged children grow up into men, only to find very little of what they were led to believe in. Just like Santa Clause, it is all a blissful lie. Because the truth of the matter is that there are few types of love in the world that are unconditional for a man. The truth is that we love men not for who they are on the inside, but only for what they do.
Which is why every man needs a dog. For a dog, like no other thing in a young man’s life, breathes hope into that old lie that he can be loved for who he is and not for his utility, purpose, and function.
Consider the dog. Most people have dogs that lay around in the sun all day. Unless you are blind or a farmer, chances are that your dog doesn’t work too hard. Your dog’s life is simple and it has only one job, which is to love you for whoever and whatever you are.
Because to a dog, you are actually a hero, a saint, a general, a man apart. It doesn’t matter if you forgot his birthday, or that your feet smell, or that you cheated on your taxes, or got fired, or hit that guy’s truck in the parking lot, or said something stupid at the meeting, or don’t believe in yourself. Your dog believes in you. You and nothing else.
The happiness of a dog – that sunshine of simple joy – may be one of the most absolute things in all the world. It should make you question all of your petty problems, force you to shrug just for a moment. The dog has only one question: “what’s next?”
Why can’t you be happy like this? Is it because your life is infinitely more complicated, difficult, and profound? Or is it that you have just, perhaps, forgotten something that only the dog still knows, some primordial reckoning of simple bliss at grass and trees and food and love, something that you with your penny loafers and paper jams have long since let slip away?
How do you justify the sins of your life? Some of us feel consumed by the weight of them, turn to the rituals of imagination, tell them to men in black smocks and ask for forgiveness to a hundred different figments. Others are unaffected, unconscious of them, they lie and cheat and steal and it is all a matter of course. But the loyalty of man’s best friend, the complete inability to betray, to connive, to deceive is something that our too-smart minds aren’t even really able to comprehend. All men may lose heart, but a dog never does. It can’t. It is simply incapable of doing so. While we drown in cynicism the dog is reeling in euphoric splendor for an autumn walk in the park. It almost makes you jealous.
Dogs not only keep our secrets, they are actually scientifically able to help heal our broken hearts, and to muster our very will to live on despite the bleaker aspects of human life.
A dog never worries, never frets, never grapples with existence or creates idols or declares war. We tend to think of them as lesser, as beneath us, as trivial.
But one could easily do much worse than to try to live with the same naïve zest as a dog does.
And so, there is never an excuse to be totally alone in the world. Not in a world still blessed to have dogs in it.